Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rhubarb, Rhubarb

Spring is making its mad dash, the garden is rapidly unfurling and it's a wonderful symphony of mostly green with enthusiastic bursts of magenta and yellow. The noisy unwrapping of spring is exciting after a long period of dormancy and I am keeping a close eye on the usual perennials as well as some new emerging faces. My rhubarb makes a dramatic entrance every year and this year was no exception. I have already harvested some of the fat pink stalks and stewed them up with ginger and sugar. I really need another plant as I am less than generous with my crop; I made a clafoutis for Memorial Day and whilst it had ample blueberries the rhubarb was scant.

A vernal landscape and the fresh, youthful breeze of June brings forth the desire for lamb. We know all about lamb in our house and chops are champs. The NZ'er barbecues them after they have overnighted in a rosemary bath and we have many tasty side dishes to accompany them; puttanesca is a favorite - tomatoes, anchovies and capers love lamb, sometimes I'll throw in some kalamata olives and vibrant red peppers and of course parsley, I often omit the pasta, this is one of those you dishes you can play around with and at a pinch you can put it together with stuff from the pantry which is great for last minute. Pasta alla puttanesca 'whores pasta' a dish made by girls with busy schedules on the Island of the story goes, in any case we all find ourselves not able to get fresh produce at some point and we are not breaking any rules by using things in tins. I do however use parsley from my garden and if my tomatoes are ripe, they will be put to good use in this easy but vibrant looking dish with a salty punch.

Another springtime favorite is a minty pea puree, our 'house' dish is made with peas (fresh when I can get them) and frozen fava beans, leeks from the garden and my secret ingredient is maple syrup. This is very popular with our pals and it's perfect with the lamb.

The bowl of pink tarty fruit is sitting in my fridge waiting to become either chutney or friands. Friands (also known as financiers) are very popular in New Zealand and Australia, they're made with almond flour, egg whites and a truck load of butter and finished off with some fruit on the top, I like to make them with the tart rhubarb. Here is a simple poached rhubarb recipe, which can be used for making friands, clafoutis or as a base for chutneys and jam, or you can just eat it like this with ice cream.

Poached rhubarb with ginger
Adapted from Stephanie Alexander's recipe - The Cook's Companion

Only use young pink rhubarb stalks, avoid green and thick stems which will taste coarse. Rhubarb has so much moisture it requires hardly any water when poaching. Remove all the leaves as they are poisonous, remove the flat brown part from the bottom of the stalk and cut into 1 inch lengths.

Put the prepared rhubarb into a heavy saucepan with with a generous quantity of sugar and two slightly smashed slices of ginger plus a couple of spoonfuls of water. Simmer for about 5 minutes, or until tender when tested with a knife.