To capture the rosy blush of the first warm days of summer, there’s no better ingredients to start with than rhubarb, strawberries or any possible combinations of the two. No wonder you’re seeing them appearing on so many menus right now, since the twosome is inevitably paired as soon as the first harvest arrives. Chef Katie Button from Asheville’s Cúrate recently told Food & Wine magazine, “I’m a traditionalist when it comes to rhubarb cookery, meaning it better have strawberries in it.”
Kim Ode wrote an entire book on one half of summer’s cutest couple, Rhubarb Renaissance. She savors everything the herbaceous perennial can bring to a menu. “It represents tradition for me, but also a Northern vibe that some may find almost exotic, which is worth cherishing” she says.
While freshly picked strawberries are often quite tender and need to be treated with care, rhubarb is a heartier, less fussy ingredient. Ode notes, “rhubarb offers a lot of bang for the buck. Its tart, almost-astringent quality brightens a dish with a distinctive flavor. It keeps pretty well in the fridge and freezes beautifully.”
And while you may naturally think of these two as classic dessert foods, they can also work well in more savory applications. Strawberries and other berries are increasingly being used as an ingredient in side and main dish salads, for example. And Ode offers these thoughts on moving rhubarb to a new location on the menu: “Rhubarb has a great, mostly unsung, savory side, and it pairs wonderfully with shrimp, fresh fish and pork. Pickled rhubarb adds life to lots of preparations. Bottom line, it’s a fresh way to add a note of acid to foods that makes them pop, and it looks pretty.”
These fresh and fruity flavors also are featured in many trendy beverages. Of course, they’re a natural for non-alcoholic quenchers like strawberry lemonade. They’re also finding a place on seasonal cocktail menus with strawberry-rhubarb versions of the margarita, gin fizz and Tom Collins. Colorado’s Great Divide Brewing Co. even has a strawberry rhubarb sour ale, touted as a perfect combination because, as they say, “Strawberry is the yin to rhubarb’s yang—the sweet to the tart. This beautiful partnership creates a beer that glows ruby in the glass, bursts with strawberry aroma, and bites with every sip.”