Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb
The first time we bought a juicer for the restaurant kitchen was to make apple sorbet. With a kitchen full of inquisitive chefs and a new toy, things got a little out of hand and we ended up juicing almost anything that came in the back door.
During this stage, all manner of herbs, lettuces, vegetables and fruits – anything we could get our hands on really – were trialled. We wanted to use various vegetables and herbs to bring a fresher, lighter touch to many of our dishes and sauces, and we had some great results.
Of course, not all vegetables produced a usable liquid and the low yield of some items rendered them unviable. Rhubarb, however, was one of our great successes. First we mixed rhubarb juice with equal parts of sugar syrup, then we froze it in a plastic tray overnight. The next day we took a fork and scraped it back, removing a thin top layer of frozen crystals. The result was a vibrant pink and refreshing granita.
The juice can also make a great salad dressing: spike a tablespoon of rhubarb juice with a touch of lemon juice, then mix that with two tablespoons of fruity olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. This is terrific on a chicory salad, or it could be used to dress asparagus and watercress.
Raw or cooked, rhubarb’s flavour without sugar is quite extreme and astringent.
A friend once shaved a handful of small rhubarb pieces from a young plant and rolled them in sugar before handing them around the kitchen as a sharp and lively sweet treat. Rhubarb also pickles perfectly and is a great accompaniment to most cold cuts.
And while stewed rhubarb and vanilla ice-cream is a traditional staple in many homes, this perennial plant’s true versatility is often overlooked. It has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. I am confident, though, that it is now more often used for desserts than as a purgative.
Rustic rhubarb tarts
Makes 6 tarts, with some pastry left for another use
Apple could be used to replace the rhubarb in this recipe. If so,
I suggest replacing the orange juice with a slug of Calvados. It is important to note that these creations are best eaten fresh, within 30 minutes of coming out of the oven, or they may go soggy.
This pastry is great used for pies and any recipe that requires puff pastry. It freezes well. There are also some good-quality commercial puff pastries available, made with fresh butter.
Rough puff pastry
– 200g butter
– 250g flour
– 125ml water
– pinch sugar
– pinch salt
– 250g rhubarb
– 1 tbsp orange juice
– 80g raw sugar
– ½ vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
– ½ lemon zest
– 1 egg, beaten
– raw sugar
Dice the butter into one-centimetre pieces. Return to the fridge to chill. When cold, toss the butter through the flour, separating the lumps as you go.
Make a well in the flour and add the water, sugar and salt. Stir the water into the flour vigorously to quickly bring the dough together. If the dough seems a bit dry, add one or two extra tablespoons of water to the bowl. The lumps of butter should remain intact, creating a rather lumpy-looking dough. Shape the dough into a block, wrap in cling film, and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
After chilling, dust the bench with plenty of flour and roll the dough out to form a rectangle measuring 30 centimetres x 15 centimetres. Fold the far end of the pastry towards you one-third of the way down the length. Fold the other end back up. This is a “book fold”. Wrap and return to the fridge and repeat this process three more times.
Meanwhile, make the filling. Cut the rhubarb into one-centimetre dice. Over a moderate heat, bring the orange juice, sugar and rhubarb to a simmer, then cover with a lid and continue to cook until the rhubarb is just soft. It is important to stir this from time to time so the rhubarb cooks evenly and maintains a rough dice. Try not to let it become a pan of mush. Remove the lid and continue to cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Take the pan from the heat and stir through the vanilla seeds and lemon zest. Leave in the fridge to cool completely before making the tarts.
To make the tarts, roll the pastry out to an even three-millimetre thickness. Cut into eight-centimetre squares. Place two tablespoons of filling in the centre of each square and fold the edges up around the filling. Place in the fridge to rest for at least one hour before cooking.
Pre-heat oven to 190ºC.
When you wish to cook the tarts, brush the pastry with some beaten egg and sprinkle half a teaspoon of raw sugar over the pastry edges. Cook for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180ºC and cook for another 10 minutes. When done, the pastry should be a lovely caramel colour and the base of the tarts should have a deep golden crust. Depending on your oven and tray, you may need to return the tarts to the oven to crisp up the base.
Serve as is or with a bowl of cream on the side.Wine pairing:
2010 Agnès & René Mosse Tenderness, chenin blanc from the Anjou, Loire Valley, France ($42) – Campbell Burton, sommelier Builders Arms Hotel.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 5, 2014 as "Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb". Subscribe here.