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How to deal with Rhubarb

how to prepare rhubarb


I love rhubarb.  I love it for it's old fashioned vibe.  I love it for it's color, striking tartness, and even for it's moderate shelf life.  I also love it for showing up so darn early in the spring and sticking around for several months.


And I too was at first intimidated by those long, irregular-shaped, tough magenta stalks at the market.  I actually overheard a conversation at our market up here recently, where a woman who had just bought a weekend house near the Delaware discovered she had huge decades-old rhubarb plants growing on her property.  However she didn't know when it was time to pick them.  Nor did the young woman working the farm stand, so I jumped in with what I knew.  She had been waiting for them to turn red, ripen, to pick.  I explained that some heirloom varieties, have very little red, and the stalks can range from thin to the thicker more uniform we're used to seeing in grocery stores.  I generally go by feel, but you can harvest stalks when between ten and fifteen inches long, avoiding letting them go too long and become tough, dry or woody.


Once you get your rhubarb back you your kitchen, from yard or market, they really are one of the most simple fruit to prepare.  Make sure all traces of the leaves are trimmed off, as they are not edible.  Rhubarb have a bad rap for being stringy, as in celery stringy, but as long as they are cut in small pieces before cooked, the strings will not be a nuisance.  For good measure, or habit, I tend to peel two or three strings off each stalk, from end to end, but not too much, as you are also peeling off any of the great magenta color.


Wash the stalks well and then cut into slices between an half inch and an inch thick.  You can then roast the pieces, throw them in to brighten up a rich stew, or as I do most often, simmer them down to a quick rhubarb puree or sauce.


Pack the rhubarb into a sauce pan or small pot that holds the pieces sort of snugly.  Add enough water to come up about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the slices, and simmer over a medium-low heat, until the rhubarb has broken down and is tender.  Add more water if the mixture seems to be getting to dry or risking burning at all.  When finished you can mash it up a little to have a sauce with more texture, or use a food processor, blender or immersion blender to give you smoother final product.


If you are looking to use the sauce as a topping by itself, add about a tablespoon of sugar per large stalk of rhubarb when simmering down, or another classic way to cut rhubarb's intense sourness is to add at least 1 part strawberries for every 3 parts rhubarb when starting the sauce.  Taste when finished and adjust sweetness if necessary.


Vanilla beans, ginger, orange, cinnamon, almost all berries and apples are all great additions as well.


Make a big batch.  Eat it warm or ice cold.  Spoon it over ice cream, blend it into cream cheese, swirl it in yogurt or oatmeal, drizzle it over a wedge of Stilton or duck or game meats, whisk it into your vinaigrette, blend it with ice for your margarita.  Really, what other fruit, the northeast no less, is quite so versatile?



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Rhubarb and White Cherry Ice Pop


I'm back.

My hands have been very, delightfully full these last many months, but I feel like we are all finally starting to figure out a good rhythm together.  And being a mom is, well, utterly remarkable, and it is hard to not devour every minute.

Even with our full hands, we did manage to get our gardens in this year.  Even more square footage than last year, as I am more able bodied this summer and can actually do something.  More plants, more varieties, more of everything.  And so far it is all looking strong and healthy.  I cannot wait to cook with all of it.  I walk through the rows and see recipes everywhere.

I have also had my first food pieces and photographs in print, in the months since the baby has been born.  There is a beautiful one year old magazine in our area called Green Door, and I have been so honored to do pieces for their last three issues.

In the latest issue I have a piece on gourmet farmers' market popsicles.  Three great recipes, which we have been enjoying ourselves, very frequently, since the weather turned warm. (The magazine is on sale throughout the Hudson valley, in New York City, for download, as well as subscriptions.)

There was one other ice pop recipe that was gnawing at me as I was developing the recipes for the article: Rhubarb.  However, there was no rhubarb to be found to recipe test with in the spring when the piece was due.  So at last, with piles of ruby stalks covering market tables, I was able to give it a try.

Rhubarb is indeed sour, yet in a perfect, summer way.  It is almost always paired with strawberries to balance its tartness.  I opted instead for beautiful white cherries that were on the next market stand over.  The fresh in-season cherries gave the whole mixture a really mellow sweetness, and the combination with the very tart rhubarb results in a overall sour cherry flavor, which is one of my favorites.

The sugar amount below is just a guideline.  Certainly your cherries' sweetness will vary.  Taste the mixture and adjust to  your liking.  However, keep in mind that when frozen a good portion of the perception of sweetness will be deadened by the cold, so the mixture should taste a bit more sweet at room temperature than you are shooting for.

Happy summer.




RHUBARB AND WHITE CHERRY ICE POP

makes four three-ounce pops.

2 cups fresh rhubarb, sliced thin
1 cup white cherries, pitted and halved
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups water

Wash the rhubarb and gently peel off some of the tough outer strands, much like peeling celery. Cut into thin slices.

Combine rhubarb, cherries, water and sugar in a small pot.  Simmer over medium-low heat for about seven minutes, until the sugar has dissolved and the rhubarb is soft.

Allow the mixture to cool.  Transfer to a food processor or blender and pulse until slightly pureed, but with some pieces of fruit still remaining.

Fill ice pop molds and freeze for at least six hours to overnight.

To unmold, briefly dip the bottom of the mold in a bowl of warm water.



 

 

 


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What I’m cooking this weekend.

a dog day of late spring.


Sparkling Panakam: This recipe from Heidi Swanson's (101cookbooks.com) new book Super Natural Every Day, is for a sparkling, spiced Indian beverage, certain to refresh between weeding turns in the gardens.  With lime, ginger cardamom and salt, it is described on Epicurioius.com as "a frosty cold, light, bright ginger beer".  Yes please.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Coffee Cake: This recipe was given to me by a great friend a year ago--a great friend indeed, as it came binder-clipped to a big paper bag full of homegrown rhubarb.  The rhubarb went to very good use, but I still haven't had the chance to try this recipe.  It came with a rave review and I can't wait.


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Rhubarb Rosemary “Affogato”


Now I know my Italian affogato-loving purists will find the title of my recipe sacrilegious.  Affogato means "drowned" in Italian, and the classic Affogato dessert is really named affogato al cafe or "drowned in coffee".  It is a shot of hot espresso poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  When I first had it, it was presented in a tall wine glass.  Tall, elegant, bitter and sweet, hot and cold, and melty--heaven in a goblet.

Musing on rhubarb this month, I keep returning to the first and only rhubarb recipe I knew as a kid.  My grandmother would stew down some rhubarb with a little sugar, and strawberries if on hand.  Served warm over vanilla ice cream, it was perfect.  Rhubarb pie a la mode, without the pie.  Ice cream drowned in warm rhubarb sauce.  Can you see where I am going with this?

And so I offer you affogato of the rhubarb variety.  Hot and cold, sour and sweet, tart and creamy--heaven in a goblet too.  The woodsiness of the rosemary cuts the sweetness of rhubarb, and adults-up this compote.  Feel free to add strawberries if you have them around.

And none of this is to say that the original affogato holds any less of a place in my heart.  Try that one immediately as well.


Rosemary Rhubarb Affogato
by Catie Schwalb

makes 1 cup, for 4 servings.

3 cups rhubarb, sliced thin, from about 4-5 stalks, or 3 gigantic stalks
2 small sprigs fresh rosemary
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup water, plus more if too thick
small pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan.  Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, and cook gently until rhubarb softens and breaks down, about 10 minutes.  Add more water, a little at a time, if mixture starts to look too dry.  Stir gently from time to time.

When rhubarb has softened completely, turn off heat and allow to steep for 20 minutes.  Remove rosemary sprigs and discard.

Puree rhubarb sauce in a blender, food processor or with a hand blender, if desired.  Add more water if sauce seems too thick.  Return to pan and heat gently until warm.  Serve warm over vanilla ice cream in a glass or small bowl.



 


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happyrhubarbmonday.


The first inch and a half of Victoria rhubarb poking up from the muddy March ground.  Pies and jams to follow.


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{ welcome! }
Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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