After the initial euphoria that comes with the dawning of spring, there comes a lull. The novelty of asparagus and peonies has worn off, and as welcome a sight as the arugula, chard and mustard greens are, they cannot stand up to the sexiness of the coming summer fruits and vegetables. So it is at this time of year that I always turn to rhubarb for a little pick-me-up.
Is it a fruit, is it a vegetable? Who knows, who really cares in the end. It's the oddity of it that I like, the bracing tartness disguised as a rosy celery.
In past years I've always stuck to roasting or slow cooking it to make a compote, to be eaten with yogurt for breakfast or for a particularly austere dessert. And this year I did allocate a bit of my stash to that use, as I find it comforting to have a jar of this astringent mush in the refrigerator. A bit of white wine (perfect way to use up that last bit of a bottle that's been in the fridge a smidge too long), sugar and orange zest mixed together and then a half hour in a 350 degree oven and I had some gorgeous, restorative spoon food.
But I had gone a bit overboard at the farmer's market and had armloads of rhubarb stalks in my refrigerator. With the sparkling, warm weather of late I've had summery cocktails on the brain, so it seemed only appropriate to make a bit of rhubarb syrup that might be added to prosecco, gin rickeys or whatever else strikes your fancy. Perhaps a rhubarb Italian soda would be nice for those non-imbibers?
I simmered pieces of rhubarb with enough water to nearly cover the stalks, some orange rind and a sprinkling of sugar until all of the pink had been leached from the rhubarb. Once the mixture had been strained I added a bit more sweetness via my favorite new discovery, agave syrup (I know I'm late to the party on this one but I do love it just the same) and decanted into a cute little bottle I picked up at the Container Store. I think this may be my obsession for the summer...fruity syrups. Hibiscus syrup is next on my list.
And lastly, more to use up some tart dough I had in the refrigerator from this recipe over at 101 Cookbooks than anything else, I made a rhubarb and ricotta crostata. And just because I was feeling my domestic goddess bones at the time, I made the ricotta. The undertaking was not particularly hard (I have to say the lemon juice method you may find online did not work at all for me, but the buttermilk method was a breeze), and is most certainly worth the effort if you don't have access to outstanding ricotta, but frankly Di Palo's ricotta was better than mine. But at least my curiosity about the matter has now been satisfied.
So after a bit of rolling, stirring, chopping and baking, I was left with this, to be enjoyed morning noon and night, whenever the mood might strike.
Perhaps onto Jamie Oliver's rhubarb-stuffed duck next?
1 batch of tart dough (I often use Martha Stewart's incomparable pate brisee recipe, but I love the whole grains in this recipe as well)
7 oz fresh ricotta, drained in a colander lined with a paper towel or cheesecloth unless your ricotta is already quite dry
2 teaspoons sugar
zest of 1/2 of an orange
9 oz rhubarb (1 1/2 stalks, about 2 cups), sliced into 1/4 inch slices
3 tablespoons sugar
zest of 1/2 of an orange
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together the rhubarb filling ingredients and leave to macerate. Stir together the ricotta filling ingredients, making sure to smooth the ricotta as you do so.
Roll dough into a circle of about 1/4 inch in thickness, and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.
Spread the ricotta in a circle in the center of the dough, leaving an approximately 2-inch border on all edges. Then pile the rhubarb on top of the ricotta, including any juice that may have accumulated. Fold edges of the dough over the side, partially covering the fruit.
Bake for approximately 40 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling and tender.