Monday, May 22, 2017

Spring Warmth with Strawberries and Rhubarb

It is truly spring. Usually this is a non-event as spring arrives in Northern California most years in February or March, but this year our spring has been more like the ones I remember from my childhood in Virginia. The nights stayed very cool and we had significant rain right up into May. So this year April showers really did bring May flowers. Many of my flowers are just now starting to bloom and the cool weather has keep the roses going with the flowers staying on the shrubs longer while new buds begin to form.

Our little lambs are getting bigger. Earlier in the week one of the younger set got his head stuck in the fence and tonight one of the older set became stuck. Since he has actual horns it was tougher to get him back through, but Sweetie did it and then the little fellow ran away to his mom. The photo of lambs on this post is actually from the flock of a friend...her lambs are white while 'mine' are black. They aren't really mine since they belong to our neighbors, but since they are in our pasture and we see them every day and give them water and sometimes some hay, I feel a little like they are ours, too.

One of the treats of spring is the coming of strawberry season. It started really late this year, too. Finally we are getting some warm days, so the strawberries at our local farm stand are plentiful, juicy, fragrant and all together wonderful. Often we just eat them right from the container, but sometimes I feel like baking using them.

A great pairing with strawberries is rhubarb. It sort of looks like red celery and it is pretty tart, but that tartness is magic combined with strawberry sweetness. I put them together in a tart for a family dinner on Friday. If you have puff pastry in the freezer, plus the usual baking staples and some sliced and ground almonds and some citrus, you can put this together in no time and bake an impressive's delicious, too.

I actually combined two recipes for this. A few pages further into Annie Rigg's Summer Berries Autumn Fruits cookbook, there is a recipe for a strawberry-rhubarb compote over brown sugar meringues, so I took the cooking method for the compote and used it for the tart fruit. It worked really well and I was left with enough syrup to boil down for a drizzle over the served slices of tart. The almond and orange flavors go so well with the sweet-tart strawberry rhubarb combo. The crust adds crispness and flakiness. There were actually a couple of pieces left over, so Sweetie and I had them for breakfast the next morning...heaven!

Strawberry Rhubarb Almond Tart
From Summer Berries Autumn Fruits by Annie Rigg
Serves 6-8

1-2 slim-stemmed rhubarb stalk(s)
1 cup granulated sugar
three strips orange peel (each about 1/2 " X 2 ")
1/2 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise or
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 x 14 oz package store-bought puff pastry
(I used 1 of 2 sheets in a Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry box, thawed)
2 tablespoons milk or soy milk
1 medium egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 rounded tablespoons sliced almonds

For the frangipane
2/3 cup ground almonds
3 tablespoons softened non-dairy butter or real butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 medium egg
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Rinse the rhubarb under cold running water and trim the ends. Cut each stem into lengths of about 1 1/2 inches. Put the sugar, orange peel and vanilla in a saute pan and add 3/4 cup cold water. Bring slowly to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Add the rhubarb and cook over low heat 2-3 minutes or until rhubarb is softened. Remove from heat. Add the strawberries, stir and let sit while you prepare the tart shell.

Lightly dust the work surface with flour and roll out the pastry into an oval or rectangle until pastry is about 1/16th-inch thick. Use a large knife to trim and neaten the edges. Carefully slide the pastry onto a large parchment-lined baking sheet, brush the milk or soy milk around the edges of the pastry, and crimp and fold over to create a border. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes while you make the frangipane.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Put all the frangipane ingredient in a mixing bowl and beat well until smooth.

Remove the pastry from the fridge and spread the frangipane over the pastry, leaving a 1/2 inch border all the way around as it will spread slightly during cooking. Drain the cooled rhubarb and strawberries from the syrup and scatter the rhubarb and strawberries evenly over the tart. Brush the edges of the tart with the beaten yolk and scatter the tart with the sliced almonds.

Bake on the middle rack of the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and cook for another 20-25 minutes. The frangipane will be golden, the pastry crust crisp, and the fruit tender.

Best served warm on the day it is made. You can take the syrup remaining after the fruit is removed and, over low heat, reduce it to a thick syrup for garnishing the tart slices.

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