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Rhubarb! Five ways to master spring stalking

Is rhubarb-eating some kind of shibboleth? I'm just wondering. I merrily bought a pound at the farmer's market this weekend and brought a strawberry-rhubarb pie into work yesterday.

I was a bit shocked to discover that a significant number of my coworkers (all of whom were folks with city childhoods) had never tried the stuff. I felt invisibly branded a country mouse, apt to dine on field greens and ditch weeds.

Of course, I'm from a place where the rhubarb runs wild. It sprouts up in the countryside every spring, always in the same places. It's tough to kill. I knew haters who repeatedly mowed right over it without the slightest success in subduing it.

I figure, (apologies to Annie Proulx), if you can't kill it, you got to eat it.

As for me, I've always looked forward to rhubarb season with glee. In childhood, it was my favorite pie (though I might be swayed to the charms of fresh peach pie these days), and the households of my memory all contained rhubarb preserves of some kind.

Find yourself wandering bewildered with an armful of blushing fresh rhubarb stalks? Lucky you! In just five simple steps, I'll make you a master stalker. Wash 'em well, and let's proceed to make:

1. Pie!
I used the strawberry-rhubarb recipe out of the Cook's Illustrated: The New Best Recipe." Seemed like a quality pie, but if you're looking for something a little different:

Rhubarb Custard Pie
2 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup sugar (all white or use half brown... your choice)
2 egg yolks (save the whites for a meringue top)
1 Tbsp AP flour
1/2 cup cream
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp cold butter (cut into four pieces)
unbaked pie shell

Toss cut rhubarb with half the sugar. Macerate (allow to sit in the sugar) 10 minutes. Mix the remaining sugar with the flour, egg yolks, cream and cinnamon. Pour rhubarb into an unbaked pie shell Pour cream mix over rhubarb.

Distribute butter on top and bake at 350°F for 1 hour. Whip reserved egg whites at high speed to make a meringue. Spread meringue over baked pie, and briefly return to the oven to brown. Cool on a wire rack.

2. Crisp!
I kind of prefer crisps to pies anyway... less fuss with the pastry. More crunchiness on top. I'm still seeing the "Rome beauties" at the farmers' market, and they're great baking apples. This is a nice transitional recipe, since it uses the last of last fall's apples with the first of this spring's rhubarb.

Gingered Apple-Rhubarb Crisp
1/3 c sugar
1 Tbsp AP flour
1 tsp grated fresh ginger root
2 cups apples, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 1/2 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp butter, melted

Combine the sugar, 1 Tbsp flour and ginger root. Toss with the rhubarb and apple pieces. Place in a greased baking dish or casserole. Combine brown sugar, oats, flour and melted butter. Sprinkle over the rhubarb-apple mixture. Bake at 400°F 30 to 40 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

3. Chutney!
Chutneys are a great way to use rhubarb in savory dishes. Fantastic with pork, chicken, duck, venison and, of course, curries.

Rhubarb-Currant Chutney
4 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 Tbsp minced fresh garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh shallots
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/3 cup dried currants or raisins

Combine vinegar, brown sugar, salt, pepper, shallots, fresh ginger, garlic, coriander seeds, ground ginger and mustard in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Stir in rhubarb and currants. Simmer until rhubarb is just tender (10-15 minutes). Remove from heat and cool 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust with a little sugar or vinegar as needed. Refrigerate (or freeze) until ready to use.

4. Sauce!
This is so easy I'm not even providing a recipe, really. Put about a cup of rhubarb (chopped in 1-inch pieces) into a saucepan with enough water to cover the 3/4 of the fruit (a cup or so) and about 2 Tbsp sugar. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and -- stirring occasionally -- simmer about 25 minutes or until rhubarb is broken down and the mixture looks thickened. Add a pinch of salt and taste the mixture. Does it need to be brighter, more tangy? You might add a little lemon juice. Is it too sour? Mix in a little sugar. Voila! Sauce!

5. Ice Cream!
You could pour that sauce over ice cream, of course... or you could put it in the ice cream. That's what I did this weekend. It's yummy. Like rhubarb pie a'la mode without the crust.

I used the simple Sweet Cream Base recipe from the Ben & Jerry's ice cream book and my Kitchenaid ice cream attachment to do this. I'm not big on a lot of weird doohickeys (New York City kitchens are not known for spaciousness), but if you already have a Kitchenaid mixer and like experimenting with ice cream, I truly recommend this particular doohickey. It's a lot of fun.

Add about a cup of sauce to this recipe of Sweet Cream Base and make the ice cream as directed for the machine you're using. Make sure the sauce is not just cool but COLD when you add it. Otherwise you'll put your machine through a lot of extra stress and — even worse — you might ruin the ice cream.

Sweet Cream Base (from "Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream & Dessert Book")

2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 cup milk

Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend.

Makes 1 quart

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Blogger weiser said...

i'm just curious, are you going to the NY Culinary Fest this weekend?

i think it's nyculinaryfestival.com or something.

Blogger MissGinsu said...

Yeah, there's like, three or four fun food fests this weekend in NYC. TriBeCa, that street food fair and... uh... a couple more. I know I saw 'em in New York Magazine this week.

I'll be in Barcelona. There's a flower festival in Girona that's supposed to be pretty cool. Back next week. With photos.


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