I keep asking everyone: Have you seen rhubarb at the market yet? Have you? Have you? It’s not even that I love the stuff so much, it’s more that I love what rhubarb signifies: Spring. Farmer’s markets. Fresh herby salads. But yes, it does help that I haven’t been able to get the idea of a sweet and sour rhubarb sauce — a recipe I dogeared in Michael Anthony’s V is for Vegetables a few months ago– out of my mind.
Usually it’s an exercise in torture to flip through a produce-driven cookbook in the winter, when peak-market season feels like it’s something that happens to other people in other worlds. But my friend Jim sent me a copy of V after he ate at Gramercy Tavern (where Anthony is the chef) and I found myself getting excited not for corn and tomatoes and those easy-to-love VIPS, but about the obscure (upland cress, daikon kinpera, tatsoi) and the unsung: turnips, kohlrabi, broccoli. (“Here’s a way to make eating broccoli irresistible, Anthony writes in the headnote of a recipe for Broccoli Bruschetta, an addictive mash-up of florets, anchovies, and capers.) It reminded me of Alice Waters’ classic Chez Panisse Vegetables in structure, philosophy, and purpose: You want this on your shelf when you return from the market.
Anthony worked under nose-to-tail, root-to-leaf pioneer Dan Barber at Blue Hill Stone Barns, and that resourceful innovation (and sense of humor) is all over these pages — in a beet tartare (roasted cubes tossed with a simple vinaigrette, pine nuts and chives); in a tomato water cocktail (juice of a summer-ripe tomato, vermouth, bourbon, simple syrup, ginger); in a kale salad composed of many versions of itself (chips, raw, braised). And though Anthony assumes a certain competence on the part of the cook — often recipes call for blanched or roasted vegetables in the ingredient list without details or corresponding page numbers that tell you exactly how to roast and blanch — but the dishes are remarkably accessible, written in a completely unpretentious style, and often requiring no more than six or seven ingredients, none of which are hard-to-find. Unless, that is, you find yourself in the wrong season. As with all recipes requiring few ingredients, the imperative here is that each one of those ingredients is high-quality and, in the case of the vegetables, absolute peak-season. (That broccoli bruschetta is just not going to be the same when you’re starting with the shrink-wrapped double-pack from Trader Joe’s. No offense Trader Joe’s!) So I’m patiently waiting for my rhubarb and when I have it, this is my first stop:
Sweet & Sour Rhubarb Sauce
I plan on serving this with our favorite pan-roasted chicken thighs, but feel free to experiment. Here is what Anthony writes in the headnote of the recipe:
Rhubarb is most frequently used as a dessert, mostly because it needs sweetness to soften its tart flavor. But I imagine this homey barbecue-like sauce to be like a famous French recipe called saumon à l’oseille, salmon with sorrel, created by Jean and Pierre Troisgros in the early 1960s. That creation opened the door to using tart sorrel in a savory dish. In fact, rhubarb is related to sorrel, and I made this tart sauce to work as a luscious contrast to the crispy skin and meaty quality of a great farm-raised bird. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
1/3 cup brown sugar
1⁄3 cup sherry vinegar
2 stalks rhubarb (about 6 ounces), chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped
Pinch coarsely ground black pepper
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup tomato pulp (fresh or canned diced tomatoes)
Small pinch dried basil
Small pinch dried oregano
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Add the brown sugar to a saucepan over medium heat and cook until it’s caramelized, a few minutes. Add the vinegar (watch out for sputtering) and let it bubble for another minute. Add the rhubarb, garlic, onions, pepper, red pepper flakes, and salt and simmer until the vinegar is almost evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato, basil, and oregano and simmer until the rhubarb has softened and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard, sesame oil, and soy sauce. The sauce will keep, covered in the refrigerator, for about 5 days.
This recipe is from V is for Vegetables, copyright ©2015 by Michael Anthony. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved. Photo credit for all images: Maura McEvoy.