Nick Malgieri
Nick Malgieri

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote with Sugared Pecans

This was one of the desserts on the lunch menu for the opening of Windows on the World in 1976. We would put big crystal bowls of the two compotes and the sugared pecan topping on the buffet table every day; if it was a slow day, maybe some of the compote would come back with the other leftovers, but the sugared pecans never did. We suspected that the dining room staff made quick work of any remaining at the end of lunch. This is a good way to make a fine strawberry dessert when there are no sweet local strawberries and all you can get are hothouse-grown berries that have less flavor. Makes about 10 servings

Compote 2 cups water 1 cup sugar, divided 1 vanilla bean, left whole, see Note 1 1-inch length of cinnamon stick 1 medium lemon 3 pints (about 2 pounds) strawberries, rinsed and hulled 2 pounds fresh rhubarb, leaves removed, rinsed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces


Sugared Pecans 1 cup (about 4 ounces) pecan pieces 1 tablespoon egg white 1/2 cup sugar

One small roasting pan or other baking dish for baking the sugared pecans

  1. For the compote, combine the water and 1/2 cup sugar in a large pan that has a tight-fitting cover, such as an enameled-iron Dutch oven. Add the vanilla bean and cinnamon stick and bring the syrup to a full rolling boil over medium heat.
  2. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the lemon in large strips.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and add the strips of lemon zest and the strawberries. Gently shake the pan to make sure that the berries are submerged. Cover the pan and leave it at room temperature. The strawberries will cook from the heat left in the syrup and the pan. Check the strawberries after about 1 hour; they should be sufficiently softened.
  4. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees.
  5. While the strawberries are cooling prepare the sugared pecans. Put the pecans in a mixing bowl. Beat the egg white lightly with a fork and add to the pecans. Use your hands to rub the pecans and egg white between the palms of your hands until the pecans are evenly coated with the egg white. Add the sugar and toss the moistened pecans with it so that they are evenly coated with it.
  6. Scrape the pecans into the roasting pan and place them in the oven. Check and stir them with a flat-edge spatula, scraping up from the bottom of the pan every 5 minutes while they are baking. As soon as the pecans begin to heat up, the sugar will melt and start to slide away from the pecans; if you don't stir often, all the sugar will remain stuck to the bottom of the pan and not on the pecans. The pecans will eventually be evenly covered with a sugar crust and will also be toasted within. The whole process should take about 20 or 30 minutes.
  7. Cool the sugared pecans in the pan. Store them is a plastic container with a tight-fitting cover at room temperature until you are ready to use them. Or freeze for longer storage.
  8. When the strawberries have softened, lift them out of the syrup to a shallow bowl (the idea is to have the berries in as thin a layer as possible so that they don't all sit atop each other and get crushed). Cover and refrigerate.
  9. Remove the strips of lemon zest and cinnamon stick from the syrup left in the pan, but leave in the vanilla bean. Add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and stir well to mix. Place the pan over medium heat and bring to a full rolling boil. Add the rhubarb, stir it in and cook on medium heat for 10 seconds. Turn off the heat, cover the pan and let the rhubarb cool in the syrup. Check the rhubarb after an hour; if it is tender, pour it, syrup and all, into a shallow bowl and let it cool to room temperature. If it is not tender, reheat the rhubarb and syrup mixture just until it reaches 160 degrees, then remove it from the heat and let cool again. Avoid overcooking the rhubarb or it will break up into strings in the syrup.
  10. After the rhubarb and syrup are completely cooled, remove the vanilla bean and add the strawberries. Cover and chill.

Serving: Pour the chilled compote into a large glass bowl and the sugared pecans into a smaller one. Use a large serving spoon or ladle to serve portions of the compote into dessert bowls. Top each serving with a spoonful of the sugared pecans.

Storage: Keep the compote refrigerated at all times, except when serving. The compote is good for up to about 5 days. Keep the sugared pecans at room temperature. Freeze any leftover sugared pecans if you don't have another immediate use for them.

Note: After you have removed the vanilla bean from the syrup, rinse it off and let it dry at room temperature for a couple of hours. Wrap in plastic, freeze, and use again.