I’m a chef, but I’m also a regular guy who likes and dislikes certain ingredients and dishes. Having said that, I also am required to prepare dishes or create fabulous recipes for things outside of my personal tastes.
It can become a bit schizophrenic at times.
Occasionally, dishes I once created for the enjoyment of others slowly—taste by taste, over time—go from “I can deal with this” to “It’s not bad” to “I really love this.”
Case in point: rhubarb.
My first encounter with rhubarb wasn’t a particularly pleasant one. When I was a boy, a neighbor across the street had a small garden and always seemed to have some rhubarb growing.
One late spring day, she proudly prepared a rhubarb pie which (sorry, Helen) wasn’t very good. Yet because I was a guest in her home, my mom (who loved rhubarb and thought I should too) kind of forced me to enjoy it.
Bite by bite, I choked down each sour, tasteless, disgusting forkful.
Unfortunately, because I did such an incredibly good acting job, I was rewarded with a second helping.
I learned my lesson, but rhubarb and I were off to a rough start. What I discovered much later was that it wasn’t entirely rhubarb’s fault. It was picked too early and the recipe was, in a word, just terrible.
Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a species of vegetable plant grown primarily for its fleshy stalks. Because these stalks are crisp with a strong, tart taste, they are usually seasoned with sugar and spices and treated like a fruit, such as apples. Another common practice is to cook rhubarb with other fruits, such as strawberries.
Other popular uses for rhubarb include pickling, dehydrating, and juicing as well as making jams, bakery goods, and even wine.
Generally speaking, there are two types of rhubarb available.
Hot-house rhubarb is generally available January through June and has pink to light-red stalks that are milder in taste and not as stringy. Field-grown rhubarb’s peak season is April and May. It’s available right now at Nino’s through the middle of July. Our field-grown, local Michigan rhubarb has deeper-red stalks that have a more intense flavor than any hothouse-grown varieties.
If you’d like to try rhubarb, now is the perfect time of the year to do so because it’s coming into the peak of its season.
Here is a simple recipe to start with. If you’d like to add fresh strawberries to it, you can omit 1 cup of the rhubarb and add 1 cup of halved strawberries in its place.
3 Cups Michigan Rhubarb, Unpeeled and Diced
1 TBSP All-Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/8th tsp Salt
1 TBSP Water
6 TBSP Salted Butter
1/3 Cup Unbleached Flour
½ Cup Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
½ Cup Rolled Oats
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Spray a 10” X 6” X 2” baking dish with non-stick vegetable spray.
3. In a small bowl, combine and stir together the first 6 ingredients, and then turn them into the baking dish, spreading evenly.
4. Cream the butter together with the flour and brown sugar, and then stir in the oats to make a crumbly-like streusel topping mixture.
5. Sprinkle the topping mixture evenly over the rhubarb.
6. Bake for 45 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender and the top is golden brown.