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Strawberry and Rhubarb

June 9, 2015 - Radio Kitchen - Strawberry and Rhubarb

This is high season for one of the odder couples in the food universe:  strawberries and rhubarb.  OK, we get the strawberries, but rhubarb is a different matter.  But according to Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Waterfront Kitchen, in many ways this is a marriage made in heaven.

One note we make every year about strawberries:  smaller usually is better.  The big crowd-pleasing varieties may look impressive, but they are rarely as flavorful as the smaller, deep red varieties.  We buy on smell as much as anything.

As far as rhubarb goes, you might as well buy the freshest available.  The color should be bright, the stalk's texture firm, almost shiny.

Rhubarb is a challenging plant for many people.  The stalks, which are similar to celery, have no sweetness at all in them.  And that's a problem for a lot of people.  What they do have, and this is particularly true for very fresh rhubarb, is a clean tangy tart flavor that is anything but obnoxious.  I like the approach of English school children:  take a stalk of rhubarb and dip it in sugar and munch away.

One idea I'm going to try this year is to make strawberry-rhubarb "applesauce." This will involve gently stewing the rhubarb until it is tender, tossing in cut up strawberries and some honey, and cooking it over a very gentle heat for at least an hour.  Then, I'm going to pour it into a food processor, purée it, and finish it off with a touch of cinnamon, nutmeg and a smaller touch of cayenne for kick.  I could even add apples if I wanted.        

Another idea is to cook finely chopped rhubarb with strawberries and sugar, and before the pieces get too soggy, take them off the heat.  Let the stew cool down, and then work it into your favorite pancake batter.

Here's a recipe I encountered while working on MPT's  "Maryland Farm and Harvest".  It summed up the marvelous partnership of strawberries and rhubarb.

                  Strawberry Rhubarb Cottage Pudding
                 From Walnut Springs Farm, Elkton Maryland

Ingredients for fruit topping:

3 cups diced rhubarb

1 cup sliced strawberries               

1 cup sugar                

3 tablespoons quick cooking tapioca                                    

a little lemon juice

Ingredients for batter:

1/4 cup butter plus 2 additional tablespoons    

1/2 cup sugar                

1 egg                                                                                    

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder    

1/2 teaspoon salt                                                                                                                            

1 1/2 cups flour                                            

1/2 cup milk

Directions for fruit topping:

1.    Combine all fruit topping ingredients.

Directions for batter:

1.    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.    Cream 1/4 cup butter with 1/2 cup sugar, and then beat in 1 egg.

3.    In a separate bowl, combine baking powder, salt and flour.

4.    Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk to the creamed butter mixture.

Directions to combine:

1.    Turn fruit mixture into 1 1/2 quart greased casserole dish.

2.    Dot with additional 2 tablespoons of butter.

3.    Top with batter.

4.    Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

And one final note about rhubarb:  whatever recipe you may have involving strawberries, you can easily substitute cherries.  In fact, I have a feeling my friends up in Michigan are already years ahead of me on this little idea.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.