With tangy lemon granita and sweet rhubarb soda, this refreshing elixir celebrates one of spring’s first delights.
Like many enthusiastic cooks, I find myself enamored with a new item at the farmer’s market every spring. A few years ago it was dates: Early in the season I was attracted to the crisp texture of raw Khalal dates, and would nibble through half a container before leaving the market. As they softened into cloying mushy jewels, I whipped up earthy date ice cream and added them to cake batter. Another year I couldn’t get enough of the many varieties of Southern Californian persimmons. From crunchy fuyus to soft and smooth hachiyas, my desserts became laced with persimmon custard, mousse and ganache.
But even I am surprised at my newest infatuation. An item I have longed loathed since first cooking it into tart filling at Spago, I suddenly have the tangy taste of rhubarb on my mind. It’s early spring appearance often makes rhubarb a pastry chef’s best friend, who, after a long fruitless winter, is ready for the first signs of flavorful life. But inspired by everything from the rhubarb spiked Commandotroepen cocktail I sipped at Chicago’s Sable to David Rodriguez’s pillowy rhubarb creation at Red Medicine in Los Angeles, the earthy vegetable is quickly becoming my go-to ingredient.
Most commonly used in pie fillings, rhubarb has just as many savory applications as sweet ones. It makes a a wonderful chutney alongside meats and can be shaved into salads for a tangy surprise. Making use of the beautiful cooking liquid that results when poaching rhubarb for tarts or crumbles, this take on a frozen drink can be a wildly tart, refreshing dessert or a brilliant way to liven up your cocktail hour. But rhubarb is only available a short while (from late April through mid-June), departing just as stone fruit and berries start to really ripen, so make sure to grab it while you can.
Rhubarb float, serves 2
For the lemon granita:
2 cups fresh, strained lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
For the rhubarb syrup:
5 stalks fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups water
1-inch piece ginger, cut into thin slices
1 vanilla bean, pod cut in half and scraped, or 1/1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 L Soda or tonic water
1. For the granita: Pour a small amount of the lemon juice and the sugar into a small pot and bring to a boil. Combine with the remaining lemon juice and pour into a small container. Freeze.
2. For the rhubarb: Combine the sugar, water, vanilla and ginger in a small sauce pot. Add the zest and juice of the orange. Bring to a boil and add the rhubarb. Cover and reduce to a simmer, cooking for about 5 minutes, until rhubarb is just slightly tender. Remove the rhubarb using a slotted spoon and chill, reserving for pie or tart filling. Strain and chill the liquid separately.
3. To assemble: When lemon liquid is completely frozen, use a fork to scrape or shave the ice. Place back in freezer. Combine 1 cup rhubarb liquid with soda water, and shake carefully to combine. Fill glasses with lemon granita and top with rhubarb soda. Add pieces of rhubarb if desired.