Rhubarb Sauce

I’ve never known what to make of, let alone out of, rhubarb. It’s an edible oxymoron – a vegetable best known for its starring role in pie. Can you imagine a kale doughnut? Me neither. In the interest of continuing education and culinary adventure, I bought a few pounds of the spring stalk and am excited to report that rhubarb can brighten everything from a beverage to an entree to, yes, pie.

Skip the rhubarb leaves, which are a wee-bit poisonous. Instead, take home the raw stems, which look like celery that’s been dipped in a fiery sunset. The rhubarb’s variety determines where it falls on the color spectrum, usually somewhere between pale pink to cherry red, but the color doesn’t affect the taste – all will be super tangy.

It couldn’t be easier to cook rhubarb. Just chop up your stalks and throw them in a pot with a little sugar and a splash of water. The flavor mellows to sweet with a citrusy edge – think a strawberry that dates drummers. If you’re more Rizzo than Sandra Dee, rhubarb is for you.
Let your palate be your guide when adding sugar. Some research recipes suggested a cup of sugar to four cups of rhubarb. Others skipped it entirely and used dates and raisins. I split the difference and used a half cup of sugar, which made it sweet without fully masking the sour. Not unlike a handful of Sour Patch Kids, or when I say, “bless your heart.”

The rhubarb deconstructs as it cooks, melting from coarse stalks into a smooth sauce in about 30 minutes. Since rhubarb is fiber-rich, some of those pesky pink strands may stand out in the syrup. If you’re visually squeamish, a spin with the immersion blender will even out the texture and color.

Use the rhubarb sauce to give old favorites a new twist. Drizzle it over pancakes, waffles or Greek yogurt for breakfast. Shake the sauce with a bit of vinegar and oil for a quick and easy salad dressing. Need a canapé for cocktail hour? Rhubarb deliciously cuts through creamy Camembert. Pour it over ice cream, or better yet, blend it into a homemade quart. There are savory applications as well. You can baste chicken and pork with rhubarb sauce, and if grilling is on the calendar, use it in place of brown sugar in an easy homemade barbecue sauce.

Yes, working rhubarb into every meal for several days may have been slightly overenthusiastic, but I was thrilled to find a food full of vitamin C and plant-based calcium that my kids loved. My pickiest child, who has never fully forgiven me for “zucchini week,” declared the rhubarb ice cream to be the best dessert I’ve ever made. And then he asked for a second helping. I’m sure it’s because he knows the importance of eating more vegetables.

Rhubarb Sauce
1¾ cups

1 lb. rhubarb stalks, chopped into 1-inch pieces
½ cup sugar
1 Tbsp. water

• Combine all ingredients in a large pot over medium heat. Stir constantly until the rhubarb releases moisture and the sugar melts. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until no chunks remain and the sauce returns slowly after dragging a wooden spoon through it, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
• Blend with an immersion blender 30 seconds to break down any remaining rhubarb fibers. Cover and store in the refrigerator up to 4 days.

Rhubarb Barbecue Sauce
Stir together 1 cup ketchup, ¼ cup rhubarb sauce, 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard and 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce.

No-Churn Rhubarb Ice Cream
In a large bowl, combine 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk, 1 cup rhubarb sauce and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. In a second bowl, beat 2 cups cold heavy whipping until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whipped cream, 1 ladleful at a time, into the condensed milk mixture. Freeze in an airtight container 4 hours before serving.

Rhubarb Seltzer
In a cocktail shaker, gently mix 8 ounces chilled sparkling water with 2 tablespoons rhubarb sauce. Pour into an ice-filled glass and garnish with a lemon slice or mint sprig.

Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Glaze
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush a 1½-pound pork tenderloin with 2 tablespoons rhubarb sauce and sprinkle with ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt and ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Roast the tenderloin, brushing with an additional 2 tablespoons sauce after 10 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees, 20 to 25 minutes total. Let rest 10 minutes before serving with additional rhubarb sauce on the side.

Rhubarb and Goat Cheese Hand Pies
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut prepared refrigerated pie crusts into 12 3-inch rounds. In a small bowl, combine 4 ounces goat cheese and ¼ cup rhubarb sauce with a mixer on low speed. Spoon 1 heaping teaspoon of the mixture onto the center of each dough circle. Fold the pie dough over the filling into a crescent, pinching the edges shut. Brush the hand pies with egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon milk). Sprinkle with turbinado sugar and bake on an ungreased cookie sheet until golden, about 15 minutes. Let cool before serving.