Fall in love with blintzes
For the Nevada Appeal
Rhubarb. Pie Plant. Fruit or vegetable? At least half my newer cookbooks don’t list rhubarb in the index, and the ones that do often combine it with strawberries, or cook it until it’s too soft for my taste. It is the first – and most anticipated – sign of spring in our garden.
In reality, rhubarb is botanically a vegetable. It’s an ancient plant, having been used by the Chinese as a medicinal plant and in the Middle East as a vegetable. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the English started making sweet pies, sauces and puddings with rhubarb. The advent of more rhubarb varieties and cheaper sugar early in the 20th century made it a much more popular ingredient.
Rhubarb is a very hardy plant that thrives in cold winter climates. We’ve seen it in the colder regions of Colorado and Idaho. It loves Western Nevada and will live and produce for years. It needs its own place in the garden where it will not be disturbed, away from other perennials that could crowd it out. In our garden, that would be horseradish and mint.
If you don’t have your own rhubarb patch, it is usually available at the farmers’ markets and seasonally at area grocery stores. If you grow your own, you can start puling – not cutting – stalks from two-year-old plants. The older the plant, the more stalks you can pull. Once the stalks start getting thin, stop harvesting, as the plant needs those to store energy for next year. If your plant starts to bloom, cut out the blooms.
Early in the season, I can’t wait for full-size stalks, and pull ones that are only about 5-inches long. It’s that good! An armful of ruby red stalks with their big bright green leaves is beautiful. Enjoy it, but then cut off the leaves at the bases. The leaves contain oxalic acid and are poisonous.
Rhubarb is easy to cook. Wash well and cut across stalks. Follow your favorite pie, crisp, muffin or bread recipe or bake, as described in Ruth Reichl’s delightful book “Garlic and Sapphires”: In an ovenproof dish, combine 2 pounds rhubarb, cut in bite-size pieces, with 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 cup sugar (or more to taste). Cover and bake at 350-400 degrees about half an hour. Check for doneness. It should hold its shape but be soft. This is the base for the raspberry rhubarb sauce that we use in the following recipe.
Lemon Ricotta Blintzes with a choice of Two Sauces: Raspberry Rhubarb or Strawberry Coulis, is an elegant and easy make-ahead brunch dish that would be perfect for Valentine’s Day or a June wedding breakfast when both strawberries and rhubarb are readily available.
These blintzes are really good and really popular at our bed and breakfast. Guests always eat them all, no matter how many I make.
This recipe looks complicated, and indeed there are many parts, but it can almost all be made ahead of time and the filled blintzes frozen. They will keep frozen for at least three weeks. Store-bought crepes can be substituted for homemade ones and simple sliced strawberries and sugar can stand in for the more time-consuming sauces.
Serve buffet style with sauces, yogurt and/or sour cream, or dress each plate with three blintzes, a dollop of sour cream or yogurt and one of the sauces. Use fresh whole raspberries or strawberries for garnish, and dust with powdered sugar.
Recipe makes 16-18 blintzes and serves 4. May be doubled or tripled.
Lemon Ricotta Blintzes
To make the sweet crepes batter, combine in a sifter or a bowl:
11⁄2 cups flour (white)
1-2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
In a medium bowl, mix:
13⁄4 cups whole milk (you may need up to 1⁄2 cup more)
Add the flour mixture to the milk mixture. Mix well with a whisk. Let rest for at least 1⁄2 hour. The batter will be thin.
To cook the crepes:
To a lightly oiled 6-8 inch crepe or saute pan (in use canola oil and a pastry brush to apply a thin film of oil between crepes) set on medium heat, add a shy 1⁄4 cup of batter and quickly swirl it around so it pretty much covers the bottom of the pan. The edges should be almost lacy – and they don’t need to be perfectly round. Turn over to just barely cook on the other side, and slide out onto a plate. If the batter is too thick and won’t swirl, add milk, a bit at a time.
Plan to waste a couple of the first ones until you get the hang of it. Dedicate a plate and LOTS of waxed paper, and stack the crepes as they are done, separated by with pieces of waxed paper. If you don’t separate them, they will stick together. You can freeze the stack, wrapped in plastic, or you can fill the crepes and freeze them (that is what I do).
To make the filling, combine:
2 cups part skim ricotta cheese (1 pound)
21⁄2 – 3 tablespoons honey
Grated rind of one lemon, and the juice of 1⁄2 lemon
To fill the blintzes:
For each blintz, put 2-3 tablespoons (depending on the size of the blintz) filling in the center of each crepe. Fold opposite sides in and overlap a bit to make a little square package. Place seam side down on a platter or cookie sheet and refrigerate overnight, or wrap and freeze up to three weeks. Bring to room temperature or defrost before cooking.
To cook the blintzes:
In a wide saute pan over medium heat, melt 1-2 tablespoons butter. When bubbling, put in as many blintzes as will fit uncrowded, seams down. Brown lightly, turn and brown the other side. It only takes 2-3 minutes per side. Keep warm on a platter in a 200 degree oven until all are cooked and you are ready to serve.
Make the sauces for the blintzes ahead of time:
Raspberry rhubarb sauce
To the hot baked rhubarb (see story, above), add at least 1 cup and as much as 3 cups of fresh or frozen raspberries and more sugar to taste. (I freeze raspberries n the fall just for this sauce.) The raspberries give the sauce a beautiful rosy color. Do not use strawberries here, as they turn brown. For a thicker sauce, add 1 tablespoon cornstarch to a little cold water, add and heat till thickened. Cool before serving.
Puree 1 pint of berries in a blender or food processor, adding about 1⁄4 cup sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice (sugar and lemon to your taste). Mix well.
Both sauces are also good on waffles, ice cream or in a granola yogurt parfait. They will keep well in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
• Muffy Vhay and her husband own and operate the Deer Run Ranch Bed and Breakfast.