I’ve never had rhubarb. Thaaat’s right. Not once.
The blushing stalk has escaped my spring produce greedy grabs for many years. Food that needs to be mixed with something else — in rhubarb’s case, sugar — in order to be palatable makes me suspicious. And did you know that rhubarb’s leaves are toxic? That’s why they’re sold stripped down to the stalk at the store.
All in all, rhubarb has been a can-spare.
And next to the strawberry … well, my friends, everything pales to the strawberry. If I were a poet, rhapsodic thoughts of spring would turn not to the matters of the heart, but to the bold, red berry. (But even though I’m not lyrically gifted, my thoughts still turn to the berry. They just don’t rhyme.)
There’s nothing not to love about the strawberry. I love how field-grown, freshly picked strawberries — like this first-of-the-season batch purchased at the farmers’ market on Saturday — are so tender and plump that merely sitting piled demurely on top of one another in their tiny pint crates causes them to leak sweet juice.
No, these berries are not for shipping cross-country. They’re for picking and eating — devouring — all on the same day. (Thanks, Bergefurds Farm — your berries are amazing.)
But there, on the table down from the strawberries, was rhubarb. It looked so fresh and perky, like smooth, rosy celery, I couldn’t resist.
I’ve had shortcakes on my mind. Orange-scented shortcakes made with polenta — like sweet, fluffy cornbread with a sugary crunch. Polenta is aces, in my book, and moves seamlessly between main course and dessert.
Ginger is a welcome addition to this compote. I had crystallized ginger on hand, but fresh will do quite nicely, too. Use lots of it. Ginger is a feisty spice in her own right, but must positively shout above the tart clamor of the rhubarb.
But amidst all the hand-waving and me-me-me’ing of the ginger and the rhubarb, the sweet, in-season strawberry is still the star of the show.
As she should be.
Strawberry Rhubarb Ginger Compote with Polenta Shortcakes
for the shortcakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup polenta
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
6 tablespoons very cold butter, cut into cubes
2 hard-boiled egg yolks
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup heavy cream, plus additional for brushing the tops
for the compote
1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced into quarters (halves, if small)
2 stalks rhubarb, sliced into 1″ pieces (use one for flavor emphasis on the strawberries)
3 heaping tablespoons minced crystallized ginger (or 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced)
6 tablespoons granulated sugar (I used 3 each of Truvia and regular sugar)
juice from one fresh lime
grated lime peel from one lime
for the shortcakes:
1. Preheat oven to 375°F
2. In a food processor bowl, pulse together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt and orange zest. Add the cold cubed butter and the egg yolks and pulse just until the mixture has the texture of lightly moistened cornmeal. There may be a few pea-sized chunks of butter remaining; that’s fine.
3. Pour in the buttermilk and the heavy cream and pulse several times to create a moist dough. Do not overmix or the dough will be tough (i.e., not to the point where the dough rides the blade).
4. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and gather into a mass. Knead 3 to 4 times to make it cohesive and then pat into a circle about 6 to 7 inches in diameter and an even 1 inch in thickness.
5. Use a round cookie cutter to cut 4 to 6 circles from the dough (quantity will depend on the size of your ring. I used a three inch ring to create 5 circles). Brush the tops very lightly with heavy cream.
6. Transfer to a cookie sheet and bake until risen and golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Turn the pan around halfway through to ensure even cooking. Remove to a cooling rack.
for the compote:
1. Place strawberries and rhubarb in a medium pot. Mix in sugar, ginger, lime juice, and peel. Cook over high heat until sugar dissolves, stirring often. Boil 4 minutes, stirring often. Reduce heat to medium; simmer just until rhubarb begins to soften and fall apart, about 3 minutes.
2. Remove from heat and chill until cold, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
1. Slice the shortcakes in half and place the bottoms on separate plates. Spoon the compote over each shortcake half. Top with your choice of whipped cream or vanilla frozen yogurt (my preference), and set the tops in place.