People who love making rhubarb tarts tend to fall into two groups, each battling the other with the vigor of hockey players. The first group insists on simmering the rhubarb before baking it in a tart shell. Members of the second group are appalled. “Cooking rhubarb twice? For the most vibrant flavor, just sugar it, juice it, then add it raw to the filling.”
It’s true that sugar will temper raw rhubarb. The late British food writer Jane Grig-son, who wasn’t all that fond of rhubarb, described a pleasant memory of the fruit: “Sitting with my sister on a doorstep, each with a stick of rhubarb, and a saucer of sugar between us. We dipped and chewed, dipped and chewed in the warm sun, with clucking hens stepping round us.”
Learning of the raw rhubarb theory, I decided to test it myself. Last year, early in the rhubarb season, when the stalks were at their most tender and least stringy, I sprinkled one with sugar, let it stand for a while, then tasted it. It was an exciting, lively eating experience.
I decided then to join the only-cook-the-rhubarb-once group when making my rhubarb tarts. I now sprinkle the raw stalks with sugar, let them stand, then reduce the extracted juices, which are later added to the fruit and custard. I now declare that this rhubarb tart, containing as it does both the raw and the cooked, is the best, purest-tasting, most exciting tart for spring!
A good wine match would be a Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise. Make the pastry crust ahead and macerate the rhubarb overnight.
The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert. Copyright © 2003 by Paula Wolfert. Photographs copyright © by Christopher Hirsheimer. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.