To be honest, I have never cooked with rhubarb until I decided to write this article. There was always this mystery surrounding this vegetable for me. Every spring I am surprised by the arrival of the beautiful red stalks at my market. I always stopped to admire them… they are just waiting for someone to pick them up and bring them home. I have always just walked away until this month. My mother used to make rhubarb pie for my dad when I was a young girl. He loved rhubarb pie… or any pie she made for that matter. I never even tried a piece of her pie as a young girl. I guess it was too foreign… it wasn’t even a fruit that I could eat with my PB&J.
So I decided it was time to cook with rhubarb. And you and I would go on this maiden journey together.
Funny, how you can stroll past a vegetable in the produce section and not really give it a second thought. What was the journey that this humble vegetable had traveled to make its way to California? Or, more importantly, my kitchen? Now I am not alluding to Highway 5, which runs north and south through the entire state of California. No, I am talking about the indigenous origin of rhubarb.
So what is the back story on my mystery vegetable? Rhubarb is from China and for many years traveled the Silk Road to the Middle East, India, and finally reaching Europe in the 14th century. Rhubarb was traded along with other very precious spices, such as cinnamon, saffron, and opium, which were highly valued and therefore commanded a high price. It was noted in the early 1400s… that rhubarb is considered one of the best merchandises coming from China and is equal in value to silks, satins, musk, rubies, diamonds, and pearls.
It was Marco Polo who finally found the plant being grown and harvested in Asia and brought it back to Italy where it was planted and cultivated for European consumption as well as used for medicinal purposes. Such an exotic and interesting past for a humble vegetable sitting in our markets this time of year!
I have decided to make individual Rhubarb Flan Tarts with Pistachio Crumble. I found this recipe on one of my favorite blog sites Cannelle et Vanille. The recipe was written by the blogger Aran Goyoaga. Rhubarb can be used for all sorts of culinary dishes. It is primarily used in desserts but can be used in savory dishes too. And it can be pickled quite easily. Cooks enjoy rhubarb in pie, cobbler, crisps, cake, jam, ice cream, and savory chutney, which can be enjoyed with meats such as pork. Rhubarb pairs wonderfully with strawberries, apples, and ginger. It is important to note that the leaves of rhubarb are poisonous, which are never found attached to the stocks at the market.
Rhubarb Flan Tarts with Pistachio Crumble recipe included at bottom. Enjoy!
Rhubarb Flan and Pistachio Crumble Tart
By Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle et Vanille blog (posted 3/20/2009)
Book: Small Plates and Sweet Treats
Vanilla Bean Sugar Dough
1 stick butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
1 egg , beaten
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
In a stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla bean together. Add the egg and mix until combined. Scrape the bowl. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix until dough comes together. Do not over mix. It will be crumbly. Turn out the dough on a floured board. Form the dough into a disk, flatten it and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least two hours.
Roll the dough to about 1/16″-1/8″. Cut circles larger than your tart rings and fill the rings with the dough. Gently form the dough to the bottom edge of the ring and up the sides. Pinch off the excess dough at the top edge. If there are any cracks in the dough, repair with small pieces of dough to make the dough solid around the entire rim of tart ring. Place the filled tart rings in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
1 cup water
½ cup sugar
1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1 inch pieces
In a small saucepan, add the water and sugar on medium heat to dissolve the sugar and create a syrup. Add the pieces of rhubarb and turn heat down to barely simmering and gently poach the rhubarb in the syrup for about 3 minutes until the rhubarb is tender but still keeps it shape. Remove the rhubarb from the syrup and drain. Be careful not to mush it too much.
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup whole milk
½ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
3 eggs , beaten
1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream, whole milk, half of the sugar and the vanilla bean to a boil. Be careful not to scald.
In the meantime, whisk the eggs, rest of sugar and cornstarch together making sure the cornstarch is dissolved. Temper the hot cream into the egg mixture and whisk until combined. Strain the egg mixture through a fine sieve and cool over an ice bath.
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
½ cup flour
½ cup pistachios, chopped
pinch of salt
In a Cuisinart with the blade attachment, add all ingredients together and pulse the mixture until it becomes crumbly and begins to hold together. Do not over crop the nuts and mixture to be too fine. Place in an air tight container and refrigerate over night.
Assemble the tarts
Start by blind baking the tart shells. Place a round of parchment paper on top of the dough and fill the ring with beans or pie weights. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.
Drain the poached rhubarb really well and fill the pre-baked tart shells with it. Only use the pieces that have held together. Fill the tart with a couple of scoops of the flan mixture and bake in a 350F oven for about 5 minutes until it is slightly set.
Place the crumble on top of the rhubarb and flan and finish baking at 350F for about another 10 minutes until the flan has set and the crumble begins to lightly brown.
Makes 6 individual tarts