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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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Sorrel Pistou and Fresh Ricotta Crostini


With sorrel in its tangy, bright abundance at the farmers' markets now and throughout the summer, this pistou (or pesto or coulis) is a dynamite way to show it off.  Set out a platter of baguette slices, ricotta, and the green stuff and let your BBQ guests at it for a DIY appetizer.  Less work for you, no soggy for them.  Or, as we did last night, set out a platter of it between you and your loved one on the porch and call it dinner.

The lemony-green-herbal potency of the pistou is heavenly with the savory-creaminess of the homemade fresh ricotta.  But it is also an incredible addition in any place where you want a little herby, slightly sour, punch.  Toss it with warm pieces of boiled red potatoes for a new twist on potato salad, stir a small spoonful into a creamy root vegetable soup just before serving, toss with shrimp and orzo for a cold pasta salad, or drizzle over grilled vegetables, seafood, and chicken.

This is also a wonderful recipe to use to put away sorrel for the winter.  Make a big batch of the pistou and freeze in smaller portions, to stir into heavier winter dishes in the months to come.


SORREL PISTOU AND FRESH RICOTTA CROSTINI
by Catie Schwalb

makes about 1 1/2 cups of sorrel pistou

For the Pistou:
3/4 cup, packed, fresh sorrel leaves, thicker stems removed, washed and dried thoroughly
1/4 cup, packed, fresh parsley, washed and dried thoroughly
1 garlic clove
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
about 4 turns of fresh black pepper
salt to taste, a large pinch at least

For the Crostini:
Fresh ricotta cheese
thin slices of baguette, toasted or grilled if desired

For the pistou:

Combine sorrel, parsley, garlic clove, olive oil, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor.  Blend until uniform and smooth.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper to liking.

Will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week, but is most green and most flavorful the day it is made.  It can also be frozen, and thawed overnight in the refrigerator.  Stir before serving.

For the crostini:

Top slices of baguette, or thinly sliced rustic bread, with a large dollop of ricotta.  Top with a generous drizzle of pistou.  Serve immediately.

Alternative:

HERB POTATO SALAD

Steam or boil red skinned new potatoes.  Cut into bite-sized pieces while still warm, but cool enough to touch.  Toss with a generous amount of sorrel coulis.  Chill before serving.

 

 

 


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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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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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