Not just a pretty leaf stem, rhubarb is the locavore pastry chef’s ramp: a springy sign of life when even the most devoted Greenmarket shopper is beginning to think that if he ever sees another storage apple, it will be too soon. Alice Waters, who likens the tart-flavored veggie to “the smell of earth in spring,” is a fan, and so is Jean Georges’ Johnny Iuzzini, whose rhubarb-pickle recipe demonstrates that there’s more to do with the plant than make jam or fill a pie.
Johnny Iuzzini’s Rhubarb Pickles
1 lb. ripe rhubarb
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 cup plus 1 tbs. honey
3 tbs. grenadine
1 tbs. coarse salt
2 star anise
*Note: if you can find persimmon vinegar at a Korean market, use it: Add 1/2 cup to the recipe, and reduce the amount of the sherry and rice vinegars to 1/4 cup each.
Trim the rhubarb stalks, discarding the coarse inch or so at each end. Discard any leaves.
(1) Peel the rhubarb, and (2) cut the stalks into neat batons about 1 1/2 inches long and 1/4 inch wide. Place in flat-bottomed casserole. Put the vinegars, honey, grenadine, salt, and star anise in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn off the heat and let cool for about 5 minutes. (3) Pour over the rhubarb and cover with plastic wrap. Let cool to room temperature. Taste the pickles for texture. If they’re too crisp for your taste, drain the liquid into a clean saucepan, bring back to a simmer, let it cool for a few minutes, then pour it over the rhubarb again, with the star anise. Store in the refrigerator in the liquid. Serve cold. Note: Iuzzini serves with panna cotta, but the pickles are also a nice accompaniment to cheese. (Adapted from Dessert Fourplay: Sweet Quartets From a Four-Star Pastry Chef, by Johnny Iuzzini and Roy Finamore; Clarkson Potter, 2008.)