Anybody who has rhubarb growing knows that you live with it in your garden, not the other way around. It just comes up every year, a rare thing for an edible plant. And now is the time to harvest and enjoy.
I have always admired rhubarb for its beautiful (but toxic) leaves and the veiny red and green colors of its big stalks. It’s an ugly thing, though, when you cook it down into a stew with sugar to cut its acidic natural flavor. It can be a funky green color that doesn’t look very appetizing. A little red food coloring can help that, but no matter how it looks, it tastes spectacular to me: Tangy and kind of slippery-sweet. I’ll eat it alone out of a bowl, but certainly am not opposed to mixing it in with strawberries, putting it over ice cream or topping it with whipped cream.
Over the years I’ve compared rhubarb to opera: You either really like it or you really don’t. Same with rhubarb: There don’t seem to be any wishy-wash fans.
I came up with two recipes for the “really like” fans of rhubarb. One is a parfait with layers of a strawberry-rhubarb mix and a creamy cheesecake filling. Another recipe starts with a classic Southern dessert, a chess pie, then adds rhubarb. It’s a custardy pastry, its intense sweetness offset nicely in this recipe with slightly tart chunks of tender roasted rhubarb. Both recipes are from Better Homes & Gardens’ website, bhg.com.
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Strawberry and Rhubarb with Cheesecake Cream
12 ounces fresh rhubarb, chopped (3 cups)
8 ounces fresh strawberries, chopped (2 cups)
1/2 cup strawberry jam
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
Shortbread cookies (optional)
In a medium bowl, stir together rhubarb, strawberries and strawberry jam. Let mixture stand at room temperature while preparing cream cheese mixture.
Meanwhile, for Cheesecake Cream, in a large mixing bowl beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer on medium speed until sugar is dissolved. While beating, gradually add whipping cream. Beat until mixture is light and fluffy.
Layer about 1/2 cup each fruit mixture and Cheesecake Cream into eight (8-ounce) canning jars or parfait glasses.
Serve right away, or cover and chill up to 24 hours. Serve with shortbread cookies, if desired.
Makes 8 servings, each with 378 calories, 27 grams fat, 93 mg cholesterol, 117 mg sodium, 33 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 25 grams sugar, 3 grams protein.
Tip: If using frozen rhubarb, stir frozen rhubarb together with jam and strawberries and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, or until rhubarb has thawed. Stir before using. Assemble as above.
Rhubarb Chess Pie
Pastry for single crust pie
2 cups 1-inch pieces fresh rhubarb
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
Vanilla ice cream
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare pastry for single crust pie and arrange in pan. Cover dough in pan with a double thickness of foil. Bake 8 minutes. Remove foil. Bake 6 to 8 minutes more, or until set and dry.
Meanwhile, arrange rhubarb in a single layer in a shallow baking pan. Bake alongside the pastry for 10 minutes, or until rhubarb is tender. Remove from oven; cool. Sprinkle rhubarb with 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar. Toss to coat. (If the rhubarb is very green, this is the time to add a bit of red food coloring.) Set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together eggs, remaining 1 cup granulated sugar, cream, butter, lemon juice, cornstarch, cornmeal, vanilla and salt.
Place the rhubarb mixture in the bottom of the prebaked pastry. Pour filling over the rhubarb. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until center is just set, covering loosely with foil the last 10 minutes of baking, if necessary to prevent overbrowning. Cool on a wire rack for 2 hours. Cover and chill up to 24 hours. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Makes eight servings, each with 600 calories, 35 grams fat, 193 mg cholesterol, 396 mg sodium, 65 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 43 grams sugar, 8 grams protein.
Tip: Substitute 2 cups frozen cut rhubarb (8 ounces), thawed, for the fresh rhubarb. Prepare as above.