Spring officially began this year on Monday, March 20, at 5:24 p.m. EDT. The spring equinox marks the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator, the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth's equator, from south to north. Regardless of the relatively mild winter most of us have had, spring is a time that can’t come soon enough. And now that it’s here, we have some lovely things to look forward to — longer days, warmer weather, and for cooks, traditional spring fruits and vegetables —rhubarb in particular, one of Ireland’s favorite vegetables (yes, it’s a vegetable not a fruit)! If rhubarb hasn’t made its official appearance yet where you live, you can expect it to be in markets very shortly. Because of its tart, bitter flavor, it’s generally paired with a sweet fruit like strawberries or raspberries for balance and is a popular ingredient in pies, jams, sauces, and crumbles. You’ll find these and other rhubarb recipes in my cookbooks "Flavors of Ireland" and "Teatime in Ireland." To order a signed copy, visit irishcook.com.
Buttermilk gives these muffins a light and delicate texture, and the pine nuts add a bit
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup buttermilk
8 ounces rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Coat a standard 12-well muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. In another large bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Beat in egg and buttermilk until blended. Stir in flour mixture; fold in rhubarb.
Spoon batter evenly into prepared pan; sprinkle with pine nuts.
3. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of one muffin comes out clean. Remove from oven; let cool in pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Turn out of pan; cool completely.
SERVES 6 to 8
A crumble, perhaps the world’s easiest dessert, is made with little more than fresh fruit sweetened with a little sugar, thickened with a little flour, and topped with a crumbly mixture of butter, oatmeal, flour and, sometimes, nuts. For another twist, you can use Irish digestive biscuits (such as McVitie’s or Carr’s brand) in the topping instead of the more widely used breadcrumbs or oatmeal. Serve your crumble with vanilla ice cream, clotted cream, or crème fraîche.
For the filling
5 to 6 stalks rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup sugar
For the topping
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup crumbled digestive biscuits
1. Make filling. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, combine rhubarb, strawberries, and cornstarch; stir to coat. Transfer to prepared pan; sprinkle with sugar.
3. Make topping. Combine flour, sugar, and butter in a food processor. Pulse 3 to 4 times, or until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Transfer to a small bowl; stir in crumbled biscuits. Sprinkle over fruit.
5. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until top is browned and crisp and fruit is tender.
6. To serve, spoon into bowls; top with vanilla ice cream, clotted cream, or crème fraiche, if desired.
RASPBERRY-RHUBARB CRUMBLE CAKE
SERVES 10 to 12
This very moist, rich cake with a crispy crumble topping is delicious for breakfast, teatime, or dessert. Serve the cake plain or with whipped cream or crème fraîche.
For the topping
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 large eggs, beaten
For the cake
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup self-rising flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup milk
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup chopped rhubarb
1 cup raspberries
1. Make topping. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick baking spray with flour.
2. In a small bowl, combine butter, sugars, and cinnamon; whisk in eggs. Set aside.
3. Make cake. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in flour, salt, and milk. With a wooden spoon, stir until soft dough forms.
4. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Sprinkle almonds on top; sprinkle rhubarb and raspberries over nuts. Pour topping over fruit.
5. Bake for 70 to 75 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven; let cool on wire rack for 15 to 20 minutes. Release sides of pan.
6. To serve, cut cake into slices; serve with whipped cream or crème fraîche, if desired.
MAKES 6 CUPS
This chutney is delicious with cheese, smoked meats, and pâté.
2 Valencia oranges
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup raisins
1 1/2 cups malt vinegar
1 1/2 cups (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1. Cut off top and bottom of each orange down to flesh. Stand each orange on end and cut off peel down to flesh. See oranges; cut into small pieces, reserving juice.
2. In a large nonreactive saucepan, bring orange pieces, juice, raisins, vinegar, sugar, mace, cinnamon, and allspice to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer; cook for 1 1/2 hours, or until mixture is thick. Stir frequently to prevent sticking.
3. Let cool to room temperature. Spoon into jars or plastic containers; cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
Margaret Johnson’s “Recipes” page now includes “Ireland Hopping: Adventures in Food, Drink, and Travel.” For further details on her work, including how to order her cookbooks, visit irishcook.com.