26 May 2012

Sweet Rhubarb

I've had rhubarb on my mind for a year now since I first tasted it.  How have I lived in Illinois my whole life and never tried rhubarb?!  It's an easily grown perennial in the Midwest, yet somehow I'm more familiar with squid, artichokes, and olives.  That may be a commentary on my culinary heritage or a commentary on the importance of the local food movement.  Regardless, rhubarb was new to me when we moved to the country; I was excited to have the abundant ingredient. 

first pick of the season

Last summer was dedicated to familiarizing myself with rhubarb.  I made crisps, cocktails, cupcakes, tarts, and crumb bars all summer and winter too with preserved rhubarb puree.  With this second crop, the experiments have started and won't come to an end until those red stalks and large green leaves are gone for the season.

Highlighted titles are links to original recipes.  My recipes are included below dessert pictures.  Here we go:

1. Rhubarb Mousse

This is my first independent rhubarb creation.  Surely I'm not the first to do this, but I've never come across it before.  My sister and I came up with the recipe.  I wanted something light with a delicate rhubarb flavor, not overly sweet.  It's perfect for summer nights: no oven required and can be made ahead of time and chilled for a refreshing finish to a meal.  It would also be lovely in a tart or little white chocolate cups with a strawberry garnish.

a perfect four-bite dessert in an espresso cup

Rhubarb Mousse

2 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 packet plain gelatin
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoon confectioners sugar

Place chopped rhubarb and sugar in non-reactive pot.  Macerate over night.  Add water and bring to a boil.  Boil until liquid is very pink and rhubarb is limp.  Taste to ensure desired sweetness.  Strain.  Stir in gelatin and allow to cool to room temperature.  Whip heavy cream and confectioners sugar in mixer to almost whipped cream consistency--not stiff peak stage, but very frothy consistency.  Fold in rhubarb-gelatin mixture.  Pour in serving bowls and chill.

2. Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

This is the recipe if you are a cake-lover.  I expected this to be just another sweet and tart rhubarb dessert, but the brown sugar topping adds a caramel dimension that really kicks it up a notch.  There's also something kind of theatrical about it, all those ruby rhubarb jewels peeking out.   My only change: next time I'll omit the citrus.  It distracted from the rhubarb. 

3.  Red Wine-Poached Rhubarb

This is really delicious, like insanely delicious.  I didn't expect to even like this let alone love it.  I wanted to try some recipes that preserve the integrity of the rhubarb.  Most elicit an end product that doesn't look anything like the original stalk, which is understandable because it is difficult to keep rhubarb intact while making it edible.  Poaching rhubarb requires a close eye to ensure it is tender, but not falling apart.  This recipe is worth the caution.  My husband labeled it one of the top five desserts he's ever had.  That's especially impressive because he couldn't name the other four.

Note: I didn't use allspice berries or cloves simply because I didn't have them.  Still fantastic. 

4.  Roasted Rhubarb

This recipe is in the same vein as the last.  I'm partial to the red wine-poached approach because I don't particularly like citrus (and I particularly like red wine), but this taught me the wonder of the rhubarb-vanilla pairing.  If you like citrus in your dessert, try this one.  If not, try the former.   Both are great with whipped cream, creme fraiche, or ice cream.  I love the idea of a large platter full of roasted or poached rhubarb to pass around the table family-style.  They can be served warm or at room temperature. 

Remember to strain citrus zest. Clearly, I forgot.

5.  Rhubarb Tarts

I love tarts. They have a homey pie flavor in a sophisticated package.  After trying the above poached/roasted recipes, I wanted to create a tart that included rhubarb that looks like rhubarb.  Coincidentally, La Cucina Italiana featured this strawberry ricotta tart in the May/June issue.  I thought it would be nice to try with rhubarb in place of strawberries.  It turned out beautifully and was a lovely addition to my grandmother-in-law's birthday tea celebration.  I can't say I'd make it again because the rhubarb pieces are a bit cumbersome when eating, but it was definitely worth a shot.  The rhubarb was very good with the ricotta filling.  And it's really pretty.

cooled and assembled tart dripping syrup allover my tablecloth

Rhubarb Ricotta Tart

Follow instructions above for Strawberry Ricotta Tart.  I omitted lemon zest--I think I've mentioned my feelings about citrus.  I also omitted the orange flower water--like I have that sitting around in my kitchen.  I substituted a teaspoon of vanilla.  The rhubarb is poached in its own juice and a little water. Then I added sugar to the liquid, reduced it to a syrup, and poured it on top, but one could use the Red Wine-Poached Rhubarb or Roasted Rhubarb.

Although it's not as pretty as the Rhubarb Ricotta Tart, this basic Vanilla-Rhubarb Jam Tart is really good and it's very easy to make--probably a better use of time for the end product.  It's the same crust cooled and filled with a simple vanilla-rhubarb jam and garnished with whipped cream.  It's a great winter dessert because the jam filling can be canned or frozen for later use. 

Jam tarts are beautiful dessert centerpieces: colorful and glossy.

Vanilla-Rhubarb filling:

3 cups chopped rhubarb, 1/2 inch dices
1.5 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp best vanilla extract

Cover chopped rhubarb with sugar in non-reactive pot and allow to macerate overnight.  Add water and bring to boil.  Simmer until pieces are tender and mixture is reduced to a nice jammy consistency.  Add vanilla and simmer for a minute or two more. Cool and spoon into cooled tart shell.  Garnish with homemade whipped cream or ice cream. 

Note:  this would probably be even better if made with a vanilla bean, which I did not have access to at the time of recipe.  Use vanilla bean instructions from Roasted Rhubarb recipe.

6.  Rhubarb Pies

I'm not a true pie fan.  They're messy to make; they're messy to eat.  People who grew up eating pie love them, so I make them.  I'll admit that traditional rhubarb pie is good, and it makes you feel like you've really embraced the season.  I just use Betty Crocker's recipe.  Nothing fancy.  Despite my general feelings towards the genre, I make a mean pie and the secret is the crust: I use lard.  Lard has an undeserved bad reputation.  Sure, industrial hydrogenized lard is unhealthy, but so is industrial hydrogenized anything, including vegetable shortening and oil--don't get me started.  Properly raised and rendered lard has nutritious properties and it's delicious.  It makes a pie taste like grandma's--not my grandmas.  My grandmas don't make pie.  They make pizzelles and kolackys.  But people have told me my crust tastes like the ones their grandmas made back in the day when real lard and butter were staples in the Midwest kitchen.  Bottom line, rhubarb pie is delicious if you're into pie.  It's even better depending on the quality of the fat in the crust.

Damn Good Pie Crust (for two-crust pie)

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup 2 Tbsp lard, the real stuff
4 Tbsp milk (water is fine too)

Whisk flour and salt together in large bowl.  Cut in lard with pastry cutter until pea-sized.  Add each tablespoon of milk and toss mixture until it begins to adhere and forms a single mass.  Sometimes it needs more or less liquid.  Don't handle too much or it will become tough.  Divide in half, press into disks, and cover with plastic wrap.  Chill in fridge until 20 minutes before rolling our dough for pie.

Sour Cream Rhubarb Pie is a slight variation on the traditional.  Again, not something I would include in my standard repartoire, but if you or your family are pie traditionalists, it's a nice alternative to your regular recipe.  This is a one crust pie.  If using the above pie crust recipe, cut in half.

7.  Rhubarb Gelato

My best rhubarb creation yet, rhubarb gelato is a prime example of the merging of Midwest rural and Italian.  Gelato is different than ice cream in that it uses more milk in the base.  It also relies more heavily on ingredient flavors than sugar and butterfat.  Oddly enough, I couldn't find a traditional gelato recipe that included rhubarb.  The one I came up with worked very well.  Upon first bite it was immediately inducted into my rhubarb recipe standards.    

Now that's a gorgeous gelato!

Rhubarb Gelato

3 cups finely diced rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1.5 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar

Allow rhubarb to macerate in 1 cup sugar overnight in non-reactive pot.  Bring to a boil in its own juices until syrupy.  Cool.  Whip 1/2 cup sugar and egg yolks in mixer until frothy.  In a separate pot, heat milk and cream until tiny bubbles form around the edge.  Do not boil.  Remove from heat.  Temper egg mixture by slowly mixing in a few ladles of warm milk.  Then slowly whisk egg mixture into pot of milk and cream over low heat.  Stir over low heat until thick and mixture coats the back of a spoon.  Chill mixture for at least several hours.  This gives you time to wash every dish in your house that this recipe requires.  Incorporate chilled rhubarb sauce into chilled gelato base and add to ice cream machine according to manufacturers instructions.  Transfer ice cream to freezer-safe container and chill for at least an hour before serving.  I know it's a lot of steps.  If you love rhubarb and you love gelato, I promise, it's worth it.

This little crazy-toothed girl of mine loves rhubarb.  She eats it raw.

I'm excited to finally be acquainted with rhubarb. We've had a good first year together: a lot of hits and very few misses among the couple dozen experiments. Maybe it's our honeymoon period. Maybe I'm a sucker for new flavors. Maybe I'm easily persuded by a tart redhead. Or maybe it just tastes a heck of a lot better in gelato than squid, artichoke, or olive.


  1. Please tell me you're kidding about squid gelato? Please?

    1. lol! Are you telling me you don't want to come over for a fresh batch tonight?!

  2. Squid gelato! My husband would eat that. Also anchovy. Or Sarde en Soar :-) That said, I cannot WAIT to try the rhubarb variety... Thank you for posting this!

    1. Thanks, Rebecca! You'll have to let me know what you think and any suggestions to enhance the recipe.

  3. I can't find the recipe for red wine poached or roasted rhubarb and now I'm dying to try them! My rhubarb is just coming on here in the foothills of the West Elk Mountains in Colorado so I'll have to settle for rhubarb gelato. But if you can provide the other recipes, I'd be most appreciative. Thanks. Cynthia

    1. Hi Cynthia! The red titles of the recipes in this blog post are links--click on them and the original recipe pages will come up! If there is a problem with that, here are the sites where the recipes are listed: red wine poached rhubarb, http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/05/red-winepoached/
      roasted rhubarb,

      Thanks for reading! Good luck with your rhubarb :)

  4. Well, don't I feel silly? Thank you for your quick response. I'll finish the rhubarb gelato tomorrow for a dinner party and can't wait to try the other recipes.