A Pink Spring

Last week, in a moment of synchronicity, I happened to be making rhubarb and ginger jam just as a rhubarb recipe contest notice appeared on Huffington Post. I have never entered a recipe contest before, but with a delicious rhubarb recipe at hand at the very moment a contest was underway, the opportunity seemed too good to pass up. So I entered and now my recipe is up against 9 others for the title of best rhubarb recipe.

If my tart and spicy jam earns enough votes to place in the top three, it goes on to HuffPo’s test kitchen where their cooks will make all three and declare a winner. I ask for your vote. I’m currently in the #2 spot and have a good chance to make it to the final three. Voting closes on Saturday, May 19. Would you please take a minute right now and follow this link over to Huffington Post and cast your vote for Rhubarb and Ginger Jam in the Rhubarb Recipes Contest?

Thanks so much! When you’re done with that, come on back here for my ode to spring’s rhubarb and some delicious suggestions for using it in your kitchen.

Some people will acknowledge spring’s arrival with the sighting of their first robin.  Others by the synchronized unfurling of hard, tight buds on their trees.  Me?  I’m more of a bud watcher than a bird watcher, and the bud I watch for is the forsythia, its overnight explosion of lemony yellow flowers on previously spindly, bare branches.  Once that happens, the air smells fresher to me, sweeter; spring is almost a sure thing.

But only almost.  After a long and cold winter, I need a little more convincing.  I need to see some rhubarb – shooting up from the ground, fanning out in clusters, its stalks ranging from palest celadon to vibrant raspberry pink, the crowning touch the ruffled elephant ear-like leaves.

Rhubarb, rhubarb, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.

I love you, soft and caramelized, on the upside down part of an upside down cake.  I love you preserved as a jam.  Or bottled into a chutney with walnuts and raisins and brown sugar and a splash of cider vinegar.  I love you sweetened just the slightest bit and stewed or blended into a fruit sauce still tart enough to make my mouth pucker.  And of course I love you on your own in a pie, your juices thickened and rosy pink, but you’re equally loveable thrown into a pie that’s been made sweeter and ruby colored with the addition of strawberries.

And I have a special fondness for you cut up, drizzled with honey and lemon juice, and scattered around a pork loin about to go into the oven; I love the resulting relish you will cook down to.  Rhubarb, you bridge sweet and savory with your bright astringency.

Sprouting like crazy from now through June, rhubarb also bridges the early and late parts of spring, helping to freshen up meals and desserts and palates, a true warm up act to the bounty of late spring and summer.  You’ve probably already seen some rhubarb in your market.  Grab what you can when you do, looking for nice firm stalks with shiny skins, and make something wonderful immediately.

If you’re lucky enough to grow your own (or to know someone who does), you can stroll into the garden and take what you need for the recipe of the moment.  To use, cut the stalks just above the root end, then trim and discard the leaves.  (Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, toxic to humans if ingested in large quantities.)  After washing, cut the rhubarb stalks into pieces anywhere from 1/4–inch to ½-inch thick.  Your fresh rhubarb is now recipe ready.

You may notice that once cut, rhubarb tends to replenish itself rather quickly this time of the year, with new stalks shooting up as replacements.  You may end up with more rhubarb than you think you will use at the moment.  Rhubarb can feel like the zucchini of the spring.  On the off chance you can’t give some away, rhubarb freezes very well.  Trim, wash, cut up as described above, and freeze in heavy-duty freezer bags.  For the next three months you’ll have prepared rhubarb on hand to cook with.

Here are some suggestions for using rhubarb in your kitchen:

Rhubarb-Raspberry Crostata

(from Bon Appetit, May 2011)

for the crust:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tbsp. whole milk

for the filling:

  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 4 cups 1/2″-thick slices rhubarb (about 1-1 1/4 lb.)
  • 1 6-oz. container fresh raspberries
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten

Plus: raw sugar or sparkling sugar for the crust

Combine both flours, sugar, and salt in a processor; blend for 5 seconds. Add butter; pulse until butter is reduced to pea-size pieces. Whisk egg and milk in a small bowl to blend; add to processor and pulse until moist clumps form. Gather dough into a ball; flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap; chill at least 1 1/2hours.

Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

To make the filling, dissolve cornstarch in 3 Tbsp. water in a small bowl; set aside. Combine rhubarb, raspberries, and sugar in a large heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until sugar dissolves and juices are released, about 4 minutes. Stir in cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil (rhubarb will not be tender and slices will still be intact). Transfer to a bowl. Chill until cool, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°. Roll out dough on floured parchment paper to 12″ round; brush with beaten egg. Mound filling in center of crust; gently spread out, leaving 1 1/2″ border. Gently fold edges of dough over filling, pleating as needed. Brush border with egg; sprinkle with raw sugar. Slide parchment with crostata onto a large rimmed baking sheet and bake until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly, about 45 minutes. Let crostata cool on baking sheet on a rack. Transfer crostata to a platter, cut into wedges, and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Rhubarb Crisp

(my adaptation of a Fannie Farmer apple crisp recipe)

  • 5-6 cups rhubarb, sliced into ½-inch thick slices
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice or water
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon (optional)
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 stick butter, softened slightly and cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a large oval (or 13-inch by 9-inch) baking dish and set aside. Wash and dry the rhubarb, then cut it into ½-inch pieces. Place the rhubarb pieces into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with lemon juice or water (your choice, depends on how tart you like your rhubarb), and sugar.

To make streusel topping, combine the flour, oats, sugar, lemon peel (if using), cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl to blend.  Add to this the butter pieces. With your fingers rub the butter into the flour mixture and blend this into a streusel containing some large clumps and smaller crumbs. Scatter the topping over the fruit, distributing evenly.

Place the dish in the preheated oven and bake until topping is golden brown and the rhubarb is nicely soft and its juices are bubbling hot, about 45 minutes.  Serve warm with ice cream.

Rhubarb Chutney for Grilled Pork Tenderloin

(from Bon Appetit, April 1994)

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground garlic
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 4 cups 1/2-inch cubes fresh rhubarb (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup (generous) chopped red onion
  • 1/3 cup dried tart cherries or golden raisins (about 2 ounces)

Combine first 8 ingredients in heavy large Dutch oven. Bring to simmer over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add rhubarb, onion and dried cherries; increase heat to medium-high and cook until rhubarb is tender and mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.)

Delicious served with grilled pork tenderloin.

©2012  Jane A. Ward