In a new column for Ottawa Magazine, food blogger Katie Shapiro takes a look at seasonal produce and how chefs in our community are using it
Growing up, I remember being intimidated by the family rhubarb plant. What started out as a well intentioned — and small — neighbourly gift soon grew to be an imposing wall of rhubarb. It quickly took over the garden and simply became too much of a shrub to shrug off. Much to mother’s chagrin, my father decided it was taking up too much space without enough reward and promptly ripped it out. That pretty much spelled the extent of my rhubarb experience — until recently.
Though I’ve enjoyed my fair share of strawberry-rhubarb pie, rhubarb is not a vegetable I tend to seek out or encounter around town. I’ve always associated a sort of old-fashioned charm with it: popular in pies and grandmothers’ pantries. But with vibrant pink stalks and poisonous leaves, it’s actually a rather edgy veggie.
For many, rhubarb screams spring. The sight of the crop popping up at the market announces the bounty that will follow in the coming weeks. With that in mind, and keenly aware of my own limited experience with the veggie, I set out to see what some of Ottawa’s culinary minds make of the stalk in an effort to renew my relationship with rhubarb.
At Top Shelf Preserves, the most popular product is rhubarb-based. Sara Pishva, owner of the small-batch pickles and preserves business, explains that her top-selling rhubarb and raisin chutney was initially an experiment: she wanted to make a product — enough of it to sell it through the whole year. So far, the experiment is working well. Heavy on the rhubarb and shallots, the chutney — wonderful on a cheeseboard or paired with everything from barbecued meats to vegetable samosas — has been a mainstay at the shop.
When I asked Pishva where she gets her rhubarb, she laughed.
“It’s a bit of a funny story,” she said, as getting enough rhubarb for such a large batch turned out to be a little tricky. Pishva stopped at countless roadside farm stands and even found a Kijiji ad where she paid by the stalk to cut her own rhubarb. Once word of mouth spread, it became a community affair: friends and neighbours would drop by her shop to trade some stalks or an uprooted plant for a jar of her preserves. After the initial ask was out there, Pishva joked she had discovered a “secret society” of rhubarb lovers.
For Andy Terauds, rhubarb’s popularity is no secret. He and his wife, Cindy, owners of Acorn Creek Farm, have been growing the perennial vegetable since their first year of farming in Carp. They dedicate about a quarter acre to the crop and sell hundreds of pounds of the vegetable each season. After experimenting with different varieties, they now grow only one — the best one, Terauds claims. German Wine, as the variety is called, is the sweetest and reddest and is a favourite among local chefs and producers. One of those producers is Michael Sunderland of Michael’s Dolce; he uses Acorn Creek rhubarb in his zingy rhubarb black-pepper jam.
I am happy to report that both Pishva’s chutney and Sunderland’s jam bake perfectly. Usually made for the Jewish holiday of Purim in early spring, hamantaschen are traditionally stuffed with a sweet poppy-seed filling but can be made with any number of thick fruit preserves or jams. These little pastries are shaped to represent the tricorn hat worn by Haman, a villain whose defeat is celebrated during Purim. Instead of the traditional fillings, I used the rhubarb chutney with a sharp cheese for a savoury version and the rhubarb black-pepper jam to keep things sweet.
For a meatier rhubarb dish, I turned to chef Kyle Mortimer-Proulx. At the helm of the kitchen at Lowertown Brewery, Mortimer-Proulx is also one of the collaborators behind the Bytown Chefs Collective (BCC), a group of young Ottawa chefs dedicated to creating unique dining events in the capital. Using local pork chops from his BCC colleague David Wallace, owner of Around the Block Butcher Shop, Mortimer-Proulx highlighted rhubarb in a simple mostarda. The mostarda is very easy to recreate at home, and the rhubarb’s tartness shines through just enough to complement your perfectly seared meat.
Though the pies I grew up with may be old-fashioned (but also delicious — I’m not knocking a classic!), rhubarb itself certainly is not. With modern twists on just three condiments — a chutney, a jam, and a mostarda — I was convinced: rhubarb has a timeless versatility, and I’m looking forward to playing with it some more. I might even go so far as to grow my own rhubarb plant one day.
Rhubarb Hamantaschen — Katie Shapiro
Makes 30 hamantaschen
For the dough:
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon of grated orange zest
For the egg wash:
1 egg, gently beaten until blended
For the filling:
Approximately 1 cup of your favourite sweet or savoury jam or chutney, such as…
– Rhubarb Raisin Chutney from Top Shelf Preserves
– Rhubarb Black Pepper Jam from Michael’s Dolce
Optional savoury addition: grated sharp cheese
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with an electric hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, approximately five minutes on medium speed. Add the eggs one at a time, and scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture slowly until evenly combined. Add the orange zest, and beat for one minute more.
Divide dough in half, and flatten into two round disks approximately ¾” thick. Cover in plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours.
Let the dough come to room temperature approximately half an hour before rolling it out – this will ensure that it does not crack when shaping the cookies.
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to ⅛-inch thickness. Cut the dough into circles using a 3-to-3 ½-inch round cutter or drinking glass and place the circles on the baking sheet. Gather the dough scraps, re-roll, and continue cutting circles.
Brush the egg wash around the perimeter of the dough circles. Place a small teaspoon of the jam or chutney of choice in the centre of the circle. (If using the grated cheese, place a pinch of cheese on the dough before the jam/chutney.)
To shape the triangular hamantaschen, fold the edges of the circle up in three places. Pinch the seams together to form corners, leaving the filling in the centre exposed. Brush the sides of the cookies with the egg wash.
Bake until the edges become golden brown, 18-22 minutes, rotating the baking tray halfway through. Let the baked hamantaschen rest for five minutes before transferring to racks to cool.
Hamantaschen will keep well in an airtight container for a couple days, or for a couple weeks in the freezer.
Rhubarb Mostarda — Chef Kyle Mortimer-Proulx
½ cup rhubarb, fresh or frozen, diced in ½ cm pieces
½ cup sweet raspberry vinegar (available from Acorn Creek Farms)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
½ teaspoon pink peppercorns, crushed
1 teaspoon grainy Dijon mustard
Pinch of kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Allow to cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the liquid has reduced to a thin syrup and the rhubarb has softened. Set aside until ready to serve.
2 Pork of Yore pork chops, an inch thick and bone-in, available at Around the Block Butcher Shop
coarse black pepper, to taste
kosher salt, to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons butter
Pull the pork chops out of the fridge about 20 minutes before they are cooked, so that they can come to room temperature.
Heat your frying pan (cast iron works great) over medium heat for 3-4 minutes to ensure that it gets nice and hot. Add the oil, allowing it to spread evenly along the bottom of the pan.
Liberally season the pork chops with salt and pepper, then place in the pan to sear. Apply a bit of weight to the pork with a steak weight to ensure that the meat gets an even sear.
Flip the chops after 4 minutes, then cook a further 4 minutes on the second side – again, applying a bit of pressure on the meat to ensure even browning. Add the butter then place the pan in a pre-heated 375° F oven for about 4 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes.
Fennel, Orange, Apple slaw
½ bulb of fennel, shaved
1 Navel orange, supremes only (juice reserved for mostarda)
½ Gala apple, julienned
¼ cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
Core the fennel and shave it as thinly as possible with a sharp knife or a mandoline. Slice the apple into fine juliennes, and toss with the fennel and orange supremes. Chop up a bit of the fennel fronds if available, and mix with the vegetables, vinegar, salt, and sugar.
Serve everything with your favourite seasonal vegetables!
Katie Shapiro is a writer and photographer enamoured with all things local, playing with her food, and blogging about it on Kate’s Plate.