Rhubarb, Robins, and the Regular Season

Rhubarb StalksRhubarb season is here! And about time, since all the ‘barb cut and frozen last year is gone. Chuck is planting some this year, and it should be ready to harvest in about two years; until then, I am dependent on the kindness of strangers to provide me with the scarlet stalks.

RhubarbPictured is a strawberry-rhubarb tart I made last week; the appearance of Florida berries and rhubarb, not robins, is the first true sign of spring. (Too bad, Mr. Robin.) I’m not going to give you the pie recipe, though, because you’ll either (a) sniff that you don’t eat sugar any more; (b) whimper about past pie crust failures; or (c) confide that your kids “don’t care for pie”, in which case I strongly advise you to get a new set of children.

Soda Syrups
No, instead, I’m going to start you off with a simple, simple recipe that will start you on to learning to love rhubarb. Flavored syrups easy and have all sorts of uses in the kitchen – just the kind of recipe you want in the pantry. Use it to make your own soda by mixing with club soda; it’s great in lemonade, too. Because it’s a simple syrup, you can make all kinds of cocktails out of it. How about mixing it with into hard cider? You could call it a Red Robin, if you don’t feel silly naming your alcoholic drinks. Or ordering them, for that matter.

(Oh! And “rhubarb”, in the argot of baseball, is slang for a fight on the field. And since Opening Day of the regular season is a springtime event, too. Watching a ball game, eatin’ pie, and drinkin’ soda – there’s no end to the wonder that is rhubarb!)

Rhubarb Syrup
(about 12 ounces)

1 pound rhubarb, cut into ½” pieces
½ Cup sugar
½ Cup water

In a saucepan, bring rhubarb, sugar, and water to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Pour the contents of the pot into a fine-meshed strained over a bowl or large measuring cup. Let the mixture stand for about 30 minutes. Gently press on the solids to extract all the juice.

Bottle it and save it in the fridge for several weeks.

Salad Scorn

ArugulaIf there’s one thing I loathe more than the word “dieting”, it’s salad.

Salads are usually a pain to make, if they’re interesting. (What’s uninteresting? “One of those mixed-up salads which men will eat with complete docility in restaurants, although they would probably start yelling if their wives tried to feed them one at home,” as Phil Marlowe observed. Smothered with bottled Ranch dressing, of course.) And eating a big salad makes me impatient. Like a trip to the dentist, I just want to get it over with, losing interest and my nerve about two-thirds of the way through the whole lousy experience.

I want to make salads that are as simple and as weird possible. Like a chopped “garbage” salad, with everything thrown into a bowl and mowed down with a pizza cutter. Brazilian potato salad with apples and olives. Shredded, raw butternut squash slaw with cranberries. Warm collards topped with toasted coconut chips, to which I am addicted. Do I need to say that all of these sport homemade dressing? Last night, salad was a handful of Romaine, grapefruit wedges, and peeled cucumber half-moons with a drizzle of olive oil. It really doesn’t have to be complicated.

Suzanne and I try to make a salad every day during the work week. (This translates into maybe, oh, two salads a week; we then switch to overstuffed liverwurst-and-onion “bombs”.) Recently, we’ve been lovin’ arugula, a favorite green because it’s easy to clean, requires no tearing or cutting, and has an interesting, peppery taste. With slivered pears, sliced shallots, and toasted walnuts, it’s been our go-to for a while.

Pears are kind of overlooked here in apple-centric New England. Comice and red Bartletts are great eating pears, but choose your favorite. How to tell if it’s ripe? Gently press around the stem at the top; it should have a little “give” if the pear is ready to eat.

Favorite Arugula Salad
(1 big or 2 side servings)

4 big fistfuls baby arugula
1 large, ripe, Comice or red Bartlett pear
1 shallot, thinly sliced
Small handful toasted walnuts
Olive oil, Sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper

Wash and dry the arugula – the drier, the better, so your dressing clings to the leaves. Place in a bowl.

Halve and core the pear; slice into thin wedges. Add to the bowl, along with the shallots and walnuts. Season with salad and pepper.

Drizzle with a little olive oil and add a splash of vinegar. Don’t overdress! Serve immediately.

Delicata Deliciousness

Delicata SquashMost people rush through the produce department like their pants are on fire. It’s not a fear of veggies per se – more just a fear of not knowing what to buy or what to do with the darn thing once you haul it home.

Now, New Englanders love them some butternut squash and feel very comfortable cooking it, commonly roasted, pureed, or served as a smooth and creamy soup. We love it grated raw in a slaw, but it’s also good au gratin with lots of olive oil and Parmesan. But around January 28, we start getting that gaggy feeling at the sight of it.

Better to branch out into some of the other winter squashes – and the Delicata is a favorite. It’s that cylindrical one, rather on the small side, bright yellow with orange or green racing stripes. If you’ve never had it, you’re in for a treat. It’s sweet, cooks quickly, and best of all – you can eat the rind. No peeling! And that, and it’s canoe-shape, makes it perfect for stuffing and baking.

Fastest and easiest method is to roast it, which really highlights the sweetness of the squash. Then you can eat it hot, warm, or cold, or use it in salad. By the time the season is over (Delicata become harder to find by the end of December), we’re ready to get back to butternut, Hubbard, acorn, and their cousins.

Roasted Delicata and Shallots
(4 servings)

2 to 4 Delicata (depending on size)
4 large shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
Olive oil, sea salt, and fresh pepper

Preheat the oven to 425OF. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or foil.

Slice the squash lengthwise; remove the seeds with a spoon. Slice the squash into ½” half-moons.

Place in a bowl along with shallots. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat with the oil.

Spread the squash and shallots on the baking sheets. Roast for 25-30 minutes, turning the vegetables once or twice, until soft and well-browned.

Too Many Peppers?

Jalapeno1Did you plant peppers, specifically jalapenos? And did you plant way too many of them? Of course you did! Well, they’re ripening now and the only thing to do is make a batch of jalapeno jelly. (Yes, we’ll cover jalapeno poppers some other time.)

This recipe is easy even for canning newbies. You can go natural or add a drop of green food coloring. The liquid pectin is generally available in the grocery store, alongside the powdered stuff.

How to use it? Well, the classic way is as a topping for cream cheese and crackers. But we like it as a glaze for grilled chicken or pork. And gifting others with a jar ain’t a bad idea, either.

Jalapeno Jelly
(4-5 half-pint jars)

3/4 pound jalapenos, cored and seeded
2 Cups apple cider vinegar
6 Cups sugar
2 pouches liquid pectin
3 drops of green food coloring (optional)

Wash, seed, and core the jalapenos – you’re going to want to use gloves for this, unless you’re a masochist.

Place the peppers in the food processor; add 1 Cup of the vinegar and puree them – a coarse puree is fine, if you want to see specks of pepper.

Transfer the mixture to a large saucepan. Add the remaining vinegar and the sugar. Stirring constantly, bring to a full boil over HIGH heat. Adjust the temperature to boil for 10 minutes.

Stir in the pectin and return to a full boil; boil for 1 minute. Remove the pan from heat and skim off any “foam” with a metal spoon. If desired, you can add food coloring.

Ladle jelly into clean, warm canning jars, leaving a 1/4″ head space.  Wipe the rim of the jar and put on sterile lid.  Screw on the top. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Remove the jars, let them cool, and check for good seal. And here they are:




Recipes for the Shrewsbury Farmer’s Market

Too, too hot today at the Market – a hazy, stifling, humid day, close to triple digits in temperature. Small crowds as a result, but we were there, sweltering and sharing some recipes that we like to make when the summer fruits begins to overwhelm the kitchen.

Grilled-PeachesPeaches. First up: a panzanella salad. Bread salads may seem odd, but it’s a great way to use up leftover bread. Panzanella is a Tuscan specialty, made with juicy, ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, and stale peasant bread. We like to make it with grilled peaches, fresh mint, and stale cornbread, a more Americanized version. And for those no-gluten types, it’s a snap with an all-cornmeal bread. This salad is always well-received – someone said it looked like stuffing. I’m assuming she meant turkey stuffing and not pillow stuffing, but whatever.

Cornbread Panzanella Salad with Grilled Peaches
(4-6 servings)

1/4 Cup white wine vinegar
2-4 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint or basil
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1 Tablespoons olive oil
4 large ripe peaches, halved and pitted
3 small shallots, halved
1 Cup grape tomatoes, halved
8” square day-old cornbread, cut into 12 pieces
10-15 fresh mint leaves, chopped

Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients in a bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside.

Preheat the grill or grill pan to MEDIUM-HIGH. Brush the peaches and shallots with oil; arrange cut-side down on on the grill and cook, flipping once, until nicely charred and softened. Transfer to a cutting board. and dice.

Mix the peaches, shallots, and tomatoes in a bowl with the cornbread. Just before serving, drizzle the cornbread mixture with vinaigrette and mint. Taste and adjust seasoning. Toss gently and serve.

*    *    *    *   *

BublaninaBlueberries. Also cramming the refrigerator are pints and pints of blueberries. There are only so many smoothies, cartons of yogurt, and bowls of cereal to put them on; the last time I opened the freezer, an avalanche of berries came crashing down on me. Time to bake! Going Bohemian, I decided on a bublanina – an eastern European “bubble” cake of blueberries, perfect with coffee as it is not too sweet.

Blueberry Bublanina
(9 servings)

1 stick butter, softened
1 Cup sugar
1 Cup flour
2 Tablespoons orange juice
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 Cups blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8″ or 9″ square pan with cooking spray.

Cream butter and sugar; add egg yolks and blend. Stir in orange juice and vanilla.

Whip eggs whites in a separate bowl to stiff, shiny peaks; fold in the flour and salt, then fold this mixture into butter mixture. Spread in prepared pan.

Top with berries; press the berries lightly into the mixture. Bake for 35-20 minutes. Cool and serve with powdered sugar.

*    *    *    *   *

Zucchini. Oh, the zucchini. Wheelbarrows full of zucchini – too many of them, and they get larger and larger and larger every week. In desperation, I grilled some, threw them in the processor with yogurt, fresh oregano, lemon, and a drop of olive oil. Voy-la! An almost-fat-free dip for croo-da-tay, as the French say.

photoGrilled Zuccchini-Yogurt Dip
(4-6 servings)

1 large zucchini, sliced lengthwise into wedges
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 Cup plain Greek yogurt
2 Tablespoons fresh oregano, roughly chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the grill or grill pan to MEDIUM-HIGH. Toss the zucchini with the oil and place on the grill. Cook for about 5 minutes, turning once, until both sides are nicely browned. Remove from heat and cool.

Transfer the zucchini to the food processor. Add oregano and lemon zest, and yogurt. Pulse until pureed. You may want to add additional water to thin to desired consistency. Taste for salt and pepper. Spread dip onto a serving plate, drizzle with a little olive oil. Serve with crackers, pita, or veggies.

*    *    *    *   *

No, we don’t get any ginger from our CSA. But because it was such a hot day, we stirred up a batch of hay switchell. This is one of those old-fashioned things that must occasionally be resurrected if only for the fun of it. Back in the day, buckets of this drink would be mixed up and served to farmers and workers in the field. Cold water can cause stomach cramps when you’re overheated; the ginger and vinegar in this drink “warm” the stomach and allow you drink without fear of adverse effects. (For more on this history of switchels, check out this article in The American Table.) We make ours with honey and ginger. Reactions to it were mixed – one four-year old chugged a cupful, making the grimmest face ever, but he finished every drop, eyes watering. What a trooper!


Hay Switchell
(1 quart)

1/3 to 1/2 Cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 Cup honey
1 Tablespoons ground ginger
4 Cups water

Mix all the ingredients together; taste and adjust the sweetness. Chill and serve to hot, sweaty people at the farmer’s market.





Farmer’s Market Radish Butter

radish butterThanks to everyone who stop by our stand at Shrewsbury Farmer’s Market today, to chat and sample. CU will be back on July 15.

This week, we passed out nibbles of our radish butter on stone-ground crackers. There were so many requests for the recipe, I’ve posted it here. If you think you don’t like radishes, please try this. There’s nothing in the world like butter and radishes! It’s a great spread for crackers and baquettes, but try it as a sandwich spread!

Radish Butter in Endive
(3/4 Cup)

1/2 pound red radishes, trimmed
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground white pepper
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (we used dill!)

Put the radishes in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the radishes are finely diced.

Transfer the radishes to a clean dishtowel; wrap them up and wring out the excess liquid. Transfer the radishes to a medium bowl and add the butter.

With a rubber spatula, cream the radish and butter together until smooth. Add the lemon juice, salt, pepper, and herbs. Taste it and adjust the seasonings; you may want more lemon juice or salt or herbs. Refrigerate until firm enough to spread.



Out of the Salad Bowl

Radishes: red-skinned stepchild of the salad bowl. They always look so promising in the produce section, but somehow they always wind up in the bottom of the salad bowl, sliced and sad and shunned. They are delicious with sweet butter on a slice of bread, but how many radish sandwiches can a person eat?

Because of their salad-bowl-only status, we never think to cook them, but they really take well to methods like pickling, pan-frying and oven roasting. And the green tops are edible, too.

Don’t limit yourself to the scarlet globes; the daikon radish – that gigantic white carrot-shaped thing – is great, too. I love the crunch curlicues of white radish that garnish the plate at Asian restaurant (gotta get one of those veggie spiralizers!). Because they are so large, thick rounds of the daikon are perfect for braising. And we like to make pesto from the green tops (well, we like to make pesto out of just about anything).

Braised Daikon Radish
(4 servings)

1 large daikon radish (about 1 pound)
2 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 Tablespoons sake or dry Sherry
2 teaspoons sugar

Scrub the radish, peel it, and slice crosswise into 1” rounds.

Place the daikon in a single layer in a high-sided sauté pan. Add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the radish. Add the remaining ingredients.

Bring to a boil; lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until all of the liquid is absorbed and the radish is tender, about 30-45 minutes.

Radish Green Pesto
(about ½ Cup)

3 Cups daikon radish greens
1/3 Cup slivered almonds
1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/3 Cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Wash the greens in cold water, swishing them around to remove any grit.

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil; drop in the radish greens and blanch for 30 seconds. Drain well, squeezing out excess water.

Stuff the radish greens to a food processor. Pulse 10-15 times or until roughly chopped. Add the almonds and pulse 15-20 times until the almonds and radish greens are very finely chopped. Add Parmesan cheese and pulse a few times to combine.

With food processor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Taste for seasonings and texture and add salt, pepper, and olive oil as desired.


Pie Friday: Tomato Pie

This one's a mini pie!

And now for a savory pie. The tomatoes were ripening so quickly that after making sauce and jam and roasted tomatoes, we froze a whole bunch and then looked around for other ways to use them.

This recipe is a favorite, as well as its source – the late, great writer, Laurie Colwin. She was a gifted novelist but is mostly remembered for her two collections of cooking essays, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. Her fans are legion, and I count myself among them. Colwin’s recipes are homey and humorous, with a simplicity that goes right to the heart of what home cooking really means. Read more


Coils of greeny goodness!

Along with strawberries and shad roe, fiddleheads are, to me, the first true sign that spring is finally, finally here. Fiddleheads are the tips of certain ferns before they unfurl. Their name derives from their resemblance to the coil on the top of the violin. This is a bright green, beautiful vegetable and a true seasonal food, as they are not cultivated. Rumor has it they taste similar to asparagus, but I think they taste like what green would taste like, if colors had a flavor. This should win over all the green-vegetable haters.

Read more

Attack of the Zombie Tomatoes!

Still warm...mmm...

Some of us are ga-ga over our cast iron collection – and not just because a “double-tap” on the noggin with one of these would stop a zombie in its tracks. We have lots of them – skillets, that is. A little one for a perfectly round fried egg, a slightly larger one for a searing steaks, and a big one for frittatas and Potatoes Anna. Yeah, cast iron takes a little bit of care – but it rewards you a thousand times over.

Now that tomato vines are producing, we are overrun with the things, no unlike zombies when they run amok. When we’re not oven-roasting tomatoes or chopping and freezing them, we’re making tomato-pesto salad and raw tomato sauce for pasta or slicing some for a BLT. Read more