Ahh, late spring. Is there ever a more delicious time of year when it comes to fresh produce? Right now markets everywhere are ablaze with the vibrant colors of spring favorites like asparagus, strawberries, and artichokes, as well as the first of the summer crops like cherries, apricots and peaches. It’s an absolute wonderland out there, and I’m giddier than a little kid at Disneyland (which reminds me… I need to go there soon.)
I love cooking during this time of year because I get to combine the best of spring and summer for dishes that are spectacular to look at and even more delightful to eat. Case in point: this lovely little granita I made with tart, tangy rhubarb and delicately sweet blueberries. It has that mysterious dark sweetness of summer, with all zip & pizzazz of spring. And it’s really flippin’ good.
Now, as much as I love tart things, I hadn’t really played around with rhubarb all that much until about a year ago. I started off with a simple rhubarb syrup and tried my hand at a couple strawberry-rhubarb pastry thingies, but kind of dropped the ball after that (possibly due to the “pastry thingie” portion; I was still pretty scared to make my own dough back then). A recent trip to the Co-op reminded me to get back in the experimentin’ saddle, and with a crazy sale like $1.99/lb, I picked up a couple of stalks and got to work.
The standard rhubarb-berry combo is usually made with strawberries, but I wanted to change things up a bit for a couple of reasons. One was sheer curiosity, the other… well, let’s just say fresh strawberries don’t last long enough in my house to end up any place other than my mouth (yes, I was out of strawberries. Again.). While blueberry season is still a couple months off, I had some frozen ones hanging around, so I thought it would be fun to put them together with the rhubarb.
The result was fantastic. Not only was the sweet-tart combo sinfully delicious and slightly less in-your-face than strawberries & rhubarb, the color was gorgeous! Deep, rich, decadent purple with just the subtlest extra tinges of red from the rhubarb. It’s a stunning color and further solidifies my argument that we need more purple & blue food out there.
The original intent was to make some refreshing popsicles with this royally hued fruit & vegetable mixture (because rhubarb is a vegetable, as much as it would like to think it’s not). Alas, not only was I out of strawberries, I was also out of popsicle sticks (!!!), so other plans had to be made. I toyed around with the idea of making ice cream with it, but I was looking forward to something more juicy & refreshing than creamy. Then I remembered my long lost dessert love, the granita, and the rest is history.
Because rhubarb season is so short-lived, picking up some rhubarb as soon as possible is advisable, so you get the best product and the greatest deals. But what if you wanted to enjoy this dessert on say, a hot night in the middle of July? Well, that’s why we plan ahead. If you’re able to find a good sale on rhubarb, either at the farmers’ market or your regular grocery store, try to stock up on as much as you can afford. Once you get home, cook the rhubarb as you normally would, making either a basic syrup or puree (or even just chopped up, for use in pies, etc.), and freeze the end products for later. That way, once blueberry season rolls around, you’ll be all set! You’ll be able to enjoy all the deliciousness of rhubarb all summer long.
Blueberry-Rhubarb Granita (makes 6-8 servings; total cost per serving: $1)
2 large stalks of rhubarb, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 c fresh or frozen blueberries
6 T sugar, divided
1 t lemon or lime juice
1 c water
1. In a large saucepan, combine the chopped rhubarb, blueberries and 3 tablespoons of sugar. Cook slowly over medium-low heat until the sugar has completely dissolved and the rhubarb & blueberries are soft and release their juices, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl to cool.
2. While the rhubarb & berries are cooking, combine the remaining sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar has dissolved and the water has reduced by about a third. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
3. When the rhubarb & berries have cooled, puree until smooth with an immersion or standard blender. Add the simple syrup and mix until thoroughly combined. Pour the mixture into a 9″ x 11″ metal pan and place in the freezer for about 35 minutes. Remove from freezer, scrape the frozen edges toward the center of the pan with a fork, and return to the freezer. Repeat this process every 30 minutes or so, until you have an pan full of icy dessert crystals.
4. Serve in ice cream bowls or small juice glasses, garnish with extra berries, and enjoy!