When I was a kid growing up on the farm I hated rhubarb.
I could never understand why my busy grandma would even take the time to cook it — and then make us eat what seemed like unremarkable, slightly sour pink glop.
But I’ve since learned that if treated right, even humble rhubarb can be a star. Just don’t overcook it!
The plant itself is very ornamental, and makes a big statement in edible landscapes. The color of the stalks varies from green to red, depending on variety and soil conditions, but all are flavorful. Rhubarb leaves contain high concentrations of oxalic acid, and must be trimmed completely away before the stalks can be used.
Rhubarb is most abundant in late spring and early summer, and hits its peak around Memorial Day, just when citrus is dwindling and summer fruits not quite ready. (Of course rhubarb is a vegetable, but used as a fruit; the reverse of tomatoes, which are fruits used as vegetables.)
Strawberries and rhubarb are ideal companions, each making the other taste better. And strawberries are most abundant and taste best in June, just when rhubarb is in season.
The other day I made a strawberry-rhubarb galette to take advantage of that happy coincidence. To make your own, start with a pint basket (about a pound) of strawberries and four or five large stalks of red rhubarb, all cut into bite-size pieces. Toss the fruit with about ½ cup sugar and a teaspoon of grated orange zest. Roll out a big circle of pie dough (the galette dough below is especially good), place on a parchment-lined pizza pan, and sprinkle the dough with a mixture of equal parts flour, sugar and almond flour to absorb excess juice. Then arrange the fruit on the dough leaving a 2-inch margin. Don’t heap up the fruit or the juices will overflow during baking.
Fold and crimp the dough around the fruit to make a free form shell, paint the edges with melted butter and sprinkle with a tablespoon of sugar. Bake in the middle level of a preheated 375°F oven for about 50 minutes (on a pizza stone if you have one), until the crust is well browned and the fruit tender. If you like a sweeter tart you could sprinkle on a couple more tablespoons sugar halfway through the baking. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and enjoy.
We made this dough every day when I worked at Chez Panisse. It works for tarts both sweet and savory, of every shape and size. Jacques Pépin taught me how to make it: he calls it his “crunch tart” dough. The technique used to cut the butter into the flour is the key to good results with this recipe.
Makes about 20 ounces dough, enough for 2 open galettes or tarts or 1 covered tart, or 25 – 30 small turnovers.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) of the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender, mixing until the dough resembles coarse cornmeal. (Butter dispersed throughout the flour in tiny pieces makes the dough tender.) Cut in the remaining 1 stick (4 ounces) of butter with the pastry blender, just until the biggest pieces of butter are the size of large peas—or a little larger. (These bigger pieces of butter in the dough make it flaky.)
Dribble 7 tablespoons of cold water (that’s 1/2 cup less 1 tablespoon) into the flour mixture in several stages, tossing and mixing between additions. Toss the mixture with your hands, letting it fall through your fingers. Do not pinch or squeeze the dough together or you will overwork it, making it tough. Keep tossing the mixture until it starts to pull together; it will look rather ropy, with some dry patches. If it looks like there are more dry patches than ropy parts, add another tablespoon of water and toss the mixture a little more. When the dough is finished it will still be crumbly. Divide the dough in half, gently press each half into a ball, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap, pressing down to flatten each ball into a 4-inch disk. Check the photo to see how the dough should look. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out. (The dough will keep in the freezer for a few weeks.)
When you are ready to roll out the dough, take one disk from the refrigerator at a time.
Let it soften slightly so that it is malleable but still cold. Unwrap the dough and press the edges of the disk so that there are no cracks. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the disk until the sheet of dough is less than 1/8 inch thick.
Transfer the dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate at least ½ hour before using. (The rolled-out dough can be frozen and used the next day.)