Note: To substitute dried figs for fresh, make a syrup with 2 cups water and 1/2 cup sugar flavored with 1 Tbs. grated orange zest and half of a vanilla bean. Simmer this syrup for about 5 minutes before adding 12 to 15 dried Black Mission or Calmyra figs. Continue simmering until the figs are tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Chill the figs in their poaching liquid before adding them to the compote. Don't use the fig-poaching liquid as part of the compote syrup--it tends to taste stemmy.
Trim the rhubarb and cut it into 1-inch-long pieces; you should have about 6 cups. In a 4-qt. stainless-steel pan, combine the sugar with 4-1/2 cups water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, add the rhubarb, and cook until tender but not falling apart, 7 to 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the rhubarb to a large bowl. Reserve the cooking liquid in its pan.
Grate the zest from both oranges; you should have about 3 Tbs. zest. Add 2 Tbs. of the zest to the liquid used to cook the rhubarb and continue to cook the syrup over medium-high heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, with a paring knife, cut off the ends of the oranges. Remove the remaining peel and all the white pith. Cut each orange into 1/2-inch-thick slices and cut each slice in half. Trim the ends of the figs and cut them into quarters. Add the orange slices, figs, and remaining orange zest to the rhubarb. Strain the cooking liquid; you should have 2-1/2 to 3 cups. Pour this syrup over the fruit. Chill several hours or overnight before serving.
nutrition information (per serving):
based on eight servings;
Photo: Mark Thomas