I was supposed to be sharing a cashew dipping sauce with you today. A really good one, at that. But rhubarb stole the limelight this week, showing up all over the place with its shockingly pink stems and massive, lush leaves fanning out like the feathers on a cabaret dancer. You can’t possibly say no to a vegetable that reminds you of a cabaret dancer, can you? I certainly can’t. Pretty rhubarb makes me go weak in the knees.
Like most things that only appear seasonally, rhubarb is one of those precious items you need to swipe up when you can, for however long you can. It’s appearance is sudden and ephemeral, only lasting a few weeks at the market in early summer. Then, the show’s over. The cabaret dancer goes home to rest until next year. It’s a fleeting affair, but all that more rewarding because of it. Knowing that you only have a small window of opportunity to enjoy rhubarb makes it a special, if not coveted, ingredient. This summer, I’ve been able to lay my hands on a considerable amount of home-grown rhubarb – some from the garden of my mom’s friend (hellooo, Lynn!) and some extracted from the little courtyard that sits between my building and the next one over. None of my neighbours seemed interested in it, so I helped myself to a few stalks. We’ll call it minimal urban landscaping.
I did the first thing we all do with fresh rhubarb and made a crisp, one complete with the requisite strawberries, oats, walnuts and brown sugar. Nothing spectacular or exciting, but the fruit got nice and jammy after a long slow bake in the oven, blistering at the edges and spilling out at the sides. Crisps aren’t generally the most interesting of desserts, but I still make them from time to time. And when I get that first, still-warm mouthful of sweet-tart fruit with those crunchy, buttery oats, I’m reminded of how good crisps really are. Good in that wholesome, familiar, tuck-you-into-bed kind of way.
But because you’ve likely made a million crisps in your lifetime, and because I ate all of mine and forgot the measurements, there won’t be a crisp recipe here. Sorry. You’ll have to wing that one. There are, however, two other rhubarb recipes I can share with you, simply for the fact that I took notes and didn’t shove the whole thing in my face before taking photos. The first is a riff on a free-form crostata, where a quick rhubarb compote is topped with fresh strawberries, then wrapped in several layers of phyllo dough that have been sprinkled with crushed almonds and brushed with melted butter. There’s a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest in there too, giving it both a bit of warmth (from the spices) and brightness (from the zest). And just when you start to think the whole thing is going taste like Christmas, there are those glorious, lightly cooked strawberries that crown the top, reminding you it’s summer. While there’s nothing groundbreaking about putting together strawberry and rhubarb, they do hum along quite nicely together and kick into peak season around the same time, making them a solid pair for balmy summer days. The use of phyllo here is nice too – it’s light and crispy and helps you avoid getting your hands mangled in a big wad of dough on a hot summer night.
The second is a savoury dish, where rhubarb is stewed on the stove top, then used as a braising base for chicken pieces. When the whole thing’s cooked, the stewed rhubarb mixture becomes the serving sauce. It’s from a New York Times recipe that I bookmarked and went digging for once I realized I’d barely made a dent in that stockpile of fresh rhubarb in my fridge. It’s a surprising recipe and one that hits the right notes – the tartness of rhubarb works well with the neutral flavours of the chicken and the addition of shallots, thyme and white wine give the sauce a very French-countryside vibe, which is always lovely. It’s definitely worth trying, especially if you’re bored with the idea of using rhubarb for something sweet. Remember, though, that since stewed rhubarb loses its pinkish hue and turns a colour closer to beige, it’s a good idea to sprinkle some vibrant garnishes (fresh thyme, sliced scallions) over top. Dress up the cabaret dancer, so to speak. Whatever you end up doing, go get yourself some rhubarb already! GO! Do it before it’s all gone and you find yourself on the kitchen floor crying big fat tears of regret. (Ok, I’m exaggerating. But still, go!)
Note to rhubarb virgins: here’s a nifty site I found covering all aspects of rhubarb, including rhubarb poison information (don’t eat the leaves!):
Strawberry Rhubarb Phyllo Crostata (serves 8-10) – adapted from Canadian Living
- 1/2 cup finely chopped toasted almonds
- 1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs (panko works well too)
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 14 sheets phyllo pastry
- 3/4 cup butter, melted
For the Filling:
- 6 cups chopped rhubarb
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp grated orange rind
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 cups quartered (or halved) strawberries
Directions: To prepare the filling: Place rhubarb, vanilla, orange rind, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a pot to simmer over medium heat. Stir sugar with flour; stir into rhubarb mixture and cook, stirring often, until thickened (about 5 minutes). Let cool completely. (Can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 3 days.)
In small bowl, combine almonds, bread crumbs and sugar; set aside. Keeping remainder covered with damp towel to prevent drying out, lay 1 sheet of phyllo on greased 12-inch (30 cm) pizza pan, aligning 1 short end with inside edge of pan and letting other short end extend over opposite side. Brush entire sheet with some of the butter; sprinkle with 1 tbsp (15 mL) of the almond mixture. Lay second sheet at angle on top of first, overlapping by about 3 inches (8 cm); brush with butter and sprinkle with 1 tbsp (15 mL) more almond mixture. Repeat with remaining phyllo, overlapping and sprinkling with almond mixture between each and leaving equal overhang all around pan.
Spoon filling onto centre of phyllo; sprinkle with strawberries.
Starting with last sheet, fold phyllo sheets over, 1 at a time, folding ends back to create 4-inch (10 cm) gap in centre. Crumple ends into loose cluster around gap, brushing tops of each lightly with butter and sprinkling with almond mixture.
Bake in centre of 375°F. oven until phyllo is crisp and golden, about 35 minutes. Let cool on rack. Cut into wedges with a serrated knife.
Rhubarb-Braised Chicken (serves 4) – adapted from The New York Times
- 8 pieces of chicken, mixture of thighs and drumsticks
- 5 sprigs thyme
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 bunch spring onions or scallions, white and light green stalks thinly sliced (slice and reserve greens for garnish)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 3/4 pound fresh rhubarb, diced (3 cups*)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- salt and freshly ground pepper
*I tried a 2 cup rhubarb/1 cup celery ratio, which also works really well.
1) Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. Place in a bowl with the thyme sprigs and cover. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
2) Heat olive oil in a large skillet (or Dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Remove thyme from bowl with chicken and reserve the thyme. Add chicken pieces to skillet and sear, turning occasionally, until golden brown all over (about 10 minutes). Transfer pieces to a platter.
3) Reduce heat to medium. Stir in onion (white and light green parts) and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and reserved thyme; cook 1 minute more. Stir in wine and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits in the bottom of pan. Add rhubarb, honey, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Return chicken pieces to pot in a single layer. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until chicken is cooked through (about 25 minutes) transferring chicken pieces to a platter as they finish cooking (the juices should run clear to indicate cooked chicken).
4) Whisk butter into rhubarb sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Spoon sauce over chicken and garnish with sliced onion greens and thyme sprigs.
…and why not serve some roasted purple potatoes on the side!
- 1/2 pound small, purple potatoes (skin on), washed and halved
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- a few sprigs of rosemary
- olive oil
- salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Parboil the potatoes on the stove top unitl they’re almost cooked through. Drain and transfer to a baking tray. Add crushed garlic, rosemary and oil; toss until combined. Roast for about 10-15 minutes, or until the edges of the potatoes are crispy.