Before the 18th century, fulfillment eluded strawberry pies. Their rhubarb soulmate, considered unpalatable, toiled away relieving digestive ailments, a culinary Cinderella in nurse’s shoes awaiting its glass slipper. It took several millennia, but the invite to the ball finally arrived. And then, boy, did rhubarb party, flitting from pie dish to jam jar to fruit-soup bowl. Those scarlet stalks, cut and simmered with sugar, a pinch of spice, and coaxed to a piquant syrup or purée, were a kitchen queen.
Fast-forward a few centuries, and rhubarb’s been transformed again. Innovative chefs like Sweet Grass Grill’s (24 Main St, Tarrytown 914-631-0000) Tommy Lasley have rethought its tart, textural qualities, pickling it to accompany seared scallops, puréeing it to partner braised lamb, even pairing it with basil in sorbet. “Rhubarb has the bracing acidity of vinegar,” says the Blue Hill at Stone Barns alum. “It activates your appetite, literally getting your juices flowing.” And so he might shave it into ribbons, blanching them in simple syrup or spiced wine for a jolt of texture and flavor in salads or on frozen desserts. But Lasley’s passion lies in pickles. “I love their salty crunch,” he says. “I pickle ramps, tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños, but rhubarb has that special color.” And, he adds, a special floral aroma that he often enhances with an elderflower or lavender poaching partnership for cocktails or sorbets.
For your own rhubarb transformations, look for firm, glossy stalks with the early-spring pink hue that signals the brightest flavor. Then, get out that sugar (a half-cup for each pound of rhubarb), a little nutmeg or ginger, and start simmering away. Those strawberries can hardly wait.
Rhubarb Ginger Sorbet
Courtesy of Tommy Lasley, Sweet Grass Grill
1 ½ lbs rhubarb, cleaned and sliced
into 1-inch chunks
2 oz (1-inch piece) fresh ginger,
peeled and thinly sliced
1 vanilla bean, scraped
½ cup elderflower liqueur (any
fruit-flavored liqueur can
1 cup sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
½ cup grenadine
In a large bowl, combine rhubarb, ginger, vanilla seeds, sugar, and corn syrup. Macerate
In large saucepan over low heat, simmer rhubarb mixture until softened and rhubarb has released its juices, about 15 minutes.
Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
In a blender, purée mixture until smooth. Pass through a fine-mesh strainer or chinois into bowl.
Stir in grenadine and elderflower liqueur. Refrigerate overnight.
Process in ice cream machine, transfer to plastic container, and freeze for 2 hours, or until set.
Serve with lemon cheesecake, strawberry shortcake, or plain Greek-style yogurt.