Rhubarb! A guest post from Julie Hartigan

At a mere two weeks old, umami girl is delighted to have roped in our first guest blogger – friend and CSF member Julie Hartigan. Julie is studying at the Institute of Culinary Education and is a true lifelong fan of the veggie and the pork product alike. What’s not to love about this girl? She also tends toward a certain (ahem, familiar) chronic need to tinker with perfectly good recipes and develop her own. In addition to being a guest writer, Julie has volunteered to be our guest buzzer-inner at the end of July when umami baby is born. Thanks, Julie!


Rhubarb Rocks!

by Julie Hartigan

I grew up with rhubarb in my yard. I thrilled to the first stalks of spring, created a recipe for a super-sweet rhubarb crisp as a kid, and still leap at the rhubarb when it’s briefly available at the store or farmer’s market. It always saddens me to hear someone proclaim that they don’t like rhubarb…Or worse.. gasp! that they’ve ripped the rhubarb patch out of their yard. It just comes back every year! No maintenance required! Why kill it!? Maybe they’ve only had sticky-sweet, gummy pies? Or maybe it’s the close resemblance rhubarb bears to celery? The name itself? (see “dried plums” vs. “prunes”)
Whatever! I love to make rhubarb dishes to change people from skeptics to fans. Rhubarb has a tart, grassy, bright taste that pairs well with pretty much all fruits (especially the iconic and seasonal strawberry!) Pairing with fruit allows you to prepare rhubarb without an excess of sugar. In lieu of strawberries you could try peaches, pears, or even raspberries if you don’t mind seeds. It also holds up really well to spicier flavors like anise and ginger as you’ll see in the recipes below.

Here are two of my favorite ways to use rhubarb in a way that may convert the leery….

Spicy Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote

This is my go-to method to quickly prepare some rhubarb I’ve snatched up from the market or a friend’s yard. It uses less sugar than most recipes (sacrificing half of the strawberries for poaching liquid) and is spiced up using ground and crystallized ginger. It’s delicious over ice cream, Greek yogurt, pound cake, or pancakes and waffles at a spring/summer brunch.

Note: Feel free to replace the ginger with vanilla extract/vanilla seeds or citrus zest (lemon or orange would work equally well) and a splash of Grand Marnier. You can also play around with the ratio of rhubarb:strawberry to your liking or fruit drawer contents!

4 cups of rhubarb (approximately 4 large stalks) -washed and cut into 1/2″ slices
4 cups of strawberries (approximately 2 lbs) divided into 2 c and 2 c, washed and quartered if large, halved if small, whole if wild
1/3 cup of sugar
1/3 cup coarsely chopped crystallized ginger
1 tsp ground ginger
1 TB cornstarch
1 TB butter

Toss the rhubarb, 2 cups of the strawberries, sugar, ginger, and crystallized ginger in a bowl. Let sit at room temperature for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. This allows the strawberries to release some of their juices for poaching.

In a separate bowl, toss the other 2 cups of the strawberries with the cornstarch – set aside. This mixture is used for thickening at the end and allows you to keep some of the strawberries “intact”!

Melt butter in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Add the rhubarb-strawberry-sugar-ginger mixture and stir well to combine. Simmer covered over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep a close eye on the rhubarb as it will quickly go from “not done” to “mush”! (Which isn’t a tragedy – it’ll still taste great.)

As soon as the rhubarb is fork tender stir in the 2nd bowl of strawberry-cornstarch to thicken the mixture. Continue cooking for just another minute or so.

Remove from the heat and serve warm or let chill. The mixture keeps well for several days in the fridge.

***Alternative***

You can also use the ingredients above, ALL tossed together, uncooked, as the base for an awesome Fruit Cobbler. Just top the mixture with your favorite crumb topping recipe (or a basic flour, brown sugar, butter, oatmeal, cinnamon mixture) and bake at 350 for 30-40minutes. Then the ice cream or yogurt goes on top vs. the bottom.

This recipe from Gourmet magazine (April 1999) is simple to follow, uses mostly pantry staples (you can substitute yogurt for the buttermilk in a pinch), and produces a mod-looking take on the traditional Upside Down cake. I like to alternate the placement of the rhubarb (round side down, cut side down) to make a funky checkerboard look. Check out the picture to see what I mean. The anise seeds are key and give it a surprisingly sophisticated twist.

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