It’s rhubarb season in the Asbell garden. My two rhubarb plants are always early to the party, sprouting when there is still lingering icy snow on the cold soil. Their coiled, ruffled leaf tips must course with natural anti-freeze, and the bold stalks power up relentlessly, no matter how many cold snaps come along. They win the race for space, beating all my little seedlings as their leaves grow to elephant ear proportions. At his point, the rhubarb owns the back corner of the garden, effectively shading out any weeds that might challenge its primacy.
It is a beautiful rite of Spring.
So I creep out in my slippers, poaching a stalk for chutney, or a couple for a quick sweet sauce, as the Spring advances. But I owe it to those gorgeous plants to make a few dishes that really show off their unique energy and style.
(For a savory rhubarb salad from last Spring, click here.)
Think about it, what else looks like celery, tastes like a really sour lemon, and is a visual mix of pale greens and fruity pinks?
So, instead of my usual chopping of the stalk, I opted for using the shape to my advantage. The long, fat stalks lend themselves to a dramatic composition, with just a little attention before baking.
I have been meaning to give some attention to a bag of sprouted Red Fife wheat flour for a week or so, since I found it on the shelf at the Coop. Red Fife, if you are not familiar, is a Heritage wheat. That means it is an heirloom, a cultivar that originated in the Ukraine, and was brought to North America in the late 1800’s. It’s been having a resurgence in recent years, especially in Canada. The dark red kernels contain a different type of gluten than standard bread wheat, which many people say is easier for them to tolerate than modern wheat gluten. Sprouting the grain also makes it more digestible, so this flour should be a good alternative for folks who are not celiac, and may just have issues with modern wheat. It’s lower in gluten than standard wheat, so it is a great choice for pastry.
For the vegans, I used coconut oil in the crust. Dairy lovers can use chilled grass-fed butter instead. The coconut oil makes an excellent, crisp crust, so if you have never tried it, give it a whirl. You’ll never buy shortening again.
The rustic tart is one of my favorite pie forms, consisting of a sheet of pastry and a thin layer of filling, all baked in a hot oven. Unlike deep dish pies, it is straightforward and quick, with no covering or uncovering, as you monitor the progress of the filling versus the crusts. The thing you have to watch with the rustic tart is the juiciness of your fruit. Apples are the easiest, roasting to perfection with just a bit of moisture escaping. But if you want to put berries, or this juicy rhubarb on a tart crust, you need to harness the overflow.
To that end, I like to mix some flour and sugar and put it under the filling to absorb and thicken the juices as they bake. I used unbleached flour, but you could also use arrowroot, if you are looking to avoid conventional wheat.
A layer of thinly sliced rhubarb, topped with a design made of rhubarb, gives the filling enough heft to satisfy. Adding raspberries halfway through ensures that they don’t explode and add more juices to the mix, roasting to perfection with a dusting of crunchy sugar.
The tart was a success, with a flaky, tender crust and a good balance of sweet and sour on top. Do give your guests a knife, in case they want to cut across the baked stalks neatly. If you are less concerned with looks, it is fun to tear it all apart with your fork.
A scoop of ice cream would be a fine topper, on a warm Spring night on the deck.
Aaah, rhubarb, I love you for the season you embody, as well as your sprightly vigor. Thanks for slapping my jaded palate back to life, every May.
Rhubarb Raspberry Tart with Red Fife Crust
I use a big Air-Bake sheet pan, 16 inches across, to make my rustic tarts. It has no rim, so it is easy to slide the crust and the baked tart on and off. The only downside is that any juices that escape will drip in the oven. You may want to position some foil underneath if you like to keep your oven clean.
1/2 cup coconut oil (or grass-fed butter)
1 1/2 cup Red Fife flour, I used sprouted
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons ice water, approximately
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb stalks
1 cup organic sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons unbleached flour (or arrowroot)
2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup fresh raspberries
First, melt the coconut oil, if it is solid, and pour into a measuring cup. Chill until completely hardened. Chill the butter, if using.
In a large bowl, mix the Red Fife flour and salt. Run hot water over the outside of the cup of coconut oil to loosen the chunk of oil. Use a grater to shred the oil or butter over the flour, tossing to mix as you go. Drizzle in the ice water, tossing with your hands, just to moisten the flour. Gently mix the dough, adding just enough water to make it hold together. Gather into a ball and flatten into a disk.
On floured counter, roll out the dough to just a little larger than your baking sheet, about 15 inches across. Use a metal spatula to gently separate it from the counter, then fol gently in half and half again, and transfer to the baking sheet. Unfold and press back together any tears or holes.
Chill the sheet pan until ready to assemble. Preheat the oven to 425 F.
Weigh out 6 ounces of the rhubarb and slice it thinly across the grain. Put in a measuring cup, it should be about 1 3/4 cups. Add 1/4 cup of the organic sugar to the cup, and the vanilla, and stir to mix. Slice the remaining rhubarb lengthwise into half inch thick strips. Cut those into pieces about 6 inches long.
In a cup, stir 1/4 cup of the organic sugar with the unbleached flour. Spread over the chilled crust, leaving the outer inch bare. Arrange the rhubarb-sugar-vanilla mixture over the flour mixture, distributing the pieces evenly. Arrange the long rhubarb slices like the spokes of a wheel, as in the photo. Fill in the gaps by slicing shorter pieces to nestle between the stalks. Measure the remaining half cup of organic sugar and sprinkle evenly over the rhubarb. Fold in the edges of the dough, pinching to seal any cracks.
Bake for 25 minutes, until the juices are bubbling. In a cup, mix the Turbinado sugar and lemon zest.
At 25 minutes, take out the tart and sprinkle with the raspberries, then the Turbinado and zest. Reduce the heat of the oven to 375, and put the tart back in for 25 minutes.
When the crust is crisp and the juices look thick, take out the tart. Cool before slicing.