Rhubarb Clafouti
by Charlie Burke

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Perhaps it was the cool, rainy month of May, or else the effect of five years of
having been fertilized with ProGro, an all natural fertilizer from Northern
Organics of Bradford Vermont (
www.norganics.com), but this year’s rhubarb
grew to mammoth size. Many stalks are two inches across and approach four
feet in height with leaves two feet in diameter (yes, I did measure).

To celebrate this bounty and remembering my grandmother’s stewed rhubarb,
which seemed in endless supply every spring, I wanted to use a variation in a
desert. Instead of cooking it in a sauce pan, I envisioned using a wide sauté pan
to boil off most of the moisture, resulting in a much thicker consistency. I
planned to enlist Joanne’s baking skills and, knowing she is less than
enthusiastic about rhubarb, it would have to be quick and easy if I expected her
to “volunteer.”  

I remembered seeing clafoutis in French cookbooks, and, although we had
never cooked one, I recalled that they are simply a crepe – like batter poured
over fruit and baked in a deep pie dish. They are usually served warm: the
bottom has a custard-like texture, while the top is browned and soft,
resembling a crepe.

They are said to have originated in the Limousin region in France and are
family recipes using the region’s famous cherries. My grandmother’s sauce
consisted of only rhubarb and sugar, cooked until the rhubarb was soft. I
thought a few spices would add interest and remembered Jean – Georges
Vongerichten, a brilliant and innovative chef whose cookbooks*  I highly
recommend, used star anise in a pear tart and said he could envision even
critics of French –Asian fusion liking this mix. I decided, then, star anise would
be included in the recipe.

So, here, dedicated to the first “French Chef” I knew, my grandmother,
Laurenza Bouchard, is a strange sounding desert. Like her, though, it is of
peasant stock - honest and uncomplicated.

Serves 6 - 8

For batter:
¾ cup flour
1½ cups milk
3 large eggs
½ cup sugar
Pinch of salt

Filling:
3cups rhubarb, sliced into 1 inch pieces
½ cup brown sugar, or more
1 star anise, ground in a mortar and pestle, or substitute ½ teaspoon ground
clove (star anise is available in Asian markets and in the ethnic food section in
supermarkets))
¼ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon each of cinnamon and salt
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pour the milk, then the remaining batter
ingredients into the blender and blend until smooth.

Place all sauce ingredients into a wide sauté or fry pan and cook over medium
– high heat until rhubarb starts to soften and liquid reduces and thickens
slightly.

Lightly butter a deep 10 inch pie plate and place over low heat. Pour a thin
layer of batter into the pie plate and cook until it “sets”. It should be the
thickness of a crepe (less that ¼ inch). Remove pie plate from the heat. Taste the
sauce and add more sugar, if needed. Pour the sauce into pie plate, and pour
remaining batter over the sauce. Place on a cookie sheet in the middle of the
preheated oven and cook until browned; the crust will rise somewhat. Cooking
time will be between 45 minutes and 1 hour.

It can be served hot or warm; the crust will fall somewhat as it cools. We served
it with rich, locally made vanilla ice cream, and even Joanne conceded she
could enjoy rhubarb prepared this way. The star anise added a unique
background taste which blended perfectly with the other flavors.

Once you are familiar with this preparation, you can easily adapt it to whatever
fruit is in season. We will definitely use fresh local peaches and our
blueberries, and I can see a cranberry clafouti finding its way onto our
Thanksgiving table.

Recommended reading:

“Jean–Georges, Cooking at Home with a Four – Star Chef”
JeanGeorges
Vongerichten & Mark Bittman. Broadway Books, New York, 1998

“Simple to Spectacular” Jean–Georges Vongerichten & Mark Bittman. Broadway
Books, New York, 2000

About the author
An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charles Burke is the vice president of
the New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association (www.nhfma.org) and helps
run the Sanbornton Farmers' Market. Along with his wife, Joanne, he grows
certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton,
NH.   
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