Each spring, the rhubarb in my garden re-emerges in a glorious whorl of stalks and leaves. Last Sunday I cautiously picked a bunch to make rhubarb muffins.
Several years ago, I was preparing a dinner party and planned to make roasted rhubarb and strawberries for dessert. As I picked rhubarb from the vigorous plant growing next to my compost pile, I was bitten by a small rattlesnake hidden in the tight mass of stalks. Now, I am cautious and poke into the plant with a stick to be sure no unwelcome creature is hiding there. After my encounter, I reclaimed the plant by making the above painting.
These muffins were inspired by those we once had at Xoco, a Rick Bayless breakfast spot in Chicago, where we exhibited annually at ArtChicago. The combination of anise, corn and vanilla intrigued me and I figured out a recipe when we got home. Here it is:
First, with caution, pick the rhubarb, then clean and cut into 1/2 inch bits ─ enough for two cups.
For the muffins:
Combine 1 cup of cornmeal and 1 cup of unbleached flour with 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon anise seeds.
Stir in 1 cup of milk, (whatever you have ─ even unsweetened almond or soy milk), 6 tablespoons canola oil, 1 large egg and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Add the rhubarb. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full with the batter, distributing the rhubarb chunks evenly. I like to pour the batter into buttered cups in order to get a nice brown crust. Use muffin papers if you like. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes. Let cool on a rack for a few minutes before unmolding. These are a bit delicate. This makes 12-14 muffins.
While preparing the muffins my mind wandered to other recipes that include anise. Look for the Bizcochitos and Lisa’s Almond Biscotti recipes in How I Learned To Cook, An Artist’s Life.
Another great match with anise seed are these golden beets.
I steam whole beets until tender for about 30-40 minutes, depending on their size. When cool enough to handle, I peel them and cut into batons about 1/2 inch wide. For three medium beets, I add the juice and zest from 1/2 a lemon, a little salt, 1/2 teaspoon anise seed and a tablespoon or two of olive oil to the warm beets. Taste and adjust the seasoning. These are a great addition to a salad or alongside a sandwich or a spinach quiche.
For our Sunday lunch I prepared a salad to go with the rhubarb muffins.
I had cooked some Alubia Blanca beans from Rancho Gordo and combined a cup and a half of them with a vinaigrette made of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, olive oil, a big pinch of hot red pepper flakes, the zest of 1/2 a lemon and chopped parsley. If your beans are cold, warm them a little before marinating. Canned beans are okay but nothing like the Rancho Gordos.
For the salad, I combined some wild arugula (sprouting everywhere in my garden) with torn butter lettuce leaves, avocado chunks, a little diced salami, and halved cherry tomatoes. I dressed this simply with olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice. The beans went into the center of the greens and I crumbled some feta over all. And there was lunch.
Top: Spring Rhubarb, oil on canvas, 18 x 18 inches