Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Rhubarb and Me

I may have grown up eating Jersey tomatoes and my grandfather's homegrown hot peppers, but one piece of produce my childhood in the Garden State deprived me of was rhubarb. I think I'd heard of it, but I put it in the same category as rutabega and collard greens--Vegetables I've Heard Of But Know Nothing About. Fork was the first person I met who actually knew what to do with rhubarb. Turns out the stuff used to grow wild in his upstate New York 'hood. His grandfather used to plant it, too, and his grandmother would make a rhubarb sauce to go over ice cream, and rhubarb pie. His mom makes strawberry rhubarb ice cream.

Six years later, I'm proud to say rhubarb and I are pals. I've made rhubarb pies, rhubarb crumbles, rhubarb muffins and rhubarb sauce. I've learned a little bit about the vegetable--yes, it is a veggie, though in his excellent On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee says it "often masquerades as a fruit." Rhubarb appears in early spring and lasts through mid-summer. Its leaves are toxic, but its celery-like stalks are edible, and quite tasty--once you cook them. Raw rhubarb is extremely tart; however, it mellows somewhat when you bake or cook it (it's often paired with strawberry in pies to create a lovely sweet-tart effect).

I picked up some of the season's first rhubarb crop today at the Greenmarket, along with a pint of tart little strawberries. We've been eating the strawberries out of the carton, they're so tasty. The rhubarb, meanwhile, has made its way into rhubarb muffins. They're delicious. The cinnamon sugar on their tops is a lovely contrast to the tart muffin below. And with ice cream season practically upon us, I'm sure I'll be attempting the rhubarb version soon.--S

Cinnamon Rhubarb Muffins
12 muffins

Muffins ingredients:
1/2 c packed brown sugar
1/4 c butter, softened
1 c sour cream
2 eggs
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
3/4 t baking soda
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 1/2 c sliced 1/4-inch fresh rhubarb

Topping ingredients:
1 T sugar
1/2 t ground cinnamon

1. Heat oven to 375°F. Combine brown sugar and butter in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until mixture is creamy. Add sour cream and eggs; continue beating until well mixed.
2. Stir together flour, baking soda and 1/2 t cinnamon in medium bowl. Stir flour mixture into sour cream mixture just until moistened. Gently stir in rhubarb. Spoon into greased or paper-lined 12-cup muffin pan.
3. Stir together 1 T sugar and 1/2 t cinnamon in small bowl. Sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon mixture on top of each muffin.
4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Let stand 5 minutes; remove from pans.

Recipe courtesy of Land O'Lakes

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