Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rhubarb Season!

photo by Anthony Palatta

Growing up, I had never heard of "rhubarb" until my junior year of high school, when my biology teacher raved about a pie made with the stuff.  Then again, my biology teacher was the kind of guy who had bits of lunch of stuck in his beard.

Years later, when I moved to New York, I had my first taste of strawberry-rhubarb pie, and was immediately hooked.  The tartness of the rhubarb chunks provided the perfect balance to the sweetness of sliced strawberries.  And recently, I tasted a rhubarb pie gone solo, sans strawberries.  The sourness of the rhubarb paired with the flaky, buttery pie crust danced on my tongue.

However, for my first foray at cooking rhubarb, I lost my nerve and decided to go for the classic strawberry combination.  This despite recently reading an article by NYTimes food writer Mark Bittman praising the delights of rhubarb, now in season, as well as exhorting readers to forgo the temptation of adding strawberries, which are not yet in season.

Every weekend, there's a small farmer's market in the park down the street from my apartment, so there I went in search of rhubarb.  The vegetable comes in long red-streaked stalks, like branches of celery.  I realized I wasn't sure how to pick out a good rhubarb.  (Turns out it's quite simple:  just choose a firm stalk without blemishes, and whatever you do, don't eat the leaves!)

Back home, I trimmed off the ends of my rhubarb and cut it into a small dice, as if I were chopping celery for a tuna salad.  I then mixed in two cups of sliced strawberries (using proportions from Bittman's recipe), some sugar, cornstarch, fresh lemon juice, vanilla, cinnamon, and lemon zest.  After patting this down into an 8 x 8 pan, I covered it with the crumb topping from Bittman's article, mainly because it has oats and I've got an extra canister in my pantry that I'm trying to use up.

After baking at 375 for 45 minutes, the rhubarb and strawberries were bubbling through the topping with bright red juicy lava.

Originally, I'd intended to share it with several friends and co-workers.  Instead I've been steadily chipping away at the sweet results all week long.

Rhubarb-Strawberry Crisp


2 lbs rhubarb, cut into small dice
1lb strawberries hulled and quartered
½ cup white sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1 tablespoon zest (about 1 lemon)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon

Topping:  (from Mark Bittman)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup pecans

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix rhubarb and strawberries with white sugar, cornstarch lemon juice and zest, vanilla, and cinnamon.  Spread in an 8 x 8 glass baking dish.

2. Pulse 6 tablespoons butter in a food processor with brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, oats, and pecans until it looks like wet sand.

3. Pat the topping over the rhubarb mixture and bake until golden and beginning to brown, about 40 minutes.

4.  Let it cool slightly, then serve warm, at room temperature, or even cold from the fridge!

Serves about 8


  1. I just made my second batch of this stuff- it's amazing! Thanks for the recipe.
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  2. Strawberry rhubarb SOMETHING has been on my “to bake” list for a long time! Thanks for the simple, delicious recipe!

  3. We have rhubarb in our garden up to our knees! Can't wait to enjoy this treat.

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