Produce report: August 28
Rhubarb has been a bit scarce this winter but thankfully is making an appearance again now and it is a lovely addition to late-winter desserts and cakes. A source of vitamin C, it contains calcium and potassium too. Young stems can be eaten raw but do not eat the leaves, as high levels of oxalic acid make them toxic.
Rhubarb wilts quickly, so store it unwashed in a plastic bag in the fridge for a few days with the leaves attached. They should be removed before cooking but will help keep the stalks fresh.
Main crop rhubarb stems may be stringy so strip these away with a knife before cooking. The cut stems will take about 10 minutes to poach and about 15-20 minutes when oven-roasted, coated with a sprinkling of sugar and covered with foil. Rhubarb partners well with vanilla, orange and strawberry - just ask any American dessert pie lover.
It’s time to make good use of witloof before the season ends in September/October. Witloof (also called endive or chicory) tastes nutty with a slight hint of bitterness, which is reduced when the leaves are cooked. It is wonderful braised or stuffed, or chopped raw into salads where it is often added to offset sweetness. But do chop at the last minute as it is likely to discolour.
As its white and yellow leaves testify, witloof is grown in the dark and needs to be stored (in the fridge in a plastic bag) away from light to prevent the bitter taste overtaking.
Jerusalem artichoke lovers had better get their fill too. They will be disappearing at the end of this month for another year — perhaps one last thinly sliced jerusalem artichoke salad with a lemony vinaigrette? Or maybe a pie (try Kathy Paterson’s silverbeet, kale and roasted jerusalem artichoke) or a flavoursome bowl of jerusalem artichoke soup?
That clump of woody thyme in the garden should be sprouting new leaves to welcome spring. Prune it to encourage extra growth. Thyme is a good way to attract bees to the garden. An aromatic, it is used as much for its aroma as for its piney, woodsy flavour — and it’s an essential in a classic bouquet garni. There are many different varieties out there, including lemon thyme which is subtly flavoured and best added at the end of cooking. Very versatile, use thyme in soups, stews and with meats, with eggs and tomatoes and with other Mediterranean herbs such as oregano and marjoram. Thyme is also known for its antiseptic qualities and was used in World War I as a topical antibiotic to treat soldiers.