Rhubarb is one of the great pleasures of spring, with its rosy color and earthy tang. It is found in most supermarkets this time of year, although it is available frozen anytime. Also known as "pieplant," rhubarb is a perennial that is native to central and northern Asia, where it has been grown for thousands of years for medicinal purposes. It was brought to Europe by Marco Polo and has been eaten as a food since the 18th century.
Rhubarb has an identity crisis it is a vegetable (it does look like a crimson celery plant), but it is always used as a fruit. Its very tart succulent stalks can be poached or pureed with sugar to make delicious pie fillings, and are often combined with strawberries and raspberries in jams, chutneys sorbets or compotes. But it is delicious in savory dishes as well, especially with meat and duck.
Thin red, crisp stalks have the best texture. If stalks are floppy, they are not fresh. Wrap rhubarb in plastic and refrigerate for up to 1 to 2 weeks. Both raw and cooked rhubarb freeze well.
When ready to cook, wash and trim both ends of the stalks and discard the inedible leaves. Rhubarb is very tart and requires considerable sweetening. As with other relatively acidic foods like tomatoes, do not cook in aluminum pots to avoid an unpleasant taste.
RHUBARB SOUP WITH PROSECCO
A leisurely family-style supper is a fabulous way to entertain. Get started with a piquant chilled rhubarb soup, then follow with grilled salmon and salsa verde; rosemary roasted new potatoes; steamed asparagus and assorted homemade breads. Pour a fruity pinot noir for a lovely match with the succulent salmon.
- 2 pounds rhubarb (about 6 large stalks)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup dry prosecco
- 4 teaspoons plain, Greek-style yogurt
- 2 tablespoons crushed toasted pistachios
- 4 sprigs mint, for garnish (optional)
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Cut the rhubarb crosswise into 1/2-inch slices and toss with the sugar. Macerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight. Place in a heatproof bowl or double boiler and heat slowly over simmering water. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, or until the rhubarb is soft and has given up its juices. You want the rhubarb to be tender but still maintain its shape.
Pour the mixture into a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl and strain out all the liquid. Reserve about 3 nicely shaped slices of rhubarb for each serving, then put the remaining fruit through a food mill.
In the end, you should end up with about 1 cup each of juice and purée. Combine the two and set in the fridge to chill thoroughly.
Right before serving, add the prosecco.
For each serving, measure out 1/2 cup soup and place in a bowl. Decorate the top with reserved slices of rhubarb. Dollop 1 teaspoon of yogurt into each bowl and sprinkle with 1/2 tablespoon of the pistachios. Garnish with mint if you like. Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 205 calories (9 percent from fat), 2.2g fat (.3 g saturated, 1 g monounsaturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 5.8 g protein, 38.5 g carbohydrates, 3.5 g fiber, 23 mg sodium.
Carole Kotkin is manager of the Ocean Reef Club cooking school and co-author of "Mmmmiami: Tempting Tropical Tastes for Home Cooks Everywhere."
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