Last summer, when I was busy hunting down pretty little heirlooms for tomato cobbler, I always had an eye out for rhubarb. I keep glimpsing dark red stalks at farmers markets, and I would race over to find out they were invariably rainbow Swiss chard! Curse you, chard, and I'm only slightly sorry that I now have an unreasonable grudge against you.
Anyway, last weekend I went to the Union Square Market, fully confident that rhubarb victory would finally be mine....but the person at the information booth informed us that rhubarb season was almost over. What?!? Again? It seems like farmers markets only just opened for the spring! She told us two or three stands might have a few stalks left, but that we'd better hurry.
After a race against time, I couldn't believe my luck when I just happened to look to the side and spot a lone basket labeled "Rhubarb, $5," and filled to the brim with tall green stalks. Hell. Yeah.
Why my desperate obsession? Well, rhubarb is not only tart and fresh, but as far as I'm concerned, it's basically the gustatory embodiment of that spring-into-summer feeling. And I've never made a rhubarb dessert on my own before, or even held the fruit (vegetable?) in my hand. It was an interesting experience — as I chopped it up, I felt like I was literally making a celery crisp.
I hadn't known there were different varieties of rhubarb, but hey, my green rhubarb tasted just as it was supposed to — and even made for a stunning red-and-green bowl after I stirred in some strawberries. (Adding berries to a rhubarb dessert is generally what adds that red color anyhow, as rhubarb tends to go kind of beige after baking.)
If there isn't a dire rhubarb shortage where YOU are, maybe you could give this crisp recipe a try. I based my recipe on Smitten Kitchen's (but couldn't resist adding brown sugar, oats, vanilla, etc. etc.)
(adapted from here)
For the filling:
1 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb (roughly 1-inch pieces)
1 quart strawberries, hulled and quartered
Juice of 1/2 a lemon OR 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract, diluted in 1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
For the topping:
1 1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 heaping tablespoons granulated sugar
3 heaping tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup oats
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cold
Heat oven to 375° F. Prepare filling by mixing rhubarb, strawberries, extracts, sugar, and flour in an 8 x 8 inch pan. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugars, oats, salt, vanilla, and cold butter by using a pastry cutter, two knives, or even your hands. Work until everything is incorporated, the mixture has a sandy texture, and the butter bits are about pea-sized. Sprinkle topping evenly over the fruit filling, then pop in the oven.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the topping is golden and the filling is bubbly. Cool slightly and serve with vanilla ice cream, or fizzy white wine.