Mondays are "contributor days" at Second City Soiree. Our newest contributor is intrepid foodie Christina Wong, who likes to cook without a recipe, but with fresh food.
Rhubarb. The word is kind of goofy isn't it? When I hear rhubarb, I used to think state fairs with homey, lattice topped rhubarb and strawberry pies. Now, thanks to a surge in popularity among chefs, I think spicy compotes, subtley sweet sorbets, and delicious natural sodas.
Rhubarb has a long growing season but is at its peak from April through June. When purchasing, look for crisp, slender stalks-- if it's soft, then the rhubarb was picked too long ago. Frankly, color doesn't matter much here flavor-wise, so I like looking for a variety of shades from palest pink to deep, vibrant red. If the stalks you choose have leafy greens or roots attached, remember that the leaves are poisonous, and only the stalks are edible. Rhubarb can be wrapped in plastic and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week before using. To prepare it, simply chop into pieces and bake, boil, or roast until soft.
Think rhubarb is just for pies? Think again. Here are three simple and easy to prepare ways to use honey roasted rhubarb for your next dinner party.
Combine 3/4 pound of rhubarb, cut into 1 inch pieces, with 1/4 cup honey. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes on your top oven rack at 450 degrees F. Puree the rhubarb in a blender or food processor along with 1 teaspoon of freshly grated orange zest.
Whip 2 cups of heavy cream in your mixer on medium high speed. After about a minute or so when the cream barely starts to thicken, add 1/2 cup of granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Whip until medium peaks form, about 4-5 minutes total.
Crush 12-15 gingersnap cookies in a plastic bag until you have mostly crumbs. Add rhubarb puree and gingersnaps to the whipped cream and fold, making sure you still see streaks of the puree throughout the pillowy cream. Chill for at least an hour then serve in your favorite glassware so your guests can see this beautiful treat from all angles. Top with more cookie crumbs before serving. Makes 6 servings.
Rhubarb and Fennel Salad
This time, combine 3/4 pound of rhubarb, cut on a bias in 1 inch pieces, with 1 large fennel bulb, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices, and 1/4 cup of honey in a large mixing bowl. Roast on the top rack of your oven set to 450 degrees F for 5-7 minutes or until rhubarb just starts to soften but retains its shape. Let this mixture cool to the touch.
Wash and spin dry 1 bag of spring salad mix. In a bowl, whisk together the zest and juice of 1/2 an orange, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a generous pinch of pepper. Plate salad greens and top with a mix of the rhubarb and fennel, and a sprinkling of toasted walnut pieces. Drizzle the dressing over each salad before serving. Serves 4.
John's Rhubarb "Double Muddle" Mojito
Roast rhubarb as described above for the Rhubarb Fool. Place 3 pieces of honey roasted rhubarb in a small glass along with 2 oz (or to taste) of light rum and muddle until rhubarb is disintegrated. Strain the rum, now bright pink, into a pint glass. Add 2 lime wedges and 6-8 torn mint leaves and muddle again before adding 1 oz simple syrup. Fill the glass 3/4 of the way full with ice, then top off with soda water. Garnish with trimmed end of rhubarb stalk before serving.