Too many people regard rhubarb like a beloved, sassy, elderly aunt. She comes to town each spring and wears a lot of red and hot pink. Everyone is thrilled to see her, but after sharing a couple of pies and a pot of coffee, what are they going to do with her the rest of the time?
Pie remains the most common destination for rhubarb, so much so that some older cookbooks called it “pie plant.” Smart cooks know, however, that there is more to rhubarb than sweets. Pleasingly tart rhubarb behaves like a berry, fruit or vegetable, depending on how it’s served and seasoned.
Smart cooks know, however, that there is more to rhubarb than sweets. Pleasingly tart rhubarb behaves like a berry, fruit or vegetable.
The peak season for field-grown rhubarb is April to June, but forced rhubarb raised in greenhouses ships well, so fresh rhubarb is available in most grocery stores year round.
The size of rhubarb stalks varies considerably, but size doesn’t determine tenderness, so look for firm, straight, shiny and unblemished stalks. Always discard the leaves, which are toxic. Place whole stalks in a plastic bag to retain moisture and store for up to five days in the refrigerator crisper drawer. Wash and trim the stalks just before using. Rhubarb freezes well, but the texture changes when thawed. Pay attention to recipes that specify one or the other.
Castle is an award-winning cookbook author and cooking instructor who lives in Chapel Hill. Reach her at sheri-inc.com
Meet the Author
Sheri Castle will be celebrating the arrival of her “Rhubarb” cookbook from 5-7 p.m. April 28 at Parker & Otis, 112 S. Duke St., Durham. Rhubarb snacks and rosé wine samples will be served.
The event is free but please RSVP at shortstackrhubarb.eventbrite.com.
Fish Tacos with Rhubarb-Pineapple Salsa
From “Rhubarb,” by Sheri Castle (Short Stack Editions, 2016). Recipe tester’s note: Rhubarb is sold at local Harris Teeter stores and by Lyon Farm at the Durham and Carrboro farmers market and their roadside stands and farm stand. Details: lyonfarms.com
For the salsa:
2 cups (8 ounces) finely diced fresh rhubarb
1 cup finely diced fresh pineapple
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
Juice of 2 limes (about 1/4 cup)
1 jalapeño, very finely chopped (remove the seeds for less heat)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup pepper jelly or peach preserves
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
For the tacos:
1 pound skinless thin, mild fish fillets, cut in half crosswise
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Wondra or all-purpose flour
1/4 cup fine cornmeal or corn flour (masa)
1 tablespoon chile powder, or to taste
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
8 small flour tortillas, warmed
For the salsa: In a large bowl stir together the rhubarb, pineapple, onion, lime zest and juice, jalapeño, salt and jelly. Cover and refrigerate until needed. Just before serving, add the cilantro, stir well and check the seasoning.
For the tacos: Position a rack in upper third of the oven and heat the oven to 500 degrees. Mist a rimmed baking sheet with vegetable oil spray or line it with nonstick aluminum foil.
Season both sides of the fish with salt and pepper. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal and chile powder in a shallow dish. Stir together the mayonnaise and lime juice in a small bowl. Spread a thin layer of the mayonnaise mixture on both sides of the fish, then coat with the flour mixture, shaking off any excess. Arrange the fish in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake until the crust is crisp and golden and the fish is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Serve at once in warm tortillas with the salsa.
Yield: 4 servings
Roasted Rhubarb and Rosy Custard Trifle
From “Rhubarb,” by Sheri Castle (Short Stack Editions, 2016).
For the roasted rhubarb:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 pound (4 cups) fresh, bright red rhubarb, cut diagonally into 2-inch pieces
1 vanilla bean
For the custard and trifle:
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon rosewater
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
One 8- by 4-inch loaf plain or vanilla pound cake
Make the rhubarb: Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch-square baking dish and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Spread the rhubarb in a single layer in the prepared dish.
Split the vanilla bean lengthwise. Scrape the seeds into a small bowl, add the remaining 4 tablespoons of sugar, and toss to mix. Sprinkle the vanilla sugar over the rhubarb. Tuck the vanilla bean pod in with the rhubarb.
Roast the rhubarb until it’s tender when pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes. Discard the vanilla bean pod and set the rhubarb aside until needed.
Make the custard: In a large, heavy saucepan, whisk together the sugar, flour and salt. Whisking constantly, add the milk is a slow, steady stream. Whisk in the egg yolks. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until the custard bubbles around the edges and thickly coats the spatula, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, add the butter, and stir until it melts. Stir in the rosewater and vanilla.
To assemble the trifle, cut the pound cake into slices about 1/2-inch thick. Line the side and bottom of a 2 1/2-quart trifle bowl or round baking dish with cake, breaking the slices into smaller pieces as needed. Spoon in one-third of the warm custard. Top with half of the rhubarb. Cover with the remaining cake. Spoon in one-third of the custard, followed by the rest of the rhubarb and any juices. Finish with the last of the custard.
Serve warm or let cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until chilled.
Yield: 8 servings.
Herbed Rhubarb Lemonade
From “Rhubarb,” by Sheri Castle (Short Stack Editions, 2016).
5 cups (1 1/4 pounds) chopped fresh rhubarb, plus a few slender stalks for garnish
1 cup sugar, preferably unbleached sugar
Zest of 1 lemon cut into wide strips with a vegetable peeler
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh mint, lemon verbena or basil leaves (or a mixture)
1 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
2 cups sparkling water
Sprigs of mint, basil or lemon verbena, for garnish
Lemon slices, for garnish
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring 4 cups water, the rhubarb and sugar to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon zest and herb leaves. Cover and let stand until cool. Strain into a large glass jar or pitcher, and discard the solids.
Stir in the lemon juice and sparkling water. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. Serve over ice, adorned with the herb sprigs, lemon slices and a length of rhubarb.
Yield: 6 servings.
From “Foolproof Preserving: A Guide to Small Batch Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Condiments & More,” America’s Test Kitchen (Editors of America’s Test Kitchen, 2016).
1 cup chopped strawberries, hulled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, about 4 cups
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup peeled and shredded Granny Smith apple, about 1/2 apple
2 (2-inch) strips lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Place 2 small plates in freezer to chill. In large saucepan, crush strawberries with potato masher until fruit is mostly broken down. Stir in rhubarb, sugar, apple, lemon zest and lemon juice and bring to a boil, stirring often, over medium-high heat. When boiling, crush rhubarb gently with potato masher to help it break down, leaving some pieces intact. Once sugar is completely dissolved, boil mixture, stirring and adjusting heat as needed, until thickened and registers 217 to 220 degrees, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
To test consistency, place 1 teaspoon jam on chilled plate and freeze for 2 minutes. Drag finger through jam on plate; jam has correct consistency when finger leaves distinct trail. If jam is runny, return pot to heat, simmer for 1 to 3 minutes longer before retesting. Remove lemon zest and skim any foam from surface using spoon.
Place two 1-cup jars in bowl and place under hot running water until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes; shake dry.
Use funnel and ladel, portion hot jam in hot jars. Let cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate until jam is set, 12 to 24 hours. Jam can be refrigerated for up to 2 months.)
Yield: 2 cups