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there are certain foods that always bring to mind a specific time of year.  pumpkin, of course, seems to be everywhere in late fall.  watermelon signifies the fourth of july and my brothers’ summer birthdays.  we eat BLTs two or three times a week during tomato season, that magical window when tomatoes taste as sweet as candy.  and rhubarb, to me, means the start of summer.  right about this time of year– mid to late may– you can get rhubarb from the farmer’s market (or in your backyard, if you’re lucky!).  here’s what i picked up yesterday:

three bunches of bright red rhubarb!  i couldn’t wait to pair this rhubarb with its most complementary partner: strawberries!  unfortunately, berries won’t be ready in the fields here for a few more weeks, so i just grabbed a quart at the grocery store.  hopefully we’ll get some with our CSA delivery; if not, it’s a great excuse to go strawberry picking.

i used a recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook (a great basic cookbook).  as usual, the Test Kitchen folks were full of useful information for me.  they said that rhubarb can go in unpeeled as long as it is about as narrow as a piece of celery.  any bigger than that and the stalks become somewhat fibrous, and more bitter, and would do well to be peeled.  luckily, i had some celery in the fridge, so i did a quick comparison.  as you can see below, my rhubarb stalks were somewhere in the middle, so i erred on the side of caution and peeled most of them.

as a true rhubarb-lover, i adore the sharp, bright tang of the fruit.  not everyone enjoys such a tart flavor, so my friends at America’s Test Kitchen had me soak the chopped rhubarb in cold water for 20 minutes, to dissipate some of the bitterness.  next, i sauteed the rhubarb with a bit of oil and sugar, which also helped sweeten it up.  toss the rhubarb with the berries, sugar, cornstarch, a hint of vanilla and a pinch of salt, and scoop the whole sweet mess into your pie crust:


brush the top with egg white, pop it in the oven for a while, and you’ve got a celebration of early summer on your hands!  i recommend a scoop of vanilla ice cream with your pie, but it’s pretty stunning by itself, too.