Nothing really sings of spring like Asparagus. The little stalks, poking up so proudly, and tasting so very green are the essence of all that is springtime. Asparagus was a seasonal vegetable before eating seasonally was cool – I remember eating lots of asparagus during my childhood, but only in the springtime. (Do not speak to me of the horror that is frozen asparagus or – shudder – CANNED asparagus. Part of the point of asparagus is its texture – that perfect balance between crisp and yielding with just a tiny snap as your teeth close on the stalk.
When I was a kid, we mostly ate salads. My dad was not a vegetable-lover, and with a few notable exceptions (artichokes and asparagus) we primarily consumed our vegetables raw. As a result, I held a deep-seated prejudice against most forms of cooked vegetables. I rejected red peppers. I scoffed at spinach. I pooh-poohed parsnips. But the worst offender in my young mind was cooked carrots. (Possibly because this is one of those kid-friendly foods people were always trying to serve to me.) I despised and loathed cooked carrots. They were anathema, and not a morsel of the reviled substance passed my lips.
Fast forward several years to New York City, circa 2002. I was browsing the shelves of my favorite used bookstore in Soho (Housing Works. Wooden bookshelves, leather chairs, a little cafe in the back, a library ladder …) when I stumbled on a copy of the classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Child, Bertholle and Beck. Then, as now, I was lazy (let’s call it “time-pressed” – I was, after all, in law school) so I skipped through the eight-page cassoulet recipe or the 36-hour Boeuf Bourguignon, and lit upon the vegetables. Carrots, braised in butter. Six ingredients, two sentences. I was sold.
I cut up my carrots, added my butter, my water, my salt, my sugar, and what resulted was a revelation. Not nasty. Not watery. Not insipid. Carrots expressing everything glorious about carrots except the crunch. I was hooked. And that recipe, that first start, got me cooking more vegetables. which has brought me to my year of living vegetally. Because here’s the secret about vegetables. They are good for you. They are full of vitamins and nutrients. They have fiber and antioxidants, and you can feel morally superior when you eat them. But if we prepare them correctly and season them well, they are DELICIOUS. My husband and I were fighting over this particular batch.
If you’re eating vegetables for their health benefits, you’d be hard-pressed to find something betthan than kale. Low in calories, full of fiber, and rich in vitamins, A,C and K, it’s commonly referred to as a “nutrition powerhouse.” Of course, I’m not the first person to discover this, so there are recipes all over creation trying to make kale, which can be challenging, palatable. This one actually succeeds. You may think that there are no new frontiers to be conquered with regards to kale salad, but you would be mistaken. This kale salad is epic. This kale salad is the one that people go back for seconds for on a buffet. This kale salad caused my five year old to utter the words, “Sigh. MOOOOOMMM. Why can’t you just make kale salad again?” (She is five going on fifteen). This kale salad will CHANGE YOUR LIFE.
I have a terrible sweet tooth (as you may have divined if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time), but my sweet tooth is not typical. Not for me the sweetness overload, the gooey cakes, the sugary cookies and candies. I prefer a more subtle sweetness, balanced by savory, or tart, or nutty flavors. Something that could easily be served for breakfast or afternoon tea.
Enter the clafoutis. A classic French dessert that’s sometimes described as a custard, sometimes as a pancake. It is a custard with flour, a pancake with more cream. Or it’s own thing. An eggy, custardy, but not insubstantial dessert with a subtle sweetness that is braced by whatever fruit it is made with. It’s not much to look at, generally — it’s really a country casserole, with nubs of fruit poking through a golden, eggy crust. It’s practically foolproof to make, and the batter comes together almost instantaneously. And yes, I am hooked.
The classic clafoutis is made with cherries, and indeed, a cherry clafoutis was on my agenda as I hit the grocery store. But then I spied the rhubarb — enticingly ruby stalks promising fragrance and tartness and that indefinable exotic yet familiar flavor that only rhubarb offers — and I was a goner.
I adore rhubarb everything, and I like it best where the flavor of the rhubarb shines through without much adornment in the form of strawberries or orange juice or other such nonsense. Rhubarb does, however, pair beautifully with custard, as the English know so well, and I thought it would make a lovely clafoutis — it’s melting tenderness complementing the silkiness of the custard/pancake.
Not too sweet, fragrant and juicy from the rhubarb, with the eggy structure of the clafoutis? Yes please.
The excellent clafoutis base is from Dorie Greenspan's Around my French Table. It can be adapted for any fruit.
For the rhubarb:
1 lb. rhubarb
3 T. granulated sugar
For the clafoutis:
½ cup granulated sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup flour
¾ cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
Roast the Rhubarb:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Chop the rhubarb into roughly 1 inch pieces, taking care to discard the leaves. In a 10X6 baking dish, toss the rhubarb pieces with the sugar. Roast 10-15 minutes, or until the rhubarb is tender.
Make the Clafoutis:
Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs together with the sugar until blended. Add salt and vanilla, whisk until combined. Whisk in flour until thoroughly combined, then whisk in cream and milk.
Pour Clafoutis batter over the roasted rhubarb. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until the clafoutis is puffy and golden. Sprinkle additional granulated sugar over the top, and serve with whipped cream.
I'm Kate, and between my day job and my home job, life is pretty full. Look around to find some of the recipes, projects, stories and tips that keep me sane on the domestic front. Read more about me here and feel free to email me with any questions or feedback!