The rhubarb is coming, the rhubarb is coming! I know that I keep harping on the impending vegetable season, but the showing of rhubarb in the garden is another early harbinger of said season. At the farm, we harvest it from late May until the Fourth of July; after that, we let it rest for the next season.
Rhubarb is wonderfully ornamental as well as delicious; one of its best qualities is that it is a perennial. Our rhubarb patch is at least seventeen years old and continues to heavily produce large, juicy, bright red stalks about two feet long. Early in the season, we nip them off at the base when they are small and tender, sprinkle with sea salt, and eat them as an afternoon refresher in the field. When they get larger, we make pies, crisps, and chutneys from them. If they get very large, we have to peel them for use in rhubarb sauce. Although most Midwestern home cooks use it for desserts, I really love using it as an accompaniment for rich and fatty foods like seared foie gras and for foods that lend themselves to sweet and sour elements, such as pork chops. Below is my recipe for savory rhubarb chutney. Remember only the stalks are edible, discard or compost the leaves.
Savory Rhubarb Chutney
4 c. fresh rhubarb-sliced about 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick
1 T. smoked paprika
2 T. whole mustard seeds
1 star anise pod
3 T. fresh ginger—peeled and grated
1 medium shallot—minced
2 garlic cloves minced
1/2 c. dried cherries
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. sherry vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
(chilis are great if you want to make it spicy)
Place all the ingredients in a stainless steel saucepot, bring the mixture to a simmer, and then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook until the mixture has your desired consistency, approximately 15 minutes. Remove star anise, and check the salt and pepper; serve at room temperature on pork chops or seared foie gras.
Makes a little more than a cup.