Out of the corner of my eye it caught my attention. Supple, lean and screamingly, vibrantly red. I circled back. And then circled back again, and by the last pass of the shopping cart I was pretty sure I heard my name being seductively whispered sweet and low. There, in a pyramid heap at the end of a row of produce lay the vividly red object, not of my affections, but the phantom siren, which, with plump, dewy stalks with pale green, webby leaves were begging to be scooped up and taken home. I had never made such a purchase, nor had I ever really contemplated it before. But, today was different. I bagged 5 of the healthiest looking stalks and headed for the checkout counter to make my first purchase of.............rhubarb.
I had grown to adulthood in a family with mid-western roots, one where rhubarb made a routine appearance on dining tables. But not so much in California. It was one of the things my parents and small extended family often talked about, but was not frequently found and so faded from the rotation of commonly served family dishes. As I drove over the hill from Del Cerro to San Carlos I began to contemplate just exactly what was I going to do with this stuff. Since I knew my mother loved it I asked her first.
"Rhubarb sauce. Make rhubarb sauce with it. That's what we always did with it, and boy was it good."
Somehow, rhubarb sauce wasn't exaclty turning my crank. I mean, what do you do with the sauce once you've got sauce? Eat it plain? It remainded me way too much of the insipid fruit sauces we made out of USDA Commodity fruits from my days as a K-12 Food Service Director, a career from which I have happily, and thankfully, been sprung. No, rhubarb sauce wasn't going to make it, and, truth be told, I didn't think it was a good enough fate for those 5 ruby red babies safely stored in the hydrator of my refrigerator.
Next I turned to my cookbook collection. Some people collect stamps, some collect coins, teacups or even spoons from every state in the union. I collect cookbooks, some of them even in languages other than English. And I've probably got enough of them to be a viable competitor with Amazon or Powells. Could there be a suitable recipe in one of the books from my trusty collection? Was I going to be relegated to having to do a dessert dish, or could I find something savory to do with the rhubarb? Surely, Charlie Trotter or Thomas Keller used rhubarb in something other dessert. But, egads, what if one of them really did have a savory recipe using rhubarb; would my cooking skills be up to the task of tackling one of their notoriously complicated recipes. Well, of course.............maybe, probably.
Luckily, I was saved from having to find out when I came across Rhubarb Tart with Brown Butter Struesel. I know I said no dessert, but this sounded pretty good and pretty easy, and besides I'm pretty much a pushover for almost anything with brown butter. I also came across The Rhubarb Compendium clearly the love-child of someone with w-a-y too much time on their hands, but more information about rhubarb than you could ever imagine.
RHUBARB TART W/BROWN BUTTER STRUESEL is made in 3 parts. First up the crust.
The tart crust is not the standard pie pastry. This one has the addition of sugar, egg and cream, which makes it a little bit more forgiving and more likely not to be tough. Making it in a food processor takes about 90 seconds from start to finish. Pulse the flour, sugar and salt to blend, then add the butter - which, yes, is missing from the picture - pulse a few times until crumbly. Add the egg and cream, pulse again, and this is what you get
After much poking and prodding, stretching and patting the crust finally fit the pan. To prevent it from bubbling up as it bakes, the raw tart shell gets stabbed all over with the tines of a fork. It can't be baked right now, the pastry is far to soft and warm, it would melt. So into the fridge it went for 2 hours to firm up.
Time to start the struesel with the items you see to the left. While the Alton Brown Gear measuring cups might not have been the most efficient cooking equipment I've ever purchased, the Cuisinart saucier pan was. I bought it from the cookware shop on Amazon.com and it was half the price of the Alton Brown Gear measuring cups. But I digress. For the struesel topping I'm using butter, brown sugar (packed) flour, almonds (untoasted) and cinnamon
Brown butter is quick and easy and can be done in not more than 5 minutes. Once the butter is melted, the water in it will evaporate and the milk solids will filter out and down to the bottom of the pan. Then they will start to take on a nice gold hue and a rich nutty taste. Browned butter can be used in more than just desserts and works surprisingly well with fish.
Toss in everything else, stir a bit and then set aside to cool. This stuff is killer. Very rich and satisfying. It could probably be sealed in an airtight ziplock and frozen, to have on hand all the time.
Sugared up and almost ready to go. The tart shell was baked because rhubarb will give up all it's internal liquid once it starts to bake, which would make the tart shell really gummy and gooey if it wasn't pre-baked.
So how was it? It's one of the best desserts I've made in quite a long time. Bitter isn't my favorite flavor profile, but I discovered I like rhubarb. It was tart yet sweet. I couldn't imagine what red celery might taste like. In my wildest imagination I wouldn't have come up with the real flavor profile. Like the vibrant ruby red color that seduced me in the grocery store, this dessert is rich and ever so satisfying. A little will go a long way because, frankly, you can't eat that much of it without making yourself sick. But I may just try..............