A Spiced Compote for Autumn Mornings

Autumn Compote Overhead

Fall has been one of my favorite seasons for as long as I can remember. Sure, I love summer, with its relaxed pace and warm, sunny days, but it’s the crisp, quiet mornings and the changing leaves that I love about autumn. This is the most sensual of the seasons, with the damp, earthy smell of fallen leaves mingling with the scent of warm spices and simmering stews. This is when I see how many things I can do with an apple, from simmering it in butter and sugar until it develops the caramel-like glaze just right for tarte Tatin, to poaching salmon fillets in a sauce of cider and cream. The hydrating beverages sipped during hot summer days make way for steaming cups of tea cradled between hands while I find a cozy spot for reading a novel.

My sister-in-law and I were talking before dinner on Friday night, while a simple pasta came together on the stove, about how the Scandinavians do cold-weather food right. They have to, she pointed out, with the long dark days that develop this time of year. She flipped through my copy of Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking, a lovely cookbook by Signe Johansen, and kept pointing out recipes that caught her eye—a Nordic porridge for fall and winter, a barley porridge, macaroni and cheese made with an assortment of Scandinavian cheeses. A hot, creamy, fruit-and-spice laden breakfast makes me look forward to the darker, damper mornings of autumn. Followed by a lighter lunch of simple brunost or salmon smørrebrød, with an earthy stew of root potatoes and braised meat for dinner? Life doesn’t get much better than that.

Autumn CompoteSpiced Prune Compote
Served with plain yogurt, this compote–adapted from Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cookingis the perfect way to begin a fall day.

250 grams prunes
100 grams dried apricots
Juice and zest of 1 orange
1 cinnamon stick
3 cardamom pods
2 star anise
3 cloves
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Put prunes, apricots, orange juice and zest, and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan and add just enough water to cover. Put the cardamom pods, star anise, and cloves in a tea infuser and add to the saucepan. Cook at a gentle simmer until the fruit has softened and the compote has begun to thicken, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add lemon juice.

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The Delightful Simplicity of Strawberry Compote

One of the great strengths of Nordic cuisine is the simplicity that guides it. Built upon readily available foods at the peak of their flavor, recipes need not be complicated to be brilliant.

Take strawberry compote for example. While I was trying to figure out what to do with three pounds worth of late-season strawberries I picked up the other day, I discovered a recipe in Authentic Norwegian Cooking that instructed the home cook to do little more than cook the berries in water with some sugar and potato starch flour, and to serve the compote with cream. The author noted that the result was heavenly.

Though I took pleasure in the hands-on work of hulling and quartering the strawberries in preparation for cooking, as I stirred the boiling mixture and watched the water leach the color from the strawberries I questioned whether I would ever be sharing this recipe with you. Prematurely disappointed, I kept at it, stirring constantly as the mixture boiled, reducing the liquid and thickening the compote slightly. I spooned a little into a bowl for myself and drizzled a touch of cream on top, and suddenly I understood what the author meant when she called it heavenly. I poured some more into a bowl for the sake of photographing the end result for you here, and I happily ate it while it was still warm. The fruit is slightly sweet, with a little tang remaining, which is complemented by the richness of the cream.

Strawberry CompoteStrawberry Compote (Jordbærkompott)
Adapted from Authentic Norwegian Cooking

I know it’s late in the season, but if you can get your hands on some perfectly ripe strawberries while they’re still available, treat yourself to this simple dessert. It’s easy to prepare, and will keep for several days in the refrigerator. Just reheat it and pour cold whipping cream on top prior to serving.

4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 tablespoons potato starch flour
1/4 cup sugar
3 cups boiling water
Whipping cream, for serving

Combine strawberries and sugar in a saucepan and cover with boiling water. Return to a boil and then let simmer until berries are cooked through. Mix potato starch flour in a little water to dissolve, then add to the berries. Bring the mixture back to a boil and cook, stirring regularly, until the compote has thickened. Let cool slightly, then pour into bowls and drizzle with whipping cream.

Serves 5-6.

Cooking in hot weather

It’s been hot in here today. The home office has felt like a sauna as the still air envelops the skin with humidity, the fan in the other room teasing the writer with its sound, though said writer can’t feel a bit of the benefit.

Still, I’m making a point to not complain about the heat. After all, it’s a rare treat to enjoy summer like this in Seattle. And, after all, Walla Walla–where I spent the weekend wine tasting with my mom–is a whole lot hotter than this.

A lot of people try to avoid cooking when it’s hot out. They seek out summer recipes like Mark Bittman’s 101 Simple Salads for the Season or 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less. They’re probably wise. But sometimes it’s just a joy to cook. Especially in bulk. Last Thursday I made a plum compote. An hour of simmering on the stove produced a lovely burgundy-colored compote spiced with cinnamon and vanilla bean, the perfect accompaniment for something creamy like ice cream. Or ricotta.

After some other summer cooking–penne with ricotta and zucchini blossoms–I had some extra ricotta on hand. Good thing, because a little bit of hunger one day gave me a grand idea: top the ricotta with some plum compote, stir it around, and enjoy a sweet snack with all the satisfaction of a dessert (it’s reminiscent of cheesecake) with the sense of eating something much healthier.

Try it. The recipe’s easy. It’s delicious. I’m still enjoying it, countless servings later.

Spiced Plum Compote
This comes together easily–just buy a bunch of plums and cook them according to the directions below. However, if you prefer more specific proportions and instructions, here’s the recipe on Epicurious I adapted it from. Enjoy!

A couple of pounds of plums, quartered and pitted (it’s okay to leave the skins on)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla bean, split, with the seeds scraped out and reserved
1 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients–including the vanilla bean pod and its seeds–in a large pot and heat over low to medium-low heat for about 45 minutes until the fruit has fallen apart and thickened.