Photo by Judith Hausman
Rhubarb tart, rhubarb jam, strawberry-rhubarb pie and trendy, savory rhubarb confit — it’s that time of year around here. Delicate peas fill the wooden crates, local asparagus are bundled with twine and long, sleek stalks of pucker-y rhubarb are lined up at the farmers market. The farmers have pulled them out of ancient, upstate rhubarb patches and stripped off their poisonous elephant ear leaves.
I certainly enjoy the fancier ways to prepare rhubarb, but my default is still the not-very-glamorous stewed rhubarb. In its defense, even this humble sauce can have several interesting variations.
Start with firm, slim stalks, if possible. The basic technique is to slice the stalks, peeling away any thick strings from the outside, simmer them gently in a minimum amount of liquid, and sweeten the resulting sauce to taste. That’s all it takes. The rosy fruit can then be spooned onto ice cream, yogurt or pound cake to make homey, spring-y desserts. A mild, fresh goat cheese, crème fraiche or vanilla custard make good partners with rhubarb, too.
Below is a list of suggestions for playing with the stewed rhubarb pairings. Each assumes you are cooking about 4 cups of sliced rhubarb.
- Cook it in white wine rather than water.
- Sweeten it with honey or maple syrup.
- Add a teaspoon of minced, fresh ginger, or put a ginger tea bag in the cooking water.
- Add a teaspoon of grated lemon rind.
- Cook it in orange or tangerine juice.
- Season with cardamom, nutmeg or cinnamon.
- Sprinkle with sliced almonds or crumbled oatmeal cookies before serving.
- Mix with sliced strawberries, mango or peaches when still hot but no longer cooking.
- Cook with peeled, sliced apples.
- Add two teaspoons of minced lemon verbena, lemon balm or tarragon.
- Cook it with a half of a vanilla bean, split open.