May 11, 2011

The Maine Ingredient: Let rhubarb be more than 'pie plant'

By BROOKE DOJNY

Rhubarb is one of a small, select group of ingredients -- also including asparagus, fiddleheads and dandelion greens -- emblematic of spring in Maine.

When we finally begin seeing gardens burgeoning with clumps of elephant ear-shaped rhubarb leaves, it's time for rejoicing.

There are many uses for rhubarb -- stewed, topped with a dollop of yogurt, baked into cobblers, as a sauce, in preserves and chutneys -- but because it was so often baked into pies, it came to be known as the "pie plant," a term still used by old-time Mainers.

Rhubarb's tartness always needs some sugar for balancing.

RHUBARB SHORTCAKE WITH ALMOND-BROWN SUGAR BISCUITS

A liqueur-spiked rhubarb sauce is wonderful with these rich shortcake biscuits, but it's also terrific spooned over vanilla ice cream.

Serves four.

Rhubarb mixture:

1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

Combine the rhubarb, sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low, and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is tender but still holds some of its shape, about 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat, stir in liqueur, and cool to room temperature.

Can be made several hours ahead and refrigerated. Rewarm in a microwave to thin to a sauce-like consistency.

Almond-Brown Sugar Biscuits:

1/4 cup blanched whole almonds or 3 tablespoons sliced almonds

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut in about 10 pieces

1/4 cup milk, any type

Lightly sweetened whipped cream

Combine almonds and two sugars in a food processor and process until nuts are finely ground. Add flour, baking powder and salt, and pulse to combine.

Distribute butter over the flour mixture and pulse until most of the butter is the size of small peas.

With the motor running, slowly pour milk through the feed tube, stopping just as the dough begins to come together.

Scrape out onto a lightly floured board, gather together, and knead dough a couple of times.

Pat dough to an approximate 3/4-inch thickness.

Using a 2 3/4- or 3-inch cutter, cut four biscuits, recutting scraps if necessary.

Place on an ungreased baking sheet at least 1 1/2 inches apart. (Can be made three hours ahead and stored, loosely covered, in the refrigerator.)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bake biscuits in the preheated oven for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden brown. Cool slightly on a rack.

To serve, split shortcakes with a serrated knife. Place the bottoms on plates, spoon about half the rhubarb mixture over, and replace the tops.

Spoon remaining rhubarb over, and top with dollops of whipped cream.

RHUBARB-GINGER MARMALADE

Spiked with the sweet bite of crystallized ginger, this preserve is great spread on crackers or toast.

Yield: About 2 cups

4 cups thinly sliced rhubarb

2 cups granulated sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

4 teaspoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

Combine rhubarb, sugar and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, until rhubarb softens and marmalade thickens somewhat, about 15 minutes. (Marmalade will thicken considerably more as it cools.) Remove from heat and stir in ginger.

Spoon into a covered container and refrigerate for up to three weeks.

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently "Dishing Up Maine" (Storey Publishing 2006) and "The New England Clam Shack Cookbook" (Storey 2008). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula.

 

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