Rhubarb deserves a bigger role at mealtime. Sure there’s strawberry-rhubarb pie. And your favorite eatery does a roast pork with a sweet-tart rhubarb sauce — or was it duck with rhubarb gastrique? Either way, the red stalks are in season with rhubarb festivals on tap worldwide.
Just don’t call it a fruit. “It might look like red celery,” writes Sheri Castle in her book “The New Southern Garden Cookbook,” ”but rhubarb is a member of the buckwheat family and a close relative of sorrel and dock, which might explain why it is so sour.”
Its tartness (a bit like cranberries) means it plays well with rich meats, sauces and beverages, plus pairs with strawberries, raspberries and apples. And it’s easy to freeze: Rinse trimmed stalks, pat dry, cut in 1-inch pieces, spread on a sheet pan then freeze. Seal frozen pieces in freezer bags, label and store up to 6 months.
But remember: Eat only the stalks. The leaves are toxic, notes the USDA’s Healthy Meals Resource (healthymeals.nal.usda.gov)
Castle’s book offers this chutney-type accompaniment to “everything from french fries to fine cheeses.”
Spiced Rhubarb Ketchup
Stir together in a large, nonaluminum saucepan 4 cups trimmed, chopped rhubarb; 1 cup chopped red onion; ¼ cup golden raisins; ¾ cup sugar; ½ cup each unfiltered cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar) and orange juice; 2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest; 1 tablespoon peeled, finely grated ginger; ½ teaspoon each ground cinnamon, whole yellow mustard seeds and kosher salt; and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves. Heat to boil over medium-high heat. Remove pan from heat, cover and set aside 30 minutes.
Return saucepan to stove. Cook over medium heat until rhubarb is very tender and liquid is thick enough to coat back of a spoon; about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in 2 tablespoons ruby port; cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until chilled. Keeps up to 3 weeks. Makes 3 cups.