Fresh rhubarb is in season at Hudson Valley farm stands for a little longer (the season runs from April to July), so there’s no time like the present to celebrate. Look for firm stalks (the red ones are supposedly a little less tart than the green, although both need sweetening). Store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and use them within a week or so. When the stalks get floppy, they’re not as good. Just in case you’re new to this: eat only the stalks, since the leaves are poisonous.
In the olden days, rhubarb was often called “pie plant,” for obvious reasons — it makes a fine pie, especially if you marry it to strawberries. Mixing the stalks into crumbles, cobblers, and cakes is good, too. But it needn’t end there. You can use the seasonal ingredient in fruity drinks, to make chutney, relish, pickles, salsa, or jam – even cold soups. Rhurbarbian memories from my childhood include my grandmother’s rhubarb wine, a beverage famous in our family for its potency, so I wasn’t allowed to have any; and a sweet fool, that simple English favorite of sugary stewed rhubarb layered with heavy cream or yogurt — or, better yet, a mix of the two. Here’s a foolproof recipe:
About 1 lb rhubarb, chopped
5 Tbs sugar
1¼ cups heavy cream
½ cup plain yogurt (Greek is best)
Put the chopped rhubarb and sugar in a pan with a couple of tablespoons of water; cover, and heat gently until the rhubarb, stewing in its own juices, is tender, about 10 or 15 minutes. Check to make sure it’s not sticking, and add more water if necessary.
Take off the lid, turn up the heat, and allow some of the juice to evaporate. Drain, and reserve the remaining juice. Allow to cool.
Whip the cream until it forms peaks, and stir in the yogurt.
Alternate layers of the rhubarb and cream-yogurt mix in a glass dish, and chill for at least an hour. Drizzle the reserved juice over the top before serving.
Rhubarb vinaigrette makes a tangy dressing for fresh greens, steamed asparagus, or other vegetables. There are dozens of recipes; this one is a nice balance of tart and sweet with lemony highlights. If you like, you can skip the lemon zest, or add a teaspoon or two of Dijon mustard. For a smoother dressing, blend the cooled mix before slowly adding the oil.
¼ cup honey
½ cup water
2 cups of rhubarb, thinly sliced
¼ cup raspberry or red wine vinegar
Zest of a lemon
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the water and honey. When the mix starts to boil, add the rhubarb, and let it simmer over medium heat for about five minutes, stirring often to keep it from sticking.
Stir in the vinegar and lemon zest, and cook from five to 10 minutes, until the rhubarb breaks down and the amount is reduced by about half. Remove from heat, and let cool.
Whisk in the olive oil, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Happy rhubarb season!