Rhubarb and strawberries are soulmates, and they’re in season right now in New England. Both of their seasons are short, so don’t wait. Get out there and get yours. Strawberries that are local and in season taste nothing like their flavor-pale cousins shipped into your grocery store at all times of the year. Local strawberries are a true local delicacy. The strawberries grown in New Hampshire taste entirely differently than the strawberries grown in California (I know, I taste-tested them last year on our family trip), even when the Cali strawberries are eaten fresh-picked and local. The soil and water matter.
Typically, even though it’s botanically a vegetable, rhubarb is used as a fruit, in desserts and jams, and strawberries come along for that ride, because they bring needed sweetness and juiciness to the party. I wanted to shake that up a little bit this week, and find some savory ways to play with both of these lovely, pretty-in-pink-and-red beauties.
I start with a salad, since I was able to pick up a head of romaine lettuce from Trombly Gardens yesterday. (Local, local, rah rah rah!) So, right away I think of a romaine salad with sliced strawberries, and a strawberry vinaigrette. Maybe use up that last bit of local goat cheese (Holland Farm) crumbled on top. Maybe a poached egg (Holland Farm) to make it a sort-of bistro salad. But I haven’t gotten the rhubarb in there yet. How about, instead of a strawberry vinaigrette, a balsamic rhubarb reduction? Let’s give it a whirl.
Rhubarb Balsamic Reduction
1/2 C finely diced rhubarb
1/2 C balsamic vinegar
1 T sugar
Stir ingredients together in small saucepan until sugar dissolves. Heat over medium heat to a simmer; reduce heat to low to just hold a simmer, until the mixture is reduced by half. Let cool, and whirl in a food processor until smooth.
The rhubarb doesn’t come through strongly here, but it lends a clean tartness to the balsamic vinegar, and helps create a thick, deeply flavored reduction.
Now the salad:
I finely minced some more rhubarb, and some strawberry (about 1 T each), mixed them together for a little garnish. I sliced celery thin on the bias to add a different clean, crunchy texture to the lettuce, and thinly sliced a few more strawberries to toss around the top of the salad. Finally, I indeed poached an egg for the salad.
If you have never had a poached egg atop a salad, you are in for a treat. The egg’s flavor is so subtle, on top of a salad it becomes instead a vehicle for texture, smooth, rich, and silky. This salad has no oil on it, but you will never miss it with creamy goat cheese crumbled around and a poached egg on top.
So here it is: Strawberry Rhubarb Bistro Salad with Rhubarb Balsamic Reduction and Goat Cheese. The raw minced rhubarb and strawberry garnish has just enough bright acidity to cut the deep flavor of the reduction, the strawberries add sweetness to the lettuce/celery salad, the goat cheese and egg add creamy, silky texture and a touch of salt. I finished the salad with a sprinkle of finely ground sea salt.
Local ingredients: Lettuce, strawberries, rhubarb, goat cheese, egg. The balsamic vinegar and sea salt are not available as local products, and I rarely see celery as a local product, although there are some farmers finally trying it out.
Don’t wait; get your strawberries in season now, and buy enough to freeze some for later. They are so inspiring to pull out of the freezer on a frigid, blustery winter morning to put on top of your waffles. Freezing strawberries is simple:
Give them a quick rinse off.
Pat them dry with towels.
Cut very large ones in half, leave small ones whole, spread them on a wax paper-covered cookie sheet, and put the whole shebang in the freezer until they are frozen solid.
Pack frozen berries in freezer zipper bags, suck out all the air, zip up tight, place in freezer. They will keep very nicely for months.
To freeze rhubarb, I have found that it holds its texture and flavor better when briefly steamed, rather than blanched. I cut the rhubarb into 1-inch chunks, place in a steamer basket over boiling water, cover and steam for a couple minutes. You should stop the cooking when the color just starts to deepen. Shock it in an ice water bath, drain and pat dry, and pack into freezer bags just like the strawberries, getting all the extra air out. Pop, into the freezer. Frozen rhubarb is great in cooked dishes, not raw as is. Thawing it will destroy its texture and it will turn to mush.
That’s it for now. I’ll let you know what else I come up with. See you on the Road.