Rhubarb growingRhubarb grows so quickly, exploding from the ground, shooting up stalks, billowing out foliage, all in a few weeks.  It leaves other spring perennials, asparagus, artichokes, strawberries, far behind.  But this rapid growth is good; it means pies and sauces sooner.

We are a two-pie family when it comes to rhubarb.  Scott prefers rhubarb custard lattice-top pie while I’m partial to plain rhubarb pie, either two-crust or galette style.  I’ll often make one of each and we’ll sample each other’s favorite but have seconds of the one we like best.

Rhubarb pies

Rhubarb pie sliceBoth recipes I use are from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 1973 edition. I’ve used the excellent pie section so often that the pages are falling out.

Rhubarb Custard Pie

Mix 1 and ½ cups sugar, ¼ cup all-purpose flour, ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg and a dash of salt.  Add to 3 beaten eggs; beat smooth.  Stir in 4 cups 1-inch slices rhubarb. Prepare pastry for 9-ince lattice-top pie.  Fill with rhubarb mixture.  Dot with 2 tablespoons butter.  Adjust lattice top; seal.  Bake at 400 degrees for 50 minutes.

Rhubarb Pie

Combine 4 cups 1-inch slices rhubarb, 1 and ½ cups sugar, 1/3 cup all-purpose flour and dash of salt; let stand for 15 minutes. Prepare pastry for 2-crust 9-inch pie; line 9-inch pie plate with rhubarb mixture. Dot with 2 tablespoons butter.  Adjust top crust, cutting slits for escape of steam; seal; flute. Bake at 400 degrees for 50 minutes.

In this season of abundant rhubarb, pie is for dinner, or even lunch but for breakfast I like rhubarb sauce with plain yogurt and granola.  Several years ago I discovered Nigella Lawson’s rhubarb sauce recipe that calls for baking rather than boiling the rhubarb with sugar and grated orange rind and it’s the one I’ve used ever since.

Rhubarb sauce raw

Rhubarb sauce, cooked

Rhubarb Sauce

For two pounds of sliced rhubarb, add 1 or 1 and 1/3 cup sugar, depending on your sweetness preference, and the grated rind of one orange.  Bake, covered, at 375 degrees for 35-45 minutes until soft but not mushy.  I’ve sometimes substituted candied ginger for orange rind or simply left out the flavorings.  All variations are delicious.

The rhubarb in my current clump is from starts friends in eastern Washington gave me.  An unnamed variety, it’s the best rhubarb I’ve ever grown. The light pink stalks are tender and flavorful, needing less sugar than some of the darker red varieties I’ve grown in the past.  And it stays lush well into late summer with only moderate watering.

Our daily indulgence in rhubarb will no doubt wane as strawberries, raspberries and blueberries come in but until then, it’s the best thing on offer and we’ll eat our fill.

Bright Lights Chard

Who needs spring tulips when the kitchen garden offers Bright Lights chard!  After picking a bunch of this lovely, overwintered chard the other day, I couldn’t resist arranging it in a rainbow and setting it out to admire. Chard in basket

The variety I’ve grown for the past few years is Bright Lights, Johnny’s Selected Seeds 1998 AAS winner. The Fedco catalog offers a glowing description and recent history of this chard: “Bright Lights bathes stems, midribs and secondary veins in a panoply of gold, yellow, orange, pink, intermediate pastels and dazzling stripes. The AAS judges were impressed by the tenderness of its dark green to bronze leaves and the mildness of its chard flavor…Developed by John Eaton of Lower Hutt, New Zealand, who found the parent plants, a red one and a yellow one, in a small home garden in 1977 and crossed them to standard green and white varieties, selecting for color and flavor over the next fifteen years. Johnny’s worked the following years to preserve the strength and range of the individual colors.”

Years ago, I grew the more aptly named Rainbow chard from Thompson and Morgan but turned to Bright Lights when Johnny’s introduced it.  Uprising Seeds in Bellingham offers Rainbow chard now so I may try it this year for a flavor and color comparison. Chard, rainbow cut up

Bright Lights or Rainbow, this chard is as gorgeous in the kitchen as it is in the garden.  I usually separate the stems from the leaves, chop them and steam them for a few minutes before slicing and adding the leaves.  This method gives one more chance to admire the colorful stems and results in leaves and stems that are equally tender.  Chard rainbow in skillet

Chard greens in skilletChard has the same earthy flavor that kale has, but it is more melt-in-the-mouth tender.  Eating it plain is such a treat that I often do no more than wilting it in the pan before serving it.  Still, chard does blend well with other flavors.  Garlic and olive oil, yellow raisins, toasted hazelnuts are all tasty additions.  There’s also our longtime favorite pasta dish from Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza and Calzone (1984): Chard, Goat Cheese and Buckwheat Pasta.  The sharp flavor of goat cheese is a perfect contrast to chard’s sweetness and the buckwheat pasta matches chard’s earthy notes.  We often make emmer flour pasta instead of buckwheat and use half as much cream and twice as much goat cheese.  This recipe is definitely one that invites variations.Chard, goat cheese pasta

Chard, Goat Cheese and Buckwheat Pasta

2 cloves garlic

1 large bunch chard

2 tablespoons butter

Salt and Pepper

1 cup cream

2 ounces goat cheese

Buckwheat pappardelle (for 2-4)

Chop the garlic 
Stem the chard. Slice the stems and cut the leaves crosswise in ribbons.  Wilt the stems and leaves in a covered skillet until barely tender.  Remove and drain. Melt the butter in the skillet, add the garlic and the drained chard and stew gently for 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat the cream. Crumble the goat cheese, add half of it to the cream and whisk until smooth.  Add to the chard and simmer gently for a few minutes.

Cook the pasta and add to the chard along with the rest of the goat cheese. Mix well and serve garnished with black pepper.

The leaves I’m harvesting now are from chard I planted nearly a year ago.  Like kale and other hardy greens, chard overwinters in our mild northwest climate and begins growing again in the spring, just in time to match the tulips but much more welcome because we can eat it.

Buds and Blossoms

The few remaining winter crops are putting on a showy display in the kitchen garden right now.  The tough stalks and stems of Brussels sprouts and red cabbage have sent out tender, broccoli-like buds and the overgrown arugula is topped with creamy white, four-petal blooms.  I could have pulled these plants out weeks ago, but I left them in place, both for their beauty and for their taste.

Brussels sprouts buds 2013

Red cabbage blossoms

Brussels sprouts always surprise me this time of year with bright new growth bursting out along scarred stalks.  Cabbages send out buds too, just below the point where the heads were cut.  The red cabbage buds are especially pretty this year, blue green tinged with purple rising above the tattered winter leaves.  Like the buds of kale, these other cabbage family flower buds are sweet and tender.  Lightly steamed, they are delicious; sautéed in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes they are even better.

Arugula blossoms

There are many more arugula blossoms than I could possibly use but I’ve left them all blooming anyway.  They make a lovely garnish—I scattered them over a frittata the other day—and their subtle, sweet flavor, less spicy than the leaves, is a great addition to early spring salads.

Arugula blossom salad

These buds and blossoms are a short-lived treat, the last gift of the winter garden.  In a week or two we’ll have eaten them all and I’ll finally pull the plants to make way for spring and summer crops but for now we’re enjoying them.