Spring cuisine refreshes with rhubarb, asparagus

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Not just any hotcakes. Small-sized rhubarb/pecan offerings are nice enough for company brunch.

While the snow hangs stubbornly on in many “cold spots,” sunny gardens here and there boast colorful nubs of rhubarb plants eagerly thrusting their way to seasonal fruition — ready in no time for the healthy transition to fresh-from the earth “spring tonic.” A little later, asparagus will follow — even now available in markets (go for organic.) and ready for a plethora of culinary possibilities.

Today’s column will feature some old favorites sure to please our winter-weary appetites. Enjoy.

We begin in answer to a request for a repeat of last years’ great rhubarb cake from Sandpoint’s own gracious “hat lady,” Mary Faux.

Rhubarb Cake

½ cup shortening

1 ½ cups brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup sour cream or buttermilk

2 cups flour

1 ½ cups fine-chopped rhubarb

½ cup chopped walnuts

1 teaspoon vanilla

Topping:

½ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup chopped walnuts

Combine topping ingredients and set aside.

Set oven at 350 degrees. Cream shortening and brown sugar. Add egg and blend well. Combine soda with sour cream/buttermilk and add alternately with flour.

Stir in cut rhubarb, nuts and vanilla. Put in greased 9x13-inch pan. Sprinkle with topping. Bake in 350 degree oven 35 to 40 minutes. Serve dolloped with whipped cream if you wish.

Here’s my kids’ favorite from the ‘50s.

Rhubarb Oatmeal Bars

1½ cups flour

1½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup firm packed light brown sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter, softened

3 cups rhubarb sauce (thickened w/cornstarch if necessary)*

¼ cup chopped walnuts

Set oven to 375. Lightly grease 13x9-inch baking pan. In medium bowl combine first five ingredients (through salt). Add softened butter and stir with fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press half of mixture into bottom of greased pan.

Spread rhubarb sauce evenly over crumb layer. Top with remaining crumbs, pressing gently to firm; sprinkle with walnuts. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until top is golden brown and rhubarb is bubbly. Cool to room temperature before cutting.

* Rhubarb Sauce

3 cups diced rhubarb stalks

2½ Tb. cornstarch

¾ cup granulated cane sugar

½ tsp. salt

2/3 cup water

2 Tb butter

Combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and water in heavy saucepan. Mix well, add rhubarb. Heat over high heat until thickening, then lower heat to med-high and boil, stirring constantly until thick and clear. Remove from heat, stir in butter.

Our illustration seems every-day until you check out this great recipe. This makes about 14 baby-sized hotcakes.

Pecan/Rhubarb Griddle Cakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (or walnuts)

3 Tbs. pure cane granulated sugar

1 Tb. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup pureed rhubarb sauce (recipe above)

3/4 cup milk

2 eggs

2 Tbs. real (organic) butter, melted

Warmed whole rhubarb sauce, optional

In medium bowl stir together flour, pecans, sugar, baking powder and salt. In small bowl, beat together rhubarb sauce, milk, eggs and butter; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Using scant 1/4-cup measure of batter for each cake, cook in buttered non-stick or iron frypan over med-high heat, turning once to brown on both sides. Serve with whole (un-pureed) rhubarb sauce or maple syrup as desired, or simply sprinkle with powdered sugar.

On now, to the classic favorite from ancient Greece — asparagus. The quick-cooking capability of this savory spear was lauded in a saying common in those olden days — “quicker than cooking asparagus”. We begin with delectable open-face sandwiches — lovely enough for company.

Asparagus Cheese Melts

(serves 2 — enlarge as needed)

1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese (1 ½ ounces)

¼ cup real mayonnaise

1 pound med-thin asparagus, tough ends snapped off, pared at base if necessary

4 slices Ciabatta or other thick-sliced Italian white bread

2 teaspoons unsalted butter, softened

¼ pound thin-sliced smoked salmon (lox) OR thin-sliced deli ham

Preheat broiler. In small bowl stir together Parmesan and mayonnaise. Cut spears into length to fit bread slices. Toss spears into a large pot of boiling salted water and cook for 4-5 minutes depending on thickness. Drain well in a colander.

Arrange bread on a baking sheet and butter top of each slice evenly to the edges; broil about 6 inches from heat until golden, about 2 minutes. Turn bread over, lightly butter or brush evenly with olive oil; arrange salmon/ham on each slice, folding or trimming as necessary. Arrange asparagus on top and carefully spread thickly with Parmesan/mayo mixture (a small spatula works well for this). Broil open-face sandwiches about 3 inches from heat until topping is golden and puffed, 1-2 minutes. Suggestion: Serve with a leafy salad garnished with walnuts and sliced strawberries or orange slices.

Asparagus Quiche

1 large pastry shell

1 1/2 cups prepared asparagus spears, cut-up into 1-inch pieces, cooked 3-4 minutes in boiling water, drained well.

1 Tb. real butter

1 cup cheddar cheese, grated

4 eggs

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 tsp. salt

Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375F. Evenly arrange asparagus pieces on bottom of pie shell; dot with the butter. Evenly distribute the grated cheese atop the asparagus. Lightly beat eggs with a wire whisk; add cream and seasonings, mix well. Set the pie shell on a baking sheet and carefully pour egg mixture evenly overall. Bake on center shelf of oven 45 minutes or until top is puffed up, lightly browned and a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika and fresh chopped parsley if you wish. Serve hot.

Tip: You may use Swiss or other cheese as you wish, or a mixture of mellow cheeses that won’t distract from the delicate flavor of the asparagus.

Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at bcdailybee@bonnercountydailybee.com or by phone at 208-265-4688.

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