Rhubarb’s the Word

It took weeks of absorbing recipe after recipe for rhurbarb-centric dishes and a near surfeit of oozy, jammy pink photos of the cooked stuff before I realized that there was probably something to this pieplant.  My first foray was Smitten Kitchen’s rhubarb snacking cake, a wonderful recipe that I bungled with an overzealous application of yogurt, thinking the batter was too thick (really it had been just thick enough). The end product was a bottom layer of gummy cake topped with an addictive swath of rhubarb and crumble. A swath that was easily salvageable with a spoon and consumed warm straight from the pan.

So for the next attempt, I kept it simple. Food in Jars provided the recipe this time around, and with a few minor alterations, we’ve got jewel-like vessels of tart and sweet rhubarb and strawberry jam with rosemary.  The rosemary is an inspired idea (not mine, all kudos goes to Food in Jars). It offsets the sweetness in a really nice way, and gives the jam a hard-to-pin-down depth.  For any fellow novice rhubarb cookers out there, please give it a try, and may your first try be this jam.  The prep is a breeze, it all goes into one pot, and your kitchen will smell like a wholesome candy store. Plus, you’ll get to say you just made homemade jam. Respect.

The jam is ethereal on goat’s milk yogurt (take a second to admire the dollop of bright pink on creamy white before you dive in), or not-too-sweet ice cream, or toast, or slathered on an elevated and very adult PB&J.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Jam with Rosemary
(Slightly altered from Food in Jars)

Approx. 4 cups chopped rhubarb (slice into 1/2 inch chunks, at an angle)
Approx. 2 cups sliced strawberries
2 cups sugar
2 large sprigs of rosemary
Juice and zest from 2 lemons

Combine rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a large enamel or stainless steel pot (rhubarb’s acidity can react with certain types of metal).  Stir so that the sugar coats everything evenly and let it sit for 30-45 minutes, until juices have started to pool. Place pot on medium-high heat, add the rosemary sprigs, and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb has broken down and separates easily when pressed with a spoon, about 10 minutes.  Raise the heat and boil for about two minutes while stirring, then remove from heat.

Add the lemon zest and stir to combine. Remove the rosemary fronds.

Once the jam is slightly cooled, pour into as many containers as needed and seal. Someday I’ll learn how to can, but for this small batch my intention is to eat and share what we can’t eat until the entirety is gone.  So I give it about a week in the fridge.

Make It On Sunday, Eat It All Week

With the advent of a new job and the proportionate decrease of free time that accompanies a steep learning curve, weeknight dinners have taken a blow. I wouldn’t say they are bad, exactly, just hurried, harried, and uninspired.  I’m down for some good cooking shortcuts and quick meals, but where to look?

Certainly not towards Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade. Not because semi-homemade is bad – far from it. Any cooking is better than no cooking (I consider assembling a sandwich “cooking”), and sometimes boxed mac & cheese is what makes my world continue its orbit.  But her shortcuts are sometimes bizarre and often unhealthy, and with all her white teeth, unblinking alien gaze, and nary a hair out of place, that Sandra Lee gives me the creeps. Sorry, Governor Cuomo. She also makes specialized cocktails for most meals. As appealing as that is, if I followed her recipes I’d be half in the bag most of the time and way over-sugared.

So forget Sandra Lee and her wasteful table decorations, and make some polenta. It’s warm, it’s filling, it’s cheap, and if you take the time to make some, you can sup on the leftovers all week long. This particular recipe results in a firmer polenta, intended for chilling on sheet pan, slicing in to squares, and then giving a quick sear to make a crispy exterior. Then just pile whatever you have on-hand on top. Fresh herbs make it pretty.

Polenta for Slicing*

1 cup non-instant polenta
1 cup whole milk
2 cups water, plus some
Pinch of baking soda**
Teaspoon of salt
Knob of butter
Fresh rosemary, if desired

Heat the water and milk in a pot that has a lid. When they’ve reached a boil, whisk in the salt and the baking soda, then whisk in the polenta.  Continue to whisk until combined.

Turn the heat to low (the polenta should stay at a very low simmer), and cover the pot. Check on the pot every 5 minutes or so, giving a vigorous whisk.   If it seems like the mixture is getting too thick, stir in a few tablespoons of water or milk. Taste after 20 minutes, and add more salt if needed.

After 30 minutes, remove from heat. Stir in a knob of butter and the chopped rosemary, if desired. Pour the polenta onto a sheet pan and even out the top with a spatula.  Let cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and pop in the fridge. The polenta will harden a bit more as it cools, and then you’ll be able to slice it into squares.  Freeze some for later in the week (wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then foil), or heat up a spill of olive oil in a saute pan and give the polenta squares a crispy edge.

*Note: This recipe uses a 3 to 1 liquid to polenta ratio, which means it’s going to turn out pretty thick. If you want a creamier polenta (not intended for slicing), use a ratio of 4 to 1 by adding another cup of milk or water. Finish with a shower of grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese after cooking, and enjoy immediately.

**Note: I was once told that baking soda helps prevent lumps from forming in the polenta.  Internet research supports this theory. Another way to prevent lumps is constant stirring. It’s a really good arm workout.