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Sweet or savory? Rhubarb offers endless possibilities

Rhubarb is a vegetable, which helps move our brains in the direction of using it in more savory dishes, such as a Yorkshire-style pudding side dish, or in a kale salad. Its tart flavor also pairs well with tropical mangoes, chewy figs, fresh raspberries or ripe bananas.

Or, you can follow one of the simplest recipes ever devised: Take one small bowl of sugar into the garden. Pull a stalk of rhubarb from the plant. Lop off the leaf. Dip one end of the stalk into the sugar. Take a bite. Continue dipping as desired. Serves 1.

> Yorkshire Rhubarb

2 eggs

3/4 cup milk

3/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 teaspoon fresh

2 slices bacon, cut in half-inch pieces

1 1/2 cup rhubarb, cut in half-inch pieces

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

In a blender, combine eggs, milk, flour, salt and thyme. Process until smooth. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Slowly fry bacon in a 10-inch oven-safe pan (cast iron is ideal, but a baking dish can be used). Remove bacon from pan and drain on paper towels. Reheat the rendered bacon fat until sizzling, then pour the batter into the pan. Scatter rhubarb over the batter, then sprinkle with brown sugar and bacon.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until crust is nicely browned. Cut in wedges and serve alongside any roasted meat or poultry.

> Confetti Salad of Kale and Rhubarb

Pickled Rhubarb:

1 cup rhubarb, cut in 1/4 -inch pieces

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds


1 bunch (12 to 15 leaves) lacinato kale

3 tablespoons pickling liquid from rhubarb

3 tablespoons walnut oil

Hefty pinch salt

Several grinds pepper

4 ounces aged Gouda, cut in fat matchsticks (about 1 cup)

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs, preferably sourdough

1/2 cup candied walnuts (see below), roughly chopped

To make pickled rhubarb: Place rhubarb in a shallow, heat-proof bowl. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, vinegar, salt and mustard seeds, and bring to a boil; cook until sugar dissolves. Pour mixture over the rhubarb and let sit at room temperature for at least 3 hours before using. The pickles' flavor improves if refrigerated overnight. Any leftover pickling liquid can be refrigerated for future use.

To make salad: Remove center rib from kale and julienne the leaves (about 5 cups). Rinse kale and pat dry between paper towels or use a salad spinner.

Whisk together pickling liquid and walnut oil. Season with salt and pepper. Toss kale with dressing, then gently fold in the cheese and drained rhubarb. Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes so the kale softens a bit; it can chill for up to 3 hours.

Heat butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, then add bread crumbs, stirring to coat. Cook, stirring, until crumbs are golden and crisp. Set aside.

Before serving, toss salad again, add bread crumbs and walnuts, and toss once more.

To make candied walnuts: Combine 1/4 cup water and 1/2 cup packed brown sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add 1 cup walnut halves and continue to stir for about 5 minutes, until mixture begins to thicken. Pour out onto baking sheet covered with parchment paper, separating walnuts with a fork. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cool completely. Store in airtight container at room temperature for up to a month.

> Salted Caramel Rhubapple Pie

Pastry for single-crust pie

1/3 cup walnut pieces

6 Granny Smith apples (about 2 1/4 pounds), peeled, cored and thickly sliced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/2 cup honey

1 cup packed brown sugar, divided

2 cups rhubarb, cut in 1-inch pieces

1/4 cup instant tapioca

1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1/2 cup flour

4 tablespoons cold butter, cut in small cubes

Line a pie plate with crust and place in refrigerator while you prepare the filling. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in oven about 5 minutes, until there's a warm, nutty aroma. Cool, then chop coarsely and set aside.

Toss apple slices with lemon juice and cinnamon. Set aside.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter with honey and 1/2 cup brown sugar in a large heavy saucepan and heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a rolling boil. Add apples, stirring to coat them with caramel. Reduce heat and cook uncovered no more than 5 minutes. Do not overcook them to mushiness.

Place rhubarb in a bowl. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the hot apples into the bowl with the rhubarb. Add tapioca and stir to combine. Let sit for 15 minutes. In the meantime, add salt to the caramel remaining in the pan and cook, stirring often, a few minutes more to reduce it to a thick syrup. Do not let it scorch. Remove from heat and set aside.

Combine streusel ingredients (flour, remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar and 4 tablespoons cold butter), pinching the butter with your fingers until it's evenly distributed. Stir in the toasted walnuts.

Scrape the apple-rhubarb mixture into the chilled pie shell and drizzle with 3 tablespoons caramel. Spread streusel mixture over pie and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool on wire rack at least 30 minutes.

Just before serving, drizzle the remaining caramel (reheating if necessary) over the pie.

Serves 6 to 8.

-- Recipes from "Rhubarb Renaissance," by Kim Ode; Minnesota Historical Society Press.