Spring is here! (well, sort of, but to us New Englanders, any day with a temperature above 50 is considered Spring). And with Spring comes the first vegetables of the season. To be honest, the Spring harvest is not the most abundant. However, when you have been so starved for the fresh taste of green, the first asparagus and rhubarb are truly welcome signs. Unfortunately, in New England, our gardens don’t really start producing until much later in the year, usually May-June. So although I would like to say I am collecting all these wonderful Spring harvests from local farmer’s markets, in reality, my produce comes straight from California (via Whole Foods). Obviously not as “farm to table” as I would like, but sometimes you just can’t make it work. (I refuse to forgo asparagus and rhubarb on principal alone!)
So let’s talk rhubarb. For those of you rhubarb virgins, here’s a little crash course. The rhubarb plant consists of long red stalks, leading to large triangular leaves. We consume the bright red stalks (the leaves are poisonous), however the stalks are only enjoyable after cooking (and adding some sugar to combat their tart nature). This is also why rhubarb is most classically paired with sweet strawberries. The two flavors work well together to balance out the tart of the rhubarb and perk up the sweet strawberry. You will most likely find rhubarb in grocery stores or farm stands trimmed of their leaves. If you’ve never seen fresh rhubarb, think bright pink celery.
What to do with this odd pink stalk? I like to use it most in dessert applications, however rhubarb can be used in chutneys and compotes served along side grilled meats and fish. But since pastry runs through my blood, lets concentrate on the sweeter applications of this vegetable. I will admit that this year was my first foray into the world of rhubarb. To be honest, I am not sure I had the flavor much more than a handful of times in my life. Clearly nothing jumped out at me to be that memorable. I had misconceptions of rhubarb being hard to work with and taking a very long time to cook down to an edible form. I couldn’t have been more incorrect. I now find rhubarb to be one of my new favorite flavors and I can’t get enough of it. And did I mention how easy it is to work with?
The first recipe that I tried was a recipe for rhubarb sorbet (I happen to be obsessed with making my own fresh sorbets – not as hard as it seems, you just need to have a small ice cream machine at home.) The sorbet base is made by cooking rhubarb slowly in a sugar syrup. Once the rhubarb was softened, and the syrup had turned a bright pink hue, I pureed the mixture in a blender. I wanted to make strawberry rhubarb sorbet, so I also pureed a pint of strawberries into the rhubarb. I let the mixture cool overnight and then spun it in my machine the following day. The sorbet explodes in your mouth with bright, tart, & fresh flavors. The sweetness of the strawberries add a nice balance to the tart rhubarb, but each flavor shines at different points. The vibrancy of the rhubarb hits you first, while the sweet genlte strawberry is most prominent at the end. To make this sorbet a “dessert,” serve in fancy glass (I used my champagne flutes) and garnish with fresh berries, or tuille cookie. This sorbet can offer an elegant, yet refreshing end to any meal.
For something a little more traditional, you can also try a Rhubarb & Strawberry Crumble. Crisps and crumbles are some of the easiest desserts to make, however offer some of the best results. Nothing says Americana or Grandma’s kitchen like a warm spoonful of baked fruit with a sweet, crumbly topping. Again, using rhubarb in this application is very easy. A simple toss of chopped rhubarb & strawberries with sugar, flour, and spices is the basis for this dish. The crisp can either be served family style in a casserole dish, or can be made in individual ramekins. The topping is just as simple combining small butter cubes with oats, almonds and seasoning. Serve these crisps either warm or at room temperature. They are a delightful taste of Spring on their own, but can be paired with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a little something extra.
Recipe: Strawberry Rhubarb Sorbet
Recipe: Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble