Rhubarb masquerades as a fruit, but it's really a large perennial herb. Before it became known as the pie plant, Rheum rhabarbarum was cultivated primarily for its medicinal properties. The roots, which act as a laxative, were dried, ground to a powder, and traded along the Silk Road. Rhubarb made its way from its native Siberia, where it still grows wild, to Europe and then to the United States. By the mid-nineteenth century, the blushing slender stalks were popular ingredients in dessert recipes.
Dessert is an ideal place for rhubarb because the stalks pack a sour punch and need a good dose of sugar. Even a savory rhubarb dish would do well to include a sweet ingredient, something to mellow the plant's natural acidity. Rhubarb and strawberries seem to be soul mates. The two are a classic pairing and for very good reason -- sweet strawberry tames tart rhubarb, while rhubarb enhances and brightens the floral fragrance of strawberry.
Cooking rhubarb is surprisingly different from cooking other springtime produce. Tiny peas, slender asparagus spears, and delicate radishes all require a light hand, but rhubarb must be cajoled into sweet submission. Simmer it with honey, cinnamon sticks, and orange juice, and it will reward your efforts by dissolving into a silky compote, perfect for spreading between layers of cake.
Look for rhubarb at farmers' markets from March until June. Bright red varieties tend to be best sellers, but all-green varieties such as the prized heirloom, Victoria, are just as tasty.
Strawberry Rhubarb Galettes
Each little galette is the appropriate size for an individual serving, although the combination of flaky, buttery crust and jammy, sweet-tart fruit is so delicious that you'll definitely want more than just one.
Makes four 5-inch galettes
1½ cups all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound strawberries
6 ounces rhubarb
Zest of 1 orange
1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Fill a cup with cold water and place it in the freezer. In a large bowl, combine the flour, butter, and salt. Using your fingers, rub the butter and flour together until there are no butter pieces larger than the size of a pea. Remove the cup of water from the freezer and drizzle 4 tablespoons of water over the butter-and-flour mixture. Give it a few strong squeezes to see if the dough will clump together. If not, pour in another tablespoon of water. Quickly shape the dough into a flattened disk, wrap it in plastic, and place it in the refrigerator to chill for at least one hour.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
On a floured surface, roll the dough out into a 1-inch-thick circle. Fold it in half, as if you were closing a book, then fold it in half again to create a layered wedge of dough. Cut the folded dough into 4 pieces and roll each piece out into a ¼-inch-thick circle. Transfer the dough circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and chill them in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, trim the strawberry tops and cut the fruit lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick slices. Cut the rhubarb crosswise into ½-inch pieces. Place both the strawberries and the rhubarb in a large bowl. Add the orange zest, sugar, and cornstarch. Stir well to combine.
Divide the fruit mixture among the dough circles, piling the fruit in the center of each circle and leaving bare a 1-inch border at the edge. Fold the edges of the dough toward the center, partially covering the fruit. Sprinkle the edges with sugar, then bake the galettes for about 1 hour, or until the fruit juices bubble and the crust turns golden brown.