Rhubarb Revamped

I love strawberry rhubarb crisp. With its sweet and tangy flavors, there's nothing better than eating it while it is hot and bubbly right out of the oven served up with a generous scoop of quickly melting vanilla ice cream. I made such a crisp a few weeks ago with rhubarb I purchased at the farmer's market and it was delicious. The following week I came home from the market again with more rhubarb, but I had no idea what I was going to do with it. We'd only finished the remainder of the crisp a few days before so I didn't feel like I should make another crisp so soon after. What else is there to do with rhubarb?

I realized I was not the only person with this quandary when I came across an article in a local newspaper that was titled "The Versatility of Rhubarb" where the author of the article proclaimed that there were endless possibilities with rhubarb, and he was going to prove it by sharing three "very different" rhubarb recipes. My interest piqued, I turned to the page were the recipes were listed, and there I found recipes for rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, and rhubarb torte. "What?" I thought, "How are pie and crisp original? Everybody makes pie and crisp with rhubarb!" "Endless possibilities" rhubarb may have, but they were not demonstrated by those recipes. Disappointed, I conducted my own recipe search for rhubarb and came across a recipe for Orange Rhubarb Compote that seemed to be promising and versatile.

With this one compote, I was able to use it in three different ways, two of them definitely departing from the norm, and was quite satisfied with all three results. For my first try at an innovative use of rhubarb, I thought perhaps a rich, very dark chocolate would hold its own against the tartness of the rhubarb. Plus, the orange would bind the two strong flavors together, as it pairs well with both rhubarb and chocolate. To this end, I made devil's food cupcakes filled with the orange rhubarb compote and topped off with a spectacular dark chocolate orange ganache. In Scott's words, the the final product was "ab-so-lute-ly ridiculous" which means really, really good.

For the second idea, I went the sweet route again and made a little vanilla ice cream pie with graham cracker crust and spooned warm compote over top with a drizzle of real maple syrup. As vanilla ice cream goes great with rhubarb crisp, it is natural that rhubarb compote would be a great topping for vanilla ice cream. I would recommend using a sweet, full flavor vanilla bean ice cream to pair with the compote, and for a quick, deconstructed rhubarb crisp, simply sprinkle granola on top.

The idea for my third experiment came about when I was at a barbeque rib festival last weekend with Scott. Each vendor had their own secret rubs, glazes, and sauces for their meat and they were all quite different, with the sauces varying the most. As big sauce fans, Scott and I cared more about trying the different sauces than the meat. It was during this that the idea of pairing the rhubarb compote with a sweet, smokey barbecue sauce came to me. Wait! Don't think this is gross, hear me out. I reasoned that I like the sweet and sour sauce served with egg rolls and that the sourness of the rhubarb could work well to compliment the sweetness of a barbeque sauce. With this reasoning, I decided to give it a try. I chose to try it with a thick cut pork chop as pork seems to be the meat that is paired most often with fruit (apple, pineapple, mango, orange, apricot, etc). I rubbed the pork chop with a traditional paprika based rub, marinated it for an hour in a lime mesquite marinade, and then Scott grilled it on our charcoal grill, brushing the chop with a mixture of sweet barbeque sauce and rhubarb orange compote (in a one to one ratio) during the last few minutes of grilling. The result? It worked! It was sweet, smokey, and tangy all in one. Though there's nothing tropical about rhubarb, the compote seemed to give the meat a delicious bit of tropical flare.

So there you have it. I do believe that rhubarb can be versatile, we just have to be creative and stop limiting it. Other things to try with rhubarb would be trying it in recipes where lemon would normally be used since they are both naturally quite sour! For example, I think a little unsweetened rhubarb compote over salmon paired with rosemary could be good. For another original dessert recipe check this one out. I hope my own take on three original rhubarb recipes has you inspired!

Rhubarb Orange Compote

2 tbsp butter
1 lb. rhubarb
3/4 cup sugar (I was a couple tablespoons shy of 3/4 cup as my rhubarb was mostly red and thus sweeter)
2 tbsp orange liquor (I do not have orange liquor so I did 1 1/2 Tbsp of frozen orange juice concentrate)
zest of one orange

1. Trim the Rhubarb of the ends, split it lengthwise down the center and cut across in 1/2 inch intervals.
2. In a large bowl, toss the rhubarb with the sugar, orange liquor, and orange zest, and set aside.
3. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted add the sugar coated rhubarb. Let this cook over a medium heat, undisturbed, for about 2 minutes. When the rhubarb has started to release its juices, stir gently.
3. Continue cooking the compote over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the juices are all released, then begin to thicken. Cooking time is about 10 to 15 minutes total, until the compote looks thick and the rhubarb is tender.
* Many of the cubes will break down from cooking, but some of the larger ones will remain as little tender lumps, offering bursts of tart rhubarb flavor in the mouth, and a pleasant texture on the tongue. The less you stir, the more chunks you will leave intact. Or, if you want you can puree it and pass it through a sieve if you desire a smooth compote.

Rhubarb-Filled Devil's Food Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Orange Ganache

1 recipe of your favorite devil's food cake (Must be rich and dark chocolatey tasting)
1 recipe of Rhubarb Orange compote

Dark Chocolate Orange Ganache
1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream
8 oz. of good quality dark chocolate chopped into chip size pieces (I used a mixture of 62% and 74% dark chocolate)
2 tbsp. frozen orange juice concentrate (Do not dilute! Take it straight from the can, you want this concentrated, the less watery liquid the better.)

Make devil's food cupcakes as you normally would. Once baked and cooked slightly take a serated knife and cut a cone shape out of the top of the cupcake. Fill the cavity with 1/2 Tbsp rhubarb orange compote. Cut the point of the cone off so you are left with a disk and replace the top back onto the cupcake.
For the ganache heat the half and half (or heavy cream) with the chocolate chunks and orange juice concentrate in a glass bowl set over (but not touching) boiling water. Stir occasionally until the chocolate melts and the ganache becomes smooth, shiny, and irresistable. Alternatively, simmer the half and half in a small sauce pan, remove from heat and pour over chocolate and orange concentrate in a heat proof bowl. Wait 10 seconds and then whisk together until until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Let the ganache cool slightly to thicken it before frosting the cupcakes.

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