Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote: The Versatile Sweet-Tart Spring Fruit Sauce

Vicky Wasik

The classic springtime combination of strawberries and rhubarb is perfect for people like me who don't have a huge sweet tooth. It's also perfect for people who do. Rhubarb—technically a vegetable, but used more often in fruit contexts, like pie fillings—is purely tart, with almost no trace of sweetness. Strawberries help push it more decisively into ripe-fruit territory, but you still need extra sugar to balance rhubarb's intense sourness. And that's what's so great about it: Add as much or as little sugar as you like to suit your taste.

One of my favorite ways to prepare strawberries and rhubarb is stewed into a compote. It's fast, versatile, and totally customizable. I make mine just sweet enough that I can serve it as a dessert, but not so sweet that it'd seem junky to eat it as breakfast, too. In both cases, that often means spooned on top of a bowl of yogurt, but it'd be just as happy alongside fresh ricotta or mascarpone, panna cotta, cake, waffles, pancakes, crepes, scones, toast, or, if you're feeling extra British, crumpets.


For an interesting flavor twist, I add a small amount of ground fennel seed, which is just as successful at carefully walking the sweet-savory razor's edge—it's not a warm spice like cinnamon or nutmeg, but it still has anise notes that work with all sorts of desserts. Pull back on the sugar just a little more and you could totally eat this with a pork chop.

To start, I dice the rhubarb into chunks, then put it on the heat in a saucepan with a small amount of water, which generates enough steam to get the cooking started. In a preparation like this, I like my rhubarb fully softened and broken down, so I let it cook for a few minutes this way, covered, before adding the strawberries.


Then I add the strawberries, which I cook until they're very soft and plump, adding a burst of brilliant color. I add the fennel and sugar as well, usually spooning in the sugar to taste until I feel like I've hit my desired sweetness—whether that's sweet enough for pork or sweet enough for an ice cream sundae.