I always have mental image of opalescent pink when I think of rhubarb. Only when I started hoarding buying rhubarb in earnest did I realize they come in ombre from pale green to deep magenta. What a beautiful plant. At the height of freshness, every stalk stands tall and proud. It’s nothing like the wilted sad specimen I often spot in grocery stores. Just another reason why I love getting produce from my CSA or local farmers’ market.
Rhubarb is not something I grew up with. In fact, I did not taste my first rhubarb until last year. Sure I read about them in cookbooks often and I know its tartness pairs well with strawberries. Beyond that, I knew that my godfather hated it from his student years in the UK (mushy! sour! fruit! from the school cafeteria!). Well, mushy cooked fruit just means compote and tartness in the right context can be really refreshing. I experimented with cobblers, chutneys, compote, and pudding cake last year and was delightfully surprised every time. This season, I’m ready to branch out to something a little less rustic and a little more refined. Aside from strawberries, what partners well with rhubarb? And what can we do about the mushy texture?
I found answers in both Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table and Kim Boyce’s Good To The Grain. The cover shot of Boyce’s book features a mouth-watering photo of her rustic rhubarb tart (see smitten kitchen’s adaptation). That vibrant pink colour is the result of infusing the rhubarb compote with dried hibiscus blossoms. Fruity tartness and floral tartness vies for attention in a harmonious way. Half of the rhubarb was cooked to soften while the other half was added raw to the compote. I love this mix of texture with the raw rhubarb retaining some squeaky crunch.
Rhubarb is often cooked on the stovetop or baked in the oven. Greenspan’s Roasted Rhubarb is a good example of the oven variety. Large chunks of fruit are macerated and then roasted in the oven until syrupy yet maintaining structural integrity. I chose to flavour mine with sweet lime/bergamot zest. It’s unmistakably citrusy yet the flavour is elusive enough that you can’t figure it out immediately. The key is to stop roasting before they turn to mush.
At this point, the fun has only just begun. Both recipes can be used in many ways to add a little spring to your dessert. They make great fillings for tarts, galettes, or hand pies. You can sandwich it between cake layers or bake directly inside sturdier cakes. For something simpler, use them as topping for tartine with fromage frais or generously spoon over shortcake. My favourite, though, is pairing the tart fruit with something creamy. It can be vanilla ice-cream, fresh ricotta, thick Greek yogurt, or rich mascarpone cheese. Greenspan suggested rice pudding (riz au lait) and that is what you see in my photos. I simmered Arborio rice, whole milk, sugar, and vanilla pod over low heat until the rice pudding turned thick and creamy. Then I carefully filled glass canning jars with a layer of roasted rhubarb before topping it with rice pudding. They remind me of fruit-bottom yogurt in glass jars that I used to buy in French grocery stores. Once I snap on the lids, these portable dessert are great addition to any picnic basket or lunch bag.
How do you like to enjoy rhubarb? Don’t forget to check out the roasted rhubarb made by other French Fridays with Dorie bloggers!
Oh, and let me just say this at the top of my voice: I LOVE MY WECK CANNING JARS!