I finally found some fresh rhubarb in a fruit market near me. The dearth of rhubarb in grocery stores has convinced me to grow a plant at home, probably in the front garden because I don’t have a good spot in the back. Luckily, rhubarb is a handsome, dramatic plant.
My rhubarb search–for fresh or frozen–was prompted by an idea for a food experiment. Almost anything makes a good risotto–the creamy rice is a perfect background to other vegetables, seafood, even fruit. I especially like the tart, bright flavour of a lemon risotto as a side dish with seafood and rich, fatty meats. Could I make a risotto with a different source of sour? How about rhubarb?
The answer is yes. Rhubarb dissolves beautifully into the rice, is a little less acidic than lemon and has a slight astringent bite. If the rhubarb stems have a lot of red, the risotto picks up a subtle pink colour. I garnished mine with finely chopped raw rhubarb. Whenever an unusual ingredient disappears into a dish, I like to signal its presence with the garnish; the visual cue helps people pick up on the flavour. And since we rarely use rhubarb as a vegetable, without sweetening it, here the garnish is a conversation starter. (I’m also eager to try Rhubarb Khoresh, a savoury rhubarb-beef stew by Lucy Waverman.)
Risottos aren’t difficult, but they do need frequent—although not constant—stirring. Adding liquid about every two minutes makes it difficult to get too far from the stove, but you can be doing other things in the kitchen. For instance, I chop the rhubarb and grate the cheese after I’ve started adding stock. The trick with a risotto is knowing when it’s done—the rice grains should still be distinct, with a little bite, like al dente pasta, and the sauce should be quite loose. Timing can be tricky, because a risotto is a little unpredictable and, like pasta, it doesn’t hold very well. When it’s ready, it’s ready, so serve a risotto with something else that will hold. Leftover risotto is fantastic formed into croquettes, breaded and fried.
3 tbsp butter (45 ml)
2 shallots, finely chopped
6 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock (1.5 L)
2 cups arborio rice (500 ml)
1/4 cup white wine (60 ml)
2 cups rhubarb, cut in 1/2″ (1 cm) lengths (500 ml)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (125 ml)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium to medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until transparent (about 2 minutes). Meanwhile, in another saucepan, bring stock to simmering.
2. Add rice to shallots, and stir for about 2 minutes, until rice is coated in butter and glossy. Add white wine, stir until wine is absorbed. Ladle in about 1/2 cup hot stock and stir frequently until the stock is almost absorbed. Continue adding the stock, a ladle at a time, and stirring frequently until each addition is almost absorbed. After the second or third ladle, add the rhubarb.
3. When almost all the stock is used, taste the rice–it should be tender, but with a little bite. At this point (even if you haven’t used all the stock), add the grated cheese. The cheese will thicken the mixture slightly; if it’s too thick, thin with a little extra stock or water. Adjust seasoning. Garnish with some finely chopped raw rhubarb.