Produce report: August 29
The reds have it this week. Beetroot, kumara and rhubarb are all in plentiful supply and good buying. Rhubarb is available all year round but at its best until October, which makes it perfect to go on the menu for Father’s Day this Sunday. If you have a good clump of it growing in the garden and Dad’s the type who likes a spot of fizz, make those rosy stalks into syrup, add about 60ml of it to a tall glass and top it up with champagne or prosecco (or even ice and sparkling water if it’s too early in the day). Riverstone Kitchen's Bevan Smith takes 20 roughly chopped, stalks then places them in a large pot with 2 litres of cold water and 4 cups of white sugar. He brings it to the boil over a high heat then reduces the temperature and simmers for about 15 minutes. Next he removes it from the heat, stirs in 2 teaspoons citric acid and passes it through a fine sieve, squeezing out as much juice as possible. The syrup is then cooled completely, and will keep for two weeks in the fridge.
Related to dock and sorrel and hailing from Tibet, rhubarb is a vegetable treated as a fruit and — in case you are still unaware — its leaves are poisonous (they contain oxalic acid) so this is definitely not one of those nose-to-tail stories.
The baby stalks may be eaten raw; most likely you’ll want to dip them into sugar, but larger ones are too tart even for that and will need cooking after any overly tough strings have been peeled away.
Baking rhubarb, rather than poaching it, helps keep its shape. Place in a baking dish and cook in a 180C oven for about 20 minutes with sugar (about ¼ cup for eight stems chopped into 4 or 5cm lengths). Add a squeeze of orange juice and the finely grated rind from ½ an orange. Cover and cook until the rhubarb is tender but still holding its shape.
Rhubarb goes well with strawberries (unfortunately there’s a wait until November for the local ones, but imported punnets of Oz berries are in store now) and it goes well with ginger. The two combine beautifully in Nadia Lim’s Honey rhubarb tart with ginger and brown sugar mascarpone which would please Dad very much for dessert (provided he hasn’t already drunk too much rhubarb fizz) and it will please you too — it’s special but so speedy and uses store-bought pastry.
When buying rhubarb keep the leaves on (if there are any) until you are ready to cook it. They help keep it fresh. Refrigerate and use within a couple of days. If rhubarb is not on the menu on Sunday, perhaps a beet and berry spice cake could be. Warren Elwin’s recipe uses two raw grated beetroot, spices and finely ground pecans or walnuts. The cake is topped and layered with everyone’s favourite: cream cheese icing.
Other good fruit buys this week include mandarins, navel oranges and grapefruit and Tongan coconuts. It’s the old story, when buying coconuts choose heavy ones for their size. Shake to find out whether they contain juice. Fresh whole coconuts will keep for about a week at room temperature and two to three weeks in the fridge. They can be frozen for about six to eight months.