Many food professionals would have you, the home cook, believe that the culinary tricks they perform and the dishes they create in the kitchen are difficult. And it is true that some...
I often wonder what extraordinary hungers brought humans to eat certain questionable foods. The artichoke and the oyster belong in that category, without question, although both are considered delicacies these days. But you do have to wonder about the intrepid soul who thought seriously about eating a thistle, or the first person to prise an oyster from its rock, then force open its fortress of a shell to let the cold and quivering mollusk within go sliding down his gullet.
Most probably, it was sheer want that forced the flower of resourcefulness, prompting us to see food everywhere we looked, even if it didn’t look particularly good to eat. And those of us who didn’t starve or weren’t poisoned could benefit from the experimentation of those who did.
Perhaps more puzzling even than thistles and oysters are those plants and animals which are known to be poisonous but are eaten anyway. The pufferfish is perhaps the most extreme example. One misplaced swipe of the butcher’s knife can loose enough poison to kill two dozen people.
But fugu is a delicacy, and an expensive one at that. What of plants like cassava, whose poisonous tubers make up 30% of daily calories in some parts of Africa? It is one thing to consider who first ate an oyster, and quite another to think of a deadly plant that has become a staple crop across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. In that case, it was not a matter of simply trying something and determining it could be used as food. More likely, cassava was a very costly human experiment, which only trial and error could solve, finally resulting in a method of preparation that was capable of neutralizing the toxins, rendering the root suitable for consumption.
Rhubarb is among those poisonous plants that, though it will never reach cassava’s staple crop status, humans have come to love in spite of its poisonous leaves and witheringly sour disposition. In a quick search of recipes in all the cookbooks we own, there are 410 recipes containing rhubarb. Thanks to its acidity, rhubarb usually plays a supporting role--in strawberry pie, as a conserve or mostarda, a handful thrown into a quick bread for color and a pop of flavor.
But for those of us who love rhubarb--and we are a smallish group, to be fair--sometimes that approach doesn’t quite satisfy us. We are the sort who snatch up a big bouquet of the sour stuff as soon as it hits the produce department. And if you’re anything like me, you often buy rhubarb without quite knowing what you’re going to do with it. Rhubarb presents itself as an opportunity or a challenge; one that is not always obvious, which, to me, is part of what makes it so appealing.
These rhubarb tarts are just that--quite tart and very rhubarb-centric. I think rhubarb and rose a near-perfect pairing, so I included the option to flavor the sugar with a little rosewater. The drizzle of honey over the top of the tarts adds a little more last minute sweetness and plays up the floral flavor of the rose; and the whipped cream and pistachios offer their mild richness as a foil to the extremely sour fruit. If you prefer it, though, I think high-quality vanilla bean ice cream would be superb in place of the whipped cream.
If rosewater isn’t your thing, rub the zest of one orange into the sugar instead.
Rough Puff Pastry
Or buy prepared, frozen puff pastry and thaw it in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 400℉. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Roll out the puff pastry to ⅛-inch thickness and cut into 3.5x4-inch rectangles. Place the pastry on the prepared sheet pan.
Trim and cut into 3-inch lengths:
1 pound rhubarb
Top each pastry rectangle with pieces of rhubarb, leaving a thin border of dough on all four sides. Whisk together in a small bowl:
¼ cup sugar (I used vanilla sugar, which is nice if you have some)
(2 teaspoons rose water)*
¼ teaspoon salt
Sprinkle the sugar over the tarts.
Bake until the puff pastry is golden and puffed around the edges and the rhubarb is tender, about 30 to 35 minutes.
Right out of the oven, drizzle the tarts with:
Serve warm topped with:
Whipped cream (unsweetened or very lightly sweetened)
These are best the day they’re made.
*Rose water can vary in potency. If you use a very strong rosewater concentrate, you may need to use less than called for.