Sometimes vegetables surprise you. For instance, I approached cooking with rhubarb with a fair amount of trepidation. The strange celery-like shape and a reputation for a strong, tart taste gave me pause. But in a fit of early summer enthusiasm, I grabbed a bunch when it was offered at my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm share, and started researching its stories.
Technically a vegetable and a member of the knotweed family, rhubarb is culinarily considered among the first summer fruits. Its firm flavors are often partnered with strawberries in pies, jams and jellies. And, as it turns out, there are a number of healthful reasons to put it on the menu. With a long history of medicinal uses, rhubarb contains anti-inflammatory compounds just like those that give red wine its healthful halo. It’s full of nutrients like vitamin C, calcium and potassium. And, in the garden, it’s pretty. A sister to sorrel and buckwheat, its flowers resemble a string of embroidery knots. But watch out, apparently the leaves are poisonous.
It was fascinating to learn about this plant’s botany and history, but still I was a bit apprehensive. Finally, it was the promise of tartness paired with sweetness that prompted an experiment. Pies seemed too tame but a breakfast dish seemed just distinctive enough. And it turned out lovely, delicious too.
As rhubarb’s brief season wanes, break into new territory and try this vegetable turned fruit. It will be rewarding.
Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake
(Courtesy of Gourmet 2007)
¼ cup water
1 ½ tsp cornstarch
1/3 cup plus ½ cup sugar
2 cups chopped rhubarb stalks (about 10 oz)
1 cup chopped strawberries
1 cup flour
1 ¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 large egg
½ cup milk
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square glass baking dish.
In a medium saucepan, stir together water, cornstarch, and 1/3 cup sugar. Add rhubarb. Bring to a simmer while stirring and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add strawberries. Combine dry ingredients and sugar. Whisk together wet ingredients and butter, whisking in flour mixture till just combined. Reserve ½ cup fruit then pour remainder in the bottom of the baking dish. Pour batter over. Drizzle remaining fruit on top. Bake till a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool. Serve with rhubarb-strawberry jam.
Rhubarb Strawberry Jam
5 cups rhubarb cut into ½ inch cubes
2 cups strawberries, quartered
2 ¼ cup sugar
1 tbs lemon juice
Combine ingredients in a 4 quart saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and reduce heat, stirring occasionally until the jam has thickened, about one hour. The jam has set when a spoonful on a chilled plate holds firm. The jam can be refrigerated for 3 weeks or can be preserved in the traditional ways.
This is my contribution to edition #390 of Weekend Herb Blogging, an event started by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen, now organized by Haalo of Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once and hosted this week by The talented Simona from Bricole will be hosting both the English and Italian editions of Weekend Herb Blogging.