Category: Fruit

Rhubarb

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Like ramps, rhubarb is another of the spring ingredients to poke its head out of the soil early. This hearty perennial is a vegetable, although it is generally used as a fruit in desserts, and provides a tart, jellied consistency for jams, chutneys, compotes, and marmalades. Rhubarb pairs perfectly with strawberries, since they share the spring season at the same time, although it combines with other fruits as well with tasty results.

Rhubarb is ready to use as soon as it is harvested: grows in the same spot each season, thrives in colder climates, and needs a hard freeze to regenerate.

You only eat the stalks, which have a rich tart flavor and crispness similar to celery. The leaves are poisonous to humans so be sure to remove them if you source stalks with the leaves untrimmed. Rhubarb is easy to grow, but needs cooler weather to thrive. If you include it in your garden, a half-dozen plants will provide more than enough rhubarb for a family.

Rhubarb in the garden Photo credit: CLG20171/Flickr

Rhubarb in the garden
Photo credit: CLG20171/Flickr

Rhubarb freezes well. Chop into 1-inch pieces, spread them on a sheet pan and place in the freezer. Once frozen, place the rhubarb into heavy-duty plastic freezer bags. Stored this way, rhubarb will keep for up to six months.

There are so many ways to prepare rhubarb I thought it might be fun to explore one savory recipe and one sweet recipe. For the savory I am going to share a recipe for rhubarb mostarda and for the sweet recipe, a rhubarb and strawberry crostata.

 

Mostarda

Mostarda di frutta or simply mostarda, is a popular condiment served predominanly in northern Italy, from Piemonte to Lombardy, where the Mostarda di Cremona is the most well-know variation, then onto the Veneto region and into Emilia Romagna.

It is essentially an Italian fruit preserve, similar to chutney or a relish, cooked down within a mustard-flavored syrup. The mustard component is interesting because in Italy most recipes include a few drops of mustard essence more simply defined as liquid mustard gas that I am told is banned in the United States by the FDA. The workaround is to use a combination of Dijon mustard or dry mustard powder diluted into a paste with a little white wine, or if you can source a bottle of mustard oil.

Traditionally, mostarda is served with bollito misto (boiled meats), a specialty of the cuisine of northern Italy. In more contemporary cuisine, mostarda pairs well with most braised or roasted dishes, especially pork or poultry, as well as mixed charcuterie or cheese plates. Many tree fruits or berries are used to prepare a mostarda, either singularly or in combination. I have read and researched many approaches to making a mostarda, from a five day process that I believe is just too long for the home cook and more suited to the restaurant kitchen where perhaps larger quantities are prepared. However, there are much quicker variations and with this recipe I have chosen to take that approach to prepare a rhubarb mostarda.

For the most part this recipe could be the template for any mostarda, keeping the ratio of water to sugar the same and simply changing the main fruit or vegetable to create different variations. A finished mostarda can keep for up to three weeks in the refrigerator and for six months in the freezer.

Ingredients
1½ pounds fresh rhubarb stalks, leaves removed, ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces (approximately 5 to 6 cups)
1 medium sweet white onion or a red onion, diced
2 cups sugar
2 cups water (or 1 cup water plus 1 cup dry white wine)
3 tablespoons dry mustard powder (Colemans or other)
3 tablespoons yellow or brown mustard seeds, lightly toasted
1 tablespoon mustard oil, or to taste (if mustard oil is unavailable, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard can be substituted)

Mostarda mise en place

Mostarda mise en place

Method
Lightly toast the mustard seeds over moderate heat until they begin to pop. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Mix the dry mustard with 1 or 2 tablespoons of white wine until a thick paste forms. Mix in the mustard oil if using or Dijon, set aside.

Add the sugar and the water to a stockpot large enough to hold the fruit. Place over medium heat and stir constantly until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat slightly.

Mix in the prepared fruit, in this case the rhubarb, along with the mustard seeds and the prepared mustard paste. Stir until thoroughly combined.

Simmer for 20 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the fruit reaches a jam-like consistency. Check and adjust the seasoning by adding more mustard oil or Dijon if you prefer a little more assertive flavor. Allow to cool and then serve at room temperature.

Trio of sheep milk cheeses accompanied by rhubarb mostards

Trio of sheep milk cheeses accompanied by rhubarb mostarda

 

Crostata

If you are a pie lover then you will appreciate the straightforward rustic variation that is a crostata. These free-form open pastries can be made in most any size, from 12-inch rounds to mini bite-size variations.

These confections are quick, easy and delicious, and no two are exactly alike since in most cases they are hand folded instead of formed within a fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Those crostata are more uniform in shape and often times have a lattice-strip topping.

The fillings are numerous and vary by what is in season. In Italy jams are very common; most fresh fruits make fine fillings alone or in combination, as does ricotta flavored with nuts, dried fruit, and citron, as well as various custards with perhaps a pinch of spice. And, just to keep things interesting, a crostata doesn’t just have to be a sweet pastry, which I learned when I prepared a savory variation using a mix wild mushrooms and fresh herbs.

The crust surrounding a crostata is as important as the filling, and there are probably as many recipes for the crust as there are home bakers. Mine is a work in progress as I tinker with the proportions of flour to sugar to butter, but in the end the crust should be tender, flaky, and rich. The recipe I am sharing here is the one I use when making any crostata where the overall size and final shape is determined by the amount and type of filling to be wrapped by the baked crust.

In the end, a crostata presents a lovely seasonal dessert as well as a perfect breakfast dish.

Ingredients

Pastry:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons sweet butter, cut into ½-inch pieces and chilled
3 tablespoons whole milk Greek yogurt

Filling for rhubarb and strawberry crostata:

1-1/4 pounds fresh rhubarb stalks, leaves removed, ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces (approximately 5 cups)
8 large strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, (or Campari, grappa, or kirsch)
2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar to finish

Method
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

In the workbowl of a food processor add all the pastry ingredients, the butter a few pieces at a time, and pulse only until the dough comes together. Turn out on a lightly floured board, shape into a flat disk, wrap with clear film and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Place all the filling ingredients except the confectioner sugar in a large mixing bowl and fold together until the fruit is well coated. Set aside.

Once the dough is ready, unwrap it onto a floured surface then with a floured roller roll it out to an approximate 14-inch round. Use a pastry scraper to gently fold the dough into quarters and place on a flat, round baking sheet pan, then gently unfold to fit the pan.

Mix together a tablespoon each of granulated sugar and all-purpose flour and spread around the center of the dough leaving approximately a 2-inch ring from the outside edge.

Place the filling mix within the center area dusted with the sugar-flour mix and begin to fold the remaining dough edge around the filling piled in the middle. The dough will not cover the filling completely but instead form an overlapping edge to contain the filling within the crust once baked. Use slightly moistened fingers, to lightly press the folded creases together so that they hold their shape during baking.If you like, you can dot the exposed fruit filling with one teaspoon of butter cut into small pieces.

Bake the crostata for 40 minutes in the preheated oven until the crust is golden brown and the filling is tender and syruplike. Depending on the heat of your oven, if you think the crostata is getting too brown too quickly, it can be covered with foil.

When finished allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes on a rack, then if using, dust the crostata with the confectioners’ sugar. Once cool, carefully life the crostata to a platter or cake stand to serve.

Rhubarb strawberry crostata

Rhubarb strawberry crostata

A crostata can be made all year round using whatever fruits are available and the freshest. This is just one example making good use of early spring produce and their great flavor complement. Quite frankly, I thought this crostata was better for breakfast than dessert after a meal. You be the judge.

Meanwhile, we will add rhubarb to our square-foot garden and with any luck plan on it emerging after next winter has past.

Enjoy exploring rhubarb this spring.

Eat well. Be well.
DM
“From Nature to Plate” T/K

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Meal

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This past weekend I did a little shopping at a couple of local farmers’ markets, and pairing some of my purchases with pantry staples and fresh herbs from our square-foot garden, I cobbled together the meal I am about to share with you.

At the market I bought early cherry tomatoes (not so great yet), green and yellow summer beans, spring onions, and fresh-picked cherries. From the pantry I used rabbit hindquarters, a mix of dried wild mushrooms, preserved lemon, fresh chèvre, and a few other staples to bring the meal together.

The Meal
Braised Rabbit
Wild Mushroom Stew
Long-Cooked Summer Beans
Cherries in Vermouth Syrup with Fresh Chèvre

Braised Rabbit

Ingredients
4 rabbit hindquarters
2 medium carrots, rough chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, rough chopped
1 spring onion, white bulb only, rough chopped
4 large whole garlic cloves
1-1/2 cups water plus 1/2 cup dry white wine or white vermouth
4 tablespoons butter
Herb bundle plus parsley stems (in this recipe the herbs were parsley, lemon balm, and oregano, wrapped in shiso leaves)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Rabbit mise en place

Rabbit mise en place

Method
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed, ovenproof roasting pan with a lid. Once the oil is hot, salt and pepper and sear the rabbit quarters until browned on both sides, tending and turning so as not to burn or allow to stick, approximately 15 minutes. Remove rabbit to a plate and tent to keep warm.

Add the soffritto (vegetable mix) to the same pan, more olive oil, salt and pepper and sauté, turning to coat and combine until the they begin to soften and lightly color.

Browning the rabbit

Browning the rabbit

Once the soffritto is ready, add the rabbit back to the pan, pour the water and wine or vermouth around, add the herb bouquet and the butter. Cover the pan and place in the oven for 25 minutes. Check to determine if the sauce has become too thick, add another 1/2 cup liquid if required, otherwise cover and braise another 25 minutes.

Once braising is done, remove the pan from the oven and keep warm, while assembling the rest of the meal.

Soffritto sauté

Soffritto sauté

The braise

The braise

 

Mixed Wild Mushroom Stew

This dish can be prepared with all fresh wild mushrooms if available, or a mix of fresh and dried. The dried mushrooms will first have to be refreshed by soaking in warm water or stock until they are softened, then the soaking liquid is strained to remove any dirt or grit accumulated; it then can be used as the base for the stew broth.

The finished dish makes a fine side vegetable, as it was in this meal, however any leftovers can be pulsed in a food processor and used to prepare a robust pasta sauce, or a hearty addition to risotto, or even added to a stuffing mix for either a roast chicken or a roulade of pork tenderloin tied and finished on the grill.

With this recipe I used all dried mushrooms which I always have on hand. The mix I included was a small sampling of each of the following mushrooms to yield 2-1/2 cups of dried: Black Trumpet, Chanterelle, Lobster, Matsutake, Morel, Oyster, Porcini, Shiitake, and Woodear. The recipe is very flexible in that you can mix and match to make your own mushroom combination to satisfy your personal taste. Part of what makes cooking fun!

Ingredients
2 lbs fresh mushrooms or 2-1/2 cups dried
2 cups water or stock (vegetable or chicken)
1 onion (with this recipe I used the large green end of the spring onion), chopped fine
2 to 3 garlic cloves, sliced fine
1-1/2 cups chopped tomatoes (with this recipe I quartered the cherry tomatoes from the farm market)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 preserved lemon rind, chopped fine
1 tablespoon flour or cornstarch plus 2 tablespoons butter melted
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh herbs (in this recipe I made a bouquet of lemon balm, oregano, dill flowers, and parsley stems, wrapped in shiso leaves, plus minced parsley to finish)
Truffle puree or truffle oil (optional)

Mushroom mise en place

Mushroom mise en place

Method
Clean, prep, and slice the mushrooms if using fresh, saving the stems to poach in the water or stock to make the stew broth. Or if using dried, soak in 2 cups of water or stock until softened. Squeeze out all the liquid and set aside, while straining the soaking liquid as previously described and set aside.

Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot with a lid. Once the oil is warmed, add the onion and sauté until it begins to soften. Next add the tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, salt and pepper, and one cup of the broth, stirring to combine and continue the sauté until the tomatoes soften and blend into the broth. Next add the mushroom mix, preserved lemon, herb bundle, and remaining broth, again stirring to combine and continue to sauté.

Mushroom soffritto sauté

Mushroom soffritto sauté

In a small sauté pan melt the butter and whisk with the flour or cornstarch to form a light roux. Add the roux to the mushrooms along with the minced parsley. Mix to combine, check the seasoning and if using, add a small amount of truffle puree or drizzle a small amount of truffle oil over. Cover the pot and allow to simmer over very low heat for 15 to 20 minutes and then keep warm while assembling the rest of the meal.

Mushroom stew base

Mushroom stew base

Mushrooms added to base

Mushrooms added to base

Long-Cooked Summer Beans

Summer green beans, also known as string beans, are available at the markets starting in the early summer season right through the fall. They can also be found in both yellow and purple varieties, which can yield a very festive and colorful dish when using all three.

This variety of seasonal beans is different from the slender French haricots vert, which lend themselves to quick cooking, best served cold in salads or as a warm side or underlay in other dishes. The beans in this recipe are generally thicker and fatter than the haricots vert variety and are enhanced by the long slow cooking.

Different liquids can be used for the braise: water, stock, wine, a combination of those or even tomato sauce. The proportions can be easily scaled up depending upon how many will be served. This recipe works well for 2 people.

Ingredients
12 green beans plus 12 yellow beans
1 medium sweet onion or white bulb from a spring onion, thinly sliced
1 cup (approximately 12) cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup dry white wine or white vermouth
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh herbs (in this recipe I used parsley, basil, lemon balm, and thyme)

Stewed beans mise en place

Stewed beans mise en place

Method
Clean and trim the stem ends from the beans.

Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot with a lid. Once the oil is warmed, add the onion and tomatoes, sauté until they begin to soften and the onions lightly color.

Next add the beans, wine or vermouth, and salt and pepper to the sauté, cover, and allow the beans and tomatoes to soften.

Finally, once the beans and the tomatoes are fork tender and softened, sprinkle the fresh herbs, cover again, and reduce the heat, allowing the vegetable mix to gently simmer until ready to plate.

Sweat onion and tomatoes

Sweat onion and tomatoes

Add beans to the stew

Add beans to the stew

Cherries in Vermouth Syrup over Fresh Chèvre

Ingredients
1 to 1-1/2 cups sweet cherries (depending upon size), stemmed but not pitted
1 cup sweet vermouth
3 tablespoons sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
Plain fresh chèvre cheese

Dessert mise en place

Dessert mise en place

Method
Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer to dissolve the sugar. Continue to simmer until the cherries are soft. Remove the cherries to cool and continue to reduce the remaining liquid until reaching a syrup consistency. Pour the syrup over the cherries and allow to cool completely.

Slice a round of fresh chèvre and spoon the cherries and syrup around. That’s it—couldn’t be simpler!

You can choose to prepare these recipes as a complete meal, or try the recipes individually and prepare your own version. I’d enjoy hearing from you, so let me know what you finally decide. Here is a look at the complete meal plated and ready to serve.

Cherries in vermouth

Cherries in vermouth

Plated

Plated

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