Vail Seaonal: Rhubarb balances sweetness in desserts |

Vail Seaonal: Rhubarb balances sweetness in desserts

Sue BarhamVail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail DailyVail seasonal: Rhubarb, known as the "pie fruit," is often paired with strawberry

VAIL, Colorado It grows wild all over Colorado. The perennial rhubarb plant loves cool weather like Vail’s and needs a cool spring to release from its dormant winter sleep. Beautiful red stalks and large green leaves emerge from April through June. Its so pretty, one could mistake it for a garden green without knowing rhubarbs stalks make flavorful desserts. In many regions it is simply known as the pie plant.Rhubarb pairs well with strawberry, and the two are often combined in desserts. As such, most people think of rhubarb as a fruit, though botanically it is a member of the sorrel family, and therefore classified as a vegetable. The bright red stalks are indicative of its ripeness, and to harvest, simply break off the stalk close to the earth. Discard the leaves (they are poisonous), peel the stalks, cut and simmer till tender. Eaten by itself, rhubarb has qualities like other greens, tart and somewhat bitter. Blended with strawberries or other fruits, rhubarb balances the sweetness for a pleasant flavor. Its healthy, too, offering a large dose of Vitamin C and dietary fiber. Dating back to ancient times in Asia, rhubarb was grown for medicinal purposes. The first record of its use as a food item was in Great Britain in the 1700s. Its initial appearance in the United States was in Maine around the year 1800, where it became popular throughout New England. It was sold in produce markets starting in 1822 and soon began making its way westward through the northern United States and Canada. Quick to plant and easy to grow, this low-care perennial will produce for 8 to 15 years.Though not a widely popular grocery item, some areas of the U.S. pay homage to the pie plant. National Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day is June 9 and Silverton has been holding its annual Rhubarb Festival on July 4 since 1999. Prizes are awarded for best recipes, and local residents bring their finest homemade treats not only pies, but muffins, preserves, cakes, crumbles and cookies.Restaurant Avondales pastry chef, Bill Fitzgerald, agrees that rhubarb is a versatile veggie and he uses it as balance in desserts. Here he shares recipes for a rustic puff pastry tart and an elegant cheesecake, both complemented by rhubarb. To serve a cheese course instead of dessert, pair rhubarb preserves with soft goat cheese and almonds, he said. Its a simple but stylish way to finish a meal.It would be remiss not to mention rhubarbs secondary definition in American dictionaries. The use of the word rhubarb dates back to the early days of Shakespearean theater, where it was used as slang. Exclaimed with attitude Hes such a RHUbarb! the word became synonymous with a heated argument or squabble. One modern dictionary even went so far as to link rhubarb to baseball, where a rhubarb meant sparks were flying between the umpire and the pitcher.

4 frozen puff pastry shells3 stalks fresh rhubarb, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces1/2 pint fresh strawberries, trimmed and quartered1 1/2 tablespoons butter2 tablespoons sugarvanilla ice cream or whipped creamBake the pastry shells according to package directions until golden. Cool. Melt the butter and sugar in a saut pan. Add the rhubarb and saut until it begins to soften, about a minute. Add the strawberries and saut another minute. Fill each pastry shell with 1/4 of the fruit mixture. Garnish with ice cream or whipped cream and serve immediately. Serves 4.

5 graham crackers, crushed3 tablespoons butter, melted1 pound cream cheese1 pound ricotta cheese1 cup sugar1 tablespoons cornstarch1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped and reserved4 eggs1 1/2 cups sour creampinch salt2 stalks fresh rhubarb, peeled and cut on diagonal into shards2 cups sugar2 cups water1/2 pint strawberries, trimmed and diced1 tablespoon kirschPreheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter and press into a 9-inch tart pan. Cream sugar, salt and cream cheese. Mix in vanilla seeds and cornstarch. Add ricotta and mix well. Add eggs and mix well. Add sour cream and mix well. Pour into prepared crust. Place tart in a water bath and bake approximately 20 minutes until center is set. Chill. Combine two cups sugar and two cups water and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add the rhubarb and turn off the heat. Let the rhubarb sit in the simple syrup till cool. Toss strawberries separately with kirsch and allow to stand one hour. To assemble: Slice the cheesecake into wedges and place on individual plates. Remove rhubarb from syrup and dry. Garnish each cheesecake wedge with rhubarb shards and diced strawberries. Serves 8-10.Sue Barham is the marketing director for Restaurant Avondale and Larkspur Restaurant. Avondale recently opened in The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon. The restaurant features a West Coast inspired, seasonal menu and the chefs use time-honored cooking methods, such as slow roasting and braising, to create simple dishes rich in flavor. The wine program focuses on small production wines to compliment the straightforward cuisine. For more information visit

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