Caramels and Bonus Caramel Sauce

My favorite candy in the whole world is a good caramel. Which is why, for thirty years, I have been making them every holiday season to give to people I care about.

Over the decades, I have tried a lot of different recipes, but I always seem to return to a version I first found in the 1948 version of “The Settlement Cookbook” by Mrs. Simon Kander (the first edition was published in 1901).

Mrs. Kander was a woman whose life’s work was to help young, female Jewish refugees become assimilated in the United States. We all have to eat, she figured, and food and cooking was the way she taught her charges to live in America.

So here is my take on Mrs. Kander’s caramel recipe, finessed over the years. Her mission is still right on target. Those who eat together, can live together.

The biggest change in my version of her recipe has been to come up with a tag-along recipe, one that uses up the dregs in the caramel cooking pot. You see, if the pot is scraped to get the last little bit of caramel out of it, the results are usually disastrous. Those dregs crystallize, and then the whole batch of caramels crystallizes. Oy, as Mrs. Kander would say.

So resist, people! Do not scrape. Instead, throw those dregs back on the stove with some cream and flavoring, and harvest a bonus recipe of caramel sauce. The following is flavored with coffee, vanilla and brandy or rum, but you can make up your own variation. Whatever you do, it will be great on ice cream.

And if you want to dip these caramels in chocolate, have a look at my post on tempering chocolate for dipping candy centers.

If not, simply wrap the cut caramels in parchment or wax paper, or any other candy wrapper you choose. They will keep for weeks at cool room temperature, so if you make too many for this Thanksgiving, they will still taste pretty good come Christmas.

 

Caramel Candy and Bonus Coffee Caramel Sauce

For the Caramel Candy:

2 cups white sugar
2 cups corn syrup
3 cups cups heavy cream
¼ cup unsalted butter (plus a little more for buttering the pan)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons vanilla
an instant read thermometer
an 8 inch square pan
parchment paper

For the Bonus Coffee Caramel Sauce

the leftover caramel at the bottom of the pot
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon instant espresso
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cognac or rum

To Make the Caramel Candy:

Grease the bottom and sides of the 8 inch pan with a little butter. Cut parchment paper to line the bottom and sides of the pan, place the paper in the pan, and grease the paper with a little more butter. Set aside.

Combine 2 tablespoons of vanilla and the salt in a small bowl or cup and set aside.

Place the sugar, corn syrup and one cup of the heavy cream in a large, heavy pot; this pot should be wide and shallow but large enough to accommodate the alarming bubbling up of the cooking caramel without over-flowing. I use a double clad eight quart stock pot.

sugar, corn syrup and cream boiling to make caramel

sugar, corn syrup and cream boiling to make caramel

Stir the ingredients together and place over medium heat. Bring to a rolling simmer, stirring often and being careful to make sure the pot doesn’t boil over and that the caramel doesn’t burn on the bottom.

When the mixture reaches a temperature of around 236 degrees, add one more cup of heavy cream, stir well, and continue the rolling simmer.

When the mixture reaches 236 degrees again, add 1 more cup of heavy cream and bring to a rolling simmer again.

When the mixture reaches 230 degrees, stir in the butter, combining until it is completely melted. Keep the mixture boiling, being careful it doesn’t burn on the bottom.

Keep a close eye on the thermometer as the temperature rises into the low 240s; be ready to take the pot off the heat the moment it reaches 245 degrees. The caramel’s temperature will continue to rise, and can get as high as 250, but anticipation is key. Much past 250, the caramel will be too hard, so watch the pot!

As soon as the mixture reaches 245 degrees, take it off the burner and stir in the vanilla and salt, then immediately pour the mixture into the prepared pan. When you get to the dregs at the bottom of the pot, stop pouring and place the pot back on the stove.

DO NOT SCRAPE THE POT.  Scraping will cause crystallization, and any tiny bit of crystallization that is introduced into the hardening caramel will cause the whole batch to crystallize over the next few days. In which case, it will still be edible, but not nearly as good.

Set the pan of cooling caramel in a dry, cool spot. If making the Coffee Caramel Sauce, this is the moment to head back to the stove. Otherwise, fill the dirty pot with water and let it soak.

At this point, you have at least twelve hours to kill before the caramels are ready to cut. Go binge-watch Netflix. However if, while binge-watching Netflix, you decide you can’t wait to try your caramels, as soon as the candy is cool enough not to remove skin on contact, you can scoop out a taste with a spoon from the corner. The remaining caramel will flow into the hole by the time you are ready to cut for real.

When the caramels are completely cool and set (12-24 hours after they hit the 8 inch pan in liquid form), they can be cut into pieces. Remember, though, that caramel is essentially a liquid in slow motion. Once cut, the individual pieces will melt and stick together if they are not contained inside a chocolate coating or a wrapper.

So before cutting, know whether you are going to: 1) dip them in chocolate, and/or 2) store them in candy wrappers, and be prepared with whatever is needed for the next step.

And if you can’t decide which way to go or don’t have the necessaries, don’t sweat it. The pan of caramels will keep for days at a cool room temperature, so you have lots of time to decide.

When you are ready to cut for real, be sure to have a very large, sharp knife on hand as well as a big cutting board that doesn’t smell like onions. A ruler is good if you love symmetry. Proceed as follows.

Using the parchment paper, lift the caramel out of the pan and place it on the cutting board. Cut the caramels into even-sized pieces according to your preference. These can range from bar-sized pieces (1 inch by 3 inches, say) to small pieces ½ inch x ½ inch.

caramels cut and ready to dip or wrap

cut caramels ready to dip  or wrap

Once cut, the caramels may be dipped in tempered chocolate, or wrapped in waxed or parchment paper. Don’t freeze or refrigerate caramels, no matter how they have been treated. Cooling will cause the caramels to absorb moisture and lose freshness. So long as all the ingredients used in the recipe were at their use-by dates, the caramels will keep well for a month at a cool room temperature.

Caramel and Caramel Coffee Sauce on ice cream

Caramel and Caramel Coffee Sauce on ice cream

To make the Coffee-Caramel Sauce

Pour 1 cup of heavy cream into the pot with the dregs of the caramel in it and place the pot over medium-low heat.

Stir well, scraping up the bits of caramel so they melt into the warming cream. When the caramel has dissolved pretty well into the cream, add the espresso powder, the vanilla and the cognac or rum to the mixture. Bring to a slow simmer and allow the sauce to thicken a bit.

When the sauce has thickened, remove it from the stove. Allow it to cool a bit before using it. Serve warm over ice cream. You may also pour it into a glass jar and seal with a lid and store in the refrigerator for a week or so. Remove the lid before carefully reheating in the microwave in 10 second bursts with stirring in between. It should take only 2 or 3 bursts before the sauce is pourable and warm.

Recipes that you and your gut flora will love

Yesterday, I wrote about all the amazing things the trillions of symbiotic microbes that live in our guts do for us. If we want to keep them happy, we need to feed them lots of complex carbohydrates, mostly in the form of whole plant foods. Here are some recipes I took to the farmers markets last week for my gut flora talk. Folks gobbled them up, and I’m guessing so did their microbes.

  • Try to incorporate whole grains and new kinds of grains into your meals. Add in lots of fresh herbs and spices for added phytonutrients. Use unfiltered extra virgin olive oil – it has more antioxidants and keeps longer without going rancid than filtered olive oil – and work in kefir or yogurt for their nutrition as well as their ability to lighten dough and keep it moist once cooked. Here’s a recipe that does all that.

 Herbed Whole Grain and Kefir Flat Breads

  • 2⅓ cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup chickpea flour (also called besan)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons minced mixed fresh herbs (I used cinnamon basil, parsley, garlic chives and dill)
  • 1/4 cup packed chopped scallions, white and green parts
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup kefir or plain yogurt

Combine all the ingredients, except the oil and the kefir, in a large bowl and toss to combine well. Drizzle in the oil and toss the mixture lightly to disperse it through the mixture. Pour in the kefir or yogurt and mix in well with your hands.

When well combined, turn out onto the counter and knead well for a few minutes. Cut the dough into 16 equal pieces and roll them into balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let them sit for 1/2 hour or more before rolling out and cooking.

When ready to cook, sprinkle a little flour on the counter and roll the balls out into thin rounds about 6 inches in diameter. Heat a heavy skillet or griddle over medium high heat and cook the breads as you continue rolling.

Cook the breads on one side for a few minutes until small bubbles begin to appear in the surface of the bread. Flip the bread and continue cooking a minute or two. The bubbles should puff up a bit and the bottom will also have several small rounds of brown.

Stack the breads on a plate as you cook them – this will keep them moist. Serve as you go, or when all the breads are cooked. They can be cooled in the stack then covered with plastic and refrigerated for a day or two before serving. Reheat on the skillet or allow to come to room temperature before eating.

  • Eat lots of fresh greens. One way to do this is by turning herbs into sauces to liven up other foods. Check out Indian cookbooks for many such recipes – this mint and cilantro and hot pepper recipe is very common in many parts of India.

Mint and Cilantro Chutney

  • 2 cups mint leaves
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves
  • 2 hot green peppers, such as jalapenos, seeded and chopped (leave in seeds if you want this very spicy)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until it becomes a chunky puree. Taste for seasonings and add more of any of the seasonings as desired. This will keep, sealed in a jar in the refrigerator for several days.

  • Kamut is an ancient form of wheat from Egypt and is easy to find in grocery stores these days. It stays chewy, even after being soaked and cooked, and adds a lot of body to this Mediterranean style-salad. If you are avoiding wheat of all kinds, simply leave it out.

 Kamut, Feta and Vegetable Salad

  • 2 cups cooked Kamut (follow directions on the package)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 medium sweet red pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 medium chopped cucumber (peel it in stripes, if it’s organic, to leave on a bit of skin)
  • 2 cups chopped fresh cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1 tablespoon chopped dill
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mint
  • good olive oil and vinegar, to taste

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate if not serving immediately.

  • Try to find ways to make desserts that use healthier ingredients. Here, olive oil replaces butter, nutritious ground walnuts replace some of the flour, and oranges and blueberries (you can substitute other nuts and fruits), add vitamins and antioxidants.

Blueberry Walnut Cake

  •  3 eggs
  • grated rind one orange
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 generous cup walnut pieces
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup white flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (325 if a convection oven). Oil an 8 inch square pan, line with parchment paper, oil the paper, then dust the whole thing with flour. Set aside.

Whisk together the eggs, then whisk in the orange juice and olive oil. Set aside.

Place the walnut pieces, sugar and orange rind in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the walnut pieces are finely ground. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the walnut-sugar mixture and whisk until homogenous. Add 1 cup of the blueberries and toss to coat with the dry ingredients.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently fold together using a rubber spatula until well combined and there are no large lumps of dry ingredients remaining.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining berries over the top of the cake. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 mins. – 1 hour, turning once so it cooks evenly.

  • Use local ingredients with short shelf lives as they become available. Yellow Transparent Apples are a tart heirloom variety good for eating and cooking that ripens in August at the same time as mulberries – a sweet, nutritious, dark purple berry that grows on a tree. Both are perishable, which means they’re hard to find even at farmer’s markets. Pick them yourself when you can find them – they’re a summer treat that you will never find in winter. And if you can’t find them, simply substitute another tart cooking apple and whatever berry is available, including frozen ones (just don’t thaw them before adding them to the apples).

Transparent Yellow Apple and Mulberry Oat Crumble

For the Oat Crumble:

  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 1 cup whole rolled oats (not quick cooking)
  • 2 sticks cool unsalted butter cut into chunks (plus a little more for the pan)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sugar

Put the oat flour, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and one stick of butter chunks in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times, until the mixture is crumbly with some chunks about the size of a pea. Put the mixture into a large bowl.

Put the whole rolled oats, the other stick of butter chunks and the other teaspoon of cinnamon into the bowl of the food processor and pulse until the mixture begins to come together into loose clumps – don’t over-process. Add the mixture to the mixture in the bowl.

Add the sugar and the pinch of salt to the bowl. Toss with your fingers, until the mixture takes a chunky crumble texture. Place in the refrigerator or a cool spot until the filling is ready.

For the filling:

  • 2 pounds Yellow Transparent or other tart summer apple (2½ pounds if organic and in need of a lot of trimming), peeled, cored, and cut into thin slices
  • 3 cups fresh mulberries or raspberries
  • the juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 cup light summer honey

1/4 cup of Oat Crumble (removed from the completed crumble recipe)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (350 if a convection oven). Butter a 13 x 8 inch oval baking dish (you may also use a rectangular dish of a similar size).

Combine the ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine. Pour into the buttered baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining crumble evenly over the top of the fruit.

Place in the oven and bake, turning once or twice so the crumble browns evenly. The crumble is done when the crumble is golden and the fruit bubbling in the center.

Allow to cool for at least an hour before serving to set the syrup in the fruit filling. Serve warm or at room temperature.

  •  Soba Noodles are made of buckwheat, and sometimes buckwheat with a little bit of wheat. If you are gluten intolerant, be sure to buy only noodles that are 100% buckwheat. They come in packages with single servings divided out with a paper wrapper. They are often served tossed with sesame oil, chilled and with a variety of toppings.

 Soba Noodles with Toppings

  • Soba noodles, cooked (follow package instructions) one bunch per person, rinsed with cold water and tossed with a little sesame oil to prevent sticking
  • Kimchi
  • cucumbers mixed with a little grated ginger, vinegar, and salt
  • fresh tomatoes chopped and mixed with a little sesame oil, chopped scallions and salt

Place noodles into bowls and then allow diners to top them as desired.

  • Cut back on your meat consumption by mixing meat with grains and vegetables. Here, ground beef is mixed with a quinoa pilaf to make meatballs that are then cooked in a roasted carrot and tomato sauce.

Tomato Carrot Sauce

  • 1 pound carrots
  • 2 pounds tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
olive oil
  • 1 quart water or stock
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil or 2 tablespoons fresh basil chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Clean the carrots and trim them of the leaf end and spindly root end. Cut into pieces that are 3 or 4 inches in length. Toss with a little olive oil and place on a baking sheet and put into preheated oven. Bake for about 1 hour, until tender.

At the same time, cut tomatoes into even pieces and toss in olive oil and bake in the same way as the carrots.

When both are tender, remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. Place in batches in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until pureed. Set aside.

Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil heated in a large skillet until translucent, then add the pureed carrots and tomatoes. Add the water or stock, basil and salt and pepper. Allow to simmer for 1/2 hour or so, then remove from heat and either use immediately or cool be before using. It may be refrigerated for a week or frozen for up to 4 months.

 Beef and Quinoa Meatballs in Tomato Carrot Sauce

  • 1 medium onion, peeled and minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 cup white quinoa
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 recipe roast tomato and carrot sauce

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Saute the onion and garlic until softened. Add the quinoa and saute for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned and glossy. Remove from heat and cool.

When cooled, mix with the ground beef, cumin and salt and pepper. Form into small meatballs about 1 inch in diameter.

Brown the meatballs in a large skillet in batches if necessary to prevent crowding. When all the meatballs have been browned, put them back into the pan and add the sauce. Cover and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through. The quinoa will have expanded and the “tails” turned white.

Serve the meatballs warm or at room temperature.

Raspberries

gold and red raspberries and beets

gold and red raspberries and beets

We have gone netting-mad at our place this summer, covering all the small fruits with
white, fine-mesh shrouds that actually keep out Japanese beetles and stink bugs, as well as the birds. Which means that in spite of the fungus-encouraging rain, we have more decent raspberries at the moment than we have ever had in years past.

I am a lover of home-made raspberry jam, and so that’s where most of my berries go, especially the ones that are a little too imperfect to eat whole and fresh. Nothing makes the bleak month of February bleaker than to open the cupboard and find all the raspberry jam is gone, so this year, I am making gallons.

I used to believe the raspberry was one of those fruits that, unlike the pear, apple, quince and rhubarb, wasn’t really suited as an ingredient in savory dishes. I suspect I was prejudiced by my early training as a cook in the 1980s, when dishes like vanilla flavored lobster were all the rage. Back then, raspberry vinegar was A Thing, and most of it, I suspect, was pretty bad quality white vinegar hopped up on red food coloring and artificial flavoring. I get queasy just thinking of the stuff.

I’ve changed my mind though, because now that I have my own raspberry patch and can make my own raspberry vinegar, I can taste the merits of good raspberry vinegar. I just got back from the Charlevoix region of Quebec, and brought back some wonderful free-range Mulard duck breasts. Seared then slow roasted, they were the perfect foil to a Raspberry Agrodolce. Agrodolce means “sour-sweet” in Italian, and is the general term for a sauce made with caramelized sugar, vinegar and fruit. It’s simple to make and a useful technique to know, because it goes together quickly and is suited to any fruit in season.

Everything in the Garden Salad July

Everything in the Garden Salad July

I’ve also been serving the nicest raspberries in my Everything in the Garden Salads. As the
name says, the ingredients depend on what happens to be fresh and ready to eat in the garden. I simply wash things that need it, do a little chopping or peeling, and then arrange the ingredients in a still life on a plate. Served with good olive oil and vinegar on the side, or a little dish of vinaigrette for dipping, I like to eat these salads with my fingers, savoring the colors on the plate and the mix and match of flavors. Children love eating this way, too, which is why children are always welcome at my table.

raspberry nut scone

raspberry nut scone

And finally, I’ve devised a new scone recipe that takes advantage of the juiciness of raspberries to dispense with a lot of the fat that goes into most scone recipes. I’ve replaced the butter with almond oil, which is easy to find these days in grocery stores. Walnut or hazelnut oil would work well, too, just make sure whatever you buy is fresh, expeller-pressed and only lightly refined (refining makes an oil heatproof, but takes out all the flavor). Keep open nut oils in the refrigerator or they will go rancid; they are delicious in salad dressings. In a pinch you can replace the nut oil with vegetable oil. Just be sure to handle this dough lightly, as it is soft and sticky and will become tough if kneaded.

Raspberry Nut Scones

  •  3 cups flour
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup almond or other nut oil, or regular cooking oil
  • 1 generous cup raspberries (fresh or frozen but not thawed)
  • 1 scant cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a half sheet-tray with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, walnuts, baking powder, baking soda and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the ingredients until the nuts are finely chopped. Add the oil and pulse several times until it is evenly distributed in the dry ingredients.

Put the mixture into a large bowl. Add the raspberries and toss gently to distribute them in the dry ingredients. Pour in most of the buttermilk and toss the mixture gently with your fingertips, just until the mixture begins to come together. Depending on how juicy the berries are, you may or may not need to use all the buttermilk. If necessary, add the rest of the buttermilk to moisten any dry crumbs in the bottom of the bowl.

Gently pat the mixture together into a ball – do not knead; the dough will be quite soft. Sprinkle a countertop generously with flour, place the ball of dough on it, then pat the mixture into a rectangle about 6 inches by 9 inches. If the dough sticks, slide a spatula under it to loosen and sprinkle a little more flour on the counter. Sprinkle the top of the rectangle evenly with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and press the sugar gently so it adheres to the surface of the dough.

Using a large, sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut the rectangle in half the long way, into two 3 inch by 9 inch pieces. Cut these in thirds, into six 3 inch by 3 inch squares. Cut these in half diagonally, into 12 triangles.

Use a spatula to lift the triangles on to the parchment lined sheet-tray, leaving a bit of space between scones. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes, turning once so the scones brown evenly. They are done when golden brown on the bottom and around the edges and they are no longer soft to the touch in the center but spring back a bit. Try not to over-bake.

Allow the scones to cool for a few minutes before serving warm, with butter and jam, if desired.

Raspberry Agrodolce

  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 tablespoons good quality fruit-based vinegar, such as Spanish sherry vinegar or good apple cider vinegar
  • 2 minced shallots or small early summer onions or scallions (if using early onions or scallions, use both the white and the green parts)
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon or other herbs (mint and purple basil are both good)
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the sugar and vinegar in a small non-reactive skillet and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Allow to bubble for a few minutes, then add the minced shallots. Continue cooking until the mixture thickens a bit and becomes syrupy.

Add the minced herbs, the raspberries and the salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the raspberries disintegrate and the mixture thickens a little.

The sauce can be served as is, seeds and all. However, if you don’t like raspberry seeds, you may press the mixture through a sieve to remove some or all of them. Taste for seasonings before serving and add more salt and pepper and possibly a little vinegar if you like.

Serve warm or hot with grilled meat. This is particularly delicious with rich meats, such as duck breast or foie gras.

Makes about 2 cups unstrained, about 1 cup strained.

Everything in the Garden Salad

Pick what is freshest, and place a tiny bit of each thing on the plate. Serve oil and vinegar or dipping dishes of vinaigrette on the side. The salad illustrated here includes:

  • grated white beets with lemon juice and tarragon
  • sliced Chioggia beets
  • purslane
  • dill blossoms
  • parsley
  • spearmint
  • nasturtium flowers and leaves
  • golden Anna raspberries
  • Purple Royalty raspberries
  • ribbons of purple shiso
  • Sun Gold tomatoes
  • Black Krim tomatoes
  • sliced raw fennel

3 Savory Rhubarb Recipes

Pork Chops with Orange-Rhubarb Sauce and Lovage; Rhubarb Marinated Sea Scallops with Orange-Fennel Salad; Fresh Oysters with Rhubarb Mignonette Sauce

Pork with Orange-Rhubarb Sauce and Lovage

Pork with Orange-Rhubarb Sauce and Lovage

Rhubarb is spring’s own zucchini. By which I mean, even if you don’t have your own patch of rhubarb, chances are good you have a neighbor who is swimming in the stuff every year at this time, and who will eagerly foist some off on anyone who asks. That’s because rhubarb seems to live forever, and most folks who live in old houses in New England have an ancient plot that came with the deed. These well-established clumps produce a huge number of juicy pink stalks year after year without any attention at all – though they do like moisture, lots of sun and an occasional infusion of compost.

Rhubarb is sometimes called the “Pie Plant,” for obvious reasons. But rhubarb isn’t just for pies. In fact, it has the kind of versatility that most other edibles lack, happy in desserts as well as savory dishes, good both cooked and raw, delicate enough to take a supporting role in a recipe, and assertive enough to take center stage.

Though many people wrinkle their noses when contemplating the acidity of rhubarb, especially in its raw state, that acidity is probably rhubarb’s best asset. You might not want to eat rhubarb the way Scandinavians do – by the raw stalk, dipped in sugar – or as Chileans do – by the raw stalk dipped in salt and hot dried chile pepper. But if you think of rhubarb as a substitute for citrus fruits like lemons and limes, or as a balancing ingredient in recipes that feature rich foods like pork and shellfish, you will certainly find dozens of ways to substitute rhubarb into your favorite recipes.

Below you’ll find a few recipes I’ve developed for using rhubarb in savory dishes. The first, Pork Chops with Orange Rhubarb Sauce and Lovage, contains another of spring’s vegetable perennials, lovage. Lovage looks like giant celery and tastes like it looks, which is to say a tiny bit of it imparts a highly concentrated celery taste. Used sparingly, it is a wonderful addition to salads, soups and other dishes. Substitute celery leaves or parsley, if you don’t have any.

The second recipe uses rhubarb juice to partially “cook” fresh scallops, just as lime juice is used in seafood ceviches. The longer the scallops marinate, the more the acid will permeate the delicate flesh, and the less time the scallop will need to heat to be cooked through. If you like, scallops that have been marinated for 4-6 hours can be served cold, without the final cooking step. However, I prefer the lovely contrast the warm scallops create juxtaposed to the cold, crunchy fennel orange salad.

The final recipe is my take on a traditional sauce for oysters, mignonette. Usually mignonette sauce is made by combining red wine vinegar, minced shallots and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Here, to balance the tartness of rhubarb, I’ve substituted a mellow-sweet balsamic vinegar (buy a good one – it’s expensive, but worth it) for the sharper red wine vinegar. The resulting sauce is wonderful, not just on oysters, but with any rich food. I’m particularly fond of it spooned over a slice of crusty bread spread with a triple crème cheese, such as Saint André.

Pork Chops with Orange-Rhubarb Sauce and Lovage

  • 4 boneless pork loin chops (or a small loin roast cut into four slices)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter or cooking oil (you may need more if cooking in batches)
  • 2 large shallots or one small onion, minced
  • the juice of 2 large oranges (about 1 cup) and the grated rind of 1 orange
  • 2 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
  • 1/4 chopped lovage leaves plus lovage sprigs for garnish (you may substitute parsley or celery leaves)

If possible the day before serving, sprinkle both sides of the pork chops with salt and pepper, lay them on a paper towel on a plate, cover with another paper towel and leave in the refrigerator overnight. This dries the outside of the pork and allows it to absorb a bit of salt, which will cause the meat to brown nicely and remain juicy when cooked.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and melt the butter or heat the oil in it. Add the pork chops to the pan, working in two batches if necessary so as not to crowd the meat. When one side is golden, flip the chop and cook the other side, covering the pan to avoid splatters and to cook the meat more quickly. Thick chops will be done in about ten minutes total. Don’t overdo it, as the chops will be resting in a warm place while the sauce is prepared and will continue to cook from residual heat.

When the chops are cooked, set them aside in a warm spot while making the sauce. Add the shallots to the skillet in which you have cooked the pork – if there’s a lot of fat in the pan from cooking, you may pour most of it off. Or, if there is no fat left in the pan, you may add another pat of butter or bit of oil to it before cooking the shallots. Cook the shallots until they wilt, but don’t brown them.

Add the orange juice to the pan and stir well to scrape up the bits of cooked meat juice from the bottom of the skillet. Add the orange rind, rhubarb and raisins and stir well. Turn the heat down so the rhubarb simmers slowly. When it begins to break down after a few minutes, taste the mixture and add as much sugar as needed to balance the sauce. Stir in the heavy cream, taste again and add salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the sauce between four plates, top each bed of sauce with a pork chop, sprinkle a little lovage over the sauce and garnish the top of the chop with a sprig of lovage. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Rhubarb-Marinated Sea Scallops with Orange-Fennel Salad

Rhubarb Marinated Sea Scallops with Orange-Fennel Salad

Rhubarb Marinated Sea Scallops with Orange-Fennel Salad

  • 1/2 pound sea scallops
  • 1/2 pound of rhubarb, cleaned and chopped into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil plus a little more for cooking the scallops
  • 2-3 oranges, skinned and divided into sections
  • 2-3 baby fennel bulbs or 1 regular fennel bulb
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cut the tough piece of white muscle from the scallops (if necessary) and discard. Slice each of the scallops into three thin rounds. Put the rounds into a non-reactive bowl.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the rhubarb until it is pureed (you may also use a grater to turn it into a puree). Put the puree into a fine sieve over a bowl and press on it to extract all the juice from it (you may also do this by squeezing the puree with your hands.) You should wind up with about 3/4 of a cup of juice. Pour this over the scallops, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to 6 hours. Discard the rhubarb solids.

Wash the fennel, then slice it into very thin slivers and toss with the orange segments. Mix together the chives, parsley, olive oil, hot pepper, a little salt and pepper and set aside. Remove the scallops from the refrigerator and drain, discarding the rhubarb juice.

Heat a skillet, add a little oil to it and then saute the scallops over very high heat, less than a minute on each side. The longer they have marinated, the less time they will need to cook.

Arrange the scallops and orange salad on 4 plates, drizzling them with a little of the oil and herb sauce. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 as an appetizer.

Rhubarb Mignonette Sauce and Oysters

Rhubarb Mignonette Sauce and Oysters

Fresh Oysters with Rhubarb Mignonette Sauce

  • 1/4 cup excellent quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup finely minced shallots
  • 1/4 cup finely minced fresh rhubarb
  • plenty of freshly ground pepper (to taste)
  • 1 dozen fresh oysters on the half-shell

Combine all ingredients. Serve chilled on fresh oysters or other raw shellfish. The sauce is also delicious on fresh crusty bread thickly spread with butter or a soft, rich cheese, such as Saint André.

Makes a bit more than 1/2 cup.