Friday, May 22, 2009

Enigma On Toast

How is rhubarb like an avocado?

For just one tiny second, avert your thoughts from pies and strawberries and jam and cream, and think about this (just one second, I promise). We all know avocados are fruit, but generally not thought of as anything but a green veggie ideally paired with chips and a salted margarita. In the same way, rhubarb, technically a vegetable, is nestled in with pie pans and jam jars and all the sweet, fruity desserts of spring. A gardener's enigma: in a world of fruit parading as vegetables, is rhubarb the only vegetable playing dress up as fruit?

Just some fruit (or vegetable) for thought. And because disguise or not, it does seem that rhubarb belongs in sweet pie shells rather than salad bowls, lets get back to the sugar.

If you don't have time for cutting butter into pie dough, or you find your store shelves still waiting for summer strawberries...the answer is jam. Its quick, its sweet, and as you will see in a few short scrolls of your mouse, quite versatile in those moments requiring attention to sweet tooth needs (which can be very serious indeed).

From long, lanky stalks, rhubarb cut into little pieces turns to a confetti of pink and green, tart and tasty. Add a little sugar, a little heat, and one (heat resistant) spatula...

Jam baby!

Even if it weren't sweet and drool-inducingly delicious...not that I drooled..., this jam is soft and pink* and cheery. Vegetable? Good disguise indeed. I strongly believe that sometimes you need something lovely like this in your fridge, even just to look at while scanning the options. It is no coincidence then, I should note here too, that this simple recipe comes from a woman who I believe has mastered the art of using sweets to sweeten up more than the dessert hour, my favorite pastry chef Nancy Olson.

We've covered that this fruity vegetable is sneaky, pink, cheery and occasionally inducing of a lip smack or two... but is it all just for toast? Oh no. No my friends. Think ice cream. Stir it into your oatmeal. For a hot-like-summer spring day, just mix in a bit of the syrupy smooth part into a glass of tonic water for rhubarb soda.

And toast works too.

Fruit, vegetable... a little sugar and jam is the word. I suppose you could also call it a compote, but calling it jam makes its something you can eat for breakfast without flirting at dessert. And I think that's grand.

So go think biscuits, ice cream, ricotta, crisp sodas, toast, yogurt, cereal, shortcake...

*The color of your jam will depend on the color of the rhubarb you buy- if its a greener bunch, don't be discouraged if your jam turns out a little brownish. It will still taste great!!

Nancy Olson's Rhubarb Jam

360 grams rhubarb
250 grams sugar

125 grams rhubarb

125 grams rhubarb

1. Over medium-high heat, let a medium sized sauce pan warm up, empty.
2. Once the pot is hot, add the first amount of rhubarb and sugar.
3. Cook, stirring constantly, until the rhubarb cooks down to a thick, jam like consistency. As it get thicker, the sugar will want to start caramelizing; if you see it turning brown on the bottom of the pot, take the pan off the heat, stir some more, and then throw it back on. Make sure you stir constantly! Use the spatula to scrape the bottom and the edges around the pan.
4. Once the rhubarb is thick and you can almost smell it caramelizing, add the second amount of rhubarb.
5. Stir until rhubarb softens, and mixture returns to a boil.
6. Add the last measure, stirring for just a minute or two, until the mixture returns to a boil again.
7. Let cool in a heat resistant bowl...the jam will be really hot when it comes out of the pot!
8. Once cool, refrigerate (or eat).

Yield: a little over half a quart.

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