Name me a vegetable that grows like a weed, and is so good and versatile you can have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner; serve it with yogurt and ice cream, cook it with pork, and even make a cocktail out of it.
Although rhubarb grows throughout the spring, summer and fall it is most often associated with late spring. The appearance of rhubarb in our fields, gardens, and on our supermarket shelves sends many of us into the kitchen with an armful of the bright red and green stalks, ready to roast, stew and candy turning them into cakes, pastries, sauces, jams, fools and even cocktails.
Rhubarb technically is a vegetable, not a fruit, and its tart, unmistakably sour taste means that it is usually cooked with a fair amount of sugar. Thus it makes a great “fruit” pie, or Danish, and marries well with less sour fruits like strawberries.
Cooking rhubarb is remarkably quick and easy. Probably the easiest and most popular way to cook it is to “stew” it. Remove all the large leaves and discard. Chop the stalk into pieces maybe 1 or two inches in length, put them into a pot with a small amount of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often. Remember, there is a lot of water in the rhubarb stalk itself, so you don’t need to add much at all. Add sugar to taste at any time during the stewing process; some prefer their rhubarb “jam” to be on the sour side, some like it really sweet, so go easy on the sugar at first, and stir the rhubarb often until it breaks down and the sugar is dissolved. It only takes about ten to fifteen minutes to cook; let it cool and you are good to go! For me, a bowl of vanilla ice cream with a few spoons of stewed rhubarb is just about one of the most delectable tastes of early summer.
Another lovely and equally simple way to enjoy rhubarb is in a Rhubarb Fool. Just mix equal amounts of rhubarb with some fresh whipped cream and serve, maybe garnish with a few berries. Delish!
Rhubarb is also great on plain yogurt in the morning, and is relatively high in fibre, so it is a nice way to add a little roughage to your diet.
Roasting rhubarb is also a great, simple way to prepare it. To roast rhubarb, preheat the oven to 315 degrees F. Chop rhubarb into 1 ½ inch pieces, place in pan and sprinkle with sugar. Cover loosely with tin foil and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, or until rhubarb is soft but still holds it shape. Remove from oven and let cool. You can now add this rhubarb to your favorite Danish recipe. Or try this Chatelaine recipe for a Rhubarb Upside Down Cake.
Lest you think rhubarb is only about sweet and syrupy, remember it is a vegetable, and it’s tart and astringent flavor blends beautifully with rich and fatty meats like pork. In fact, the Dutch have a great recipe for pork made with apple cider, chili and rhubarb that is as good as it sounds.
Now all this work might work up a bit of a thirst, and you owe it to yourself to cool off with a refreshing little cocktail. I’m thinking something like Jamie Oliver’s Rhubarb Bellini would be fantastic right about now.
makes 3 cups
6 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup sugar (add more to taste)
¼ cup water
Mix rhubarb, ½ cup sugar and ¼ water together. Bring to a simmer, stirring often. Taste and add more sugar as desired. Remove from the heat once the rhubarb has turned to mush then store in the freezer or in canning jars.