This past week while walking through the produce section in the Whole Foods on the Upper West Side I was feeling particularly celebratory as I had just passed the Food Handlers Certificate exam. It’s a little piece of paper saying that I have an understanding of how to work cleanly and safely in a kitchen in New York (which was necessary for one of my many jobs..more on this at a later time).While browsing for something new and exciting to cook with I saw some rhubarb and that moment happened where you hear the angels voices up above and a divine light warms the room and highlights this amazing red vegetable. And then of course everyone is watching because now you’re the crazy person in the room staring at the rhubarb like it’s talking to you. But there it was! I hadn’t seen any for months and it didn’t look half bad. This, of course, made me suspicious. So after a quick google search, and learning about a late Pacific-Northwest rhubarb harvest, I gleefully bagged up a pound (or 2).
Up until recently in my adult life rhubarb had been used for mostly sweet dishes. My associations were either with it being used in a strawberry rhubarb sauce (one of my mom’s most amazing recipes) or in a pie with similar ingredients to the sauce. Both perfectly delicious ways to go from stalk form to in my mouth form. But maybe it’s because I’m ready for cold weather and can’t wait for the fall or maybe it’s because I don’t have such a sweet tooth but I wanted to try to use rhubarb in a different way. After a quick walk around the produce section again I settled on a chutney. Because of some other ingredients sitting at home I knew just how I wanted to eat it.I love chutneys. Loosely, a chutney is a condiment that’s traditionally a blend of spices, fruits, and vegetables – but often it’s really anything goes. It can be pickled or not. Spicy or not. Thick and jam-like or not. It’s lasts for days and is delicious on everything. We love it on and with meats and breads – something a little sweet and spicy to complement savory flavors.
Ever since I bought a cherry pitter a couple months back I’ve found it infinitely easier to cook with cherries. I know, I know, it’s one of those silly “one use” products that just end up taking precious space in your drawers and cabinets. But it’s really not! Well it’s actually a two-use product since you can use it to whack the pits out of olives as well. The reason I finally broke down and bought “the silly kitchen product” it is for the amount of time and mess it saves you as well as keeping your cherries intact for things like this rocking (and pretty) cherry herb and walnut salad I made recently. But seriously, the mess…no more cherry juice stains on everything as you pull apart the cherries with your fingers and grab for the pit before it all slips out and stains your butcher block and clothing red. Yeah, that’s happened a lot.Truth is you don’t really need a pitter for this recipe (ha!) because it won’t matter how pretty and whole the cherry looks while it’s cooking down but it does save you from a ridiculous amount of scrubbing later.
Once the chutney was made and cooled slightly I started prepping the rest of what would make the crostini (Italian for “little toasts”) a complete and perfect bite.
To make a whole bite is a fun challenge. You want to layer flavor and texture so when someone picks up your masterpiece and they bite in they get a little bit of everything and it all comes together seamlessly. Having the bread be toasted is important since nothing else has that element. A satisfying crunch can be everything.Next was the layer between the chutney and the bread. To carry the thick spiced and fruity mixture, and for a good summer bite, I decided on a goat cheese mixed with honey and lightened up with a little (unsweetened) whipped cream.
Sure you can make this, serve it to yourself, and be completely satisfied because it’s so awesome. But you can also keep the chutney and the cheese in the fridge a few days and when people come over grill or toast some bread and assemble it all in under 5 minutes! I guarantee this will impress the pants off your friends (you know, if that’s what you’re going for).
Cherry Rhubarb Chutney and Whipped Goat Cheese Crostini
Serves: Makes about 2 cups
Cherry Rhubarb Chutney
- 1-2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ onion (sweet) chopped
- ½ tbsp minced fresh ginger
- ¼ of a leek - halved the long way (and then use half of that) thinly sliced, white and pale green parts only
- 1 small stalk of celery in thin slices
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
- ½ lb. rhubarb, chopped
- 1.5 cup cherries, pitted
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup cherry juice*
- 2-3 tbsp sugar
Whipped Goat Cheese
- 4 oz of goat cheese (one of the small plastic wrapped logs)
- ¼ cup of heavy cream
- 1-2 tbsp of honey
Cherry Rhubarb Chutney
- Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat and sauté the onions and ginger together for 3-5 minutes until the onion starts to get translucent. Add the red pepper flakes, celery, and leeks and mix together. Let the leeks and celery soften for about another 5 minutes. Stir every few minutes.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the pot and bring together to a boil. Allow to boil for a couple minutes and then lower the heat to simmer, stir, cover, and cook for another 20-30 minutes stirring occasionally. When the rhubarb and cherries have broken down and the sauce thickened it's close to being done.
- If there is still liquid in the pot take the cover off to let it evaporate while on a low heat. Keep stirring! Salt to taste at the end.
- When it's done take it off the heat and allow it cool a bit before either putting it away or using it.
Whipped Goat Cheese
- With a hand mixer (or a stand mixer but this seemed to small a batch to break out the big guns) whip the goat cheese and honey together until soft and creamy - to the consistency of a whipped cream cheese. Put aside.
- In a separate bowl whip the cream until stiff peaks form.
- Fold the whipped cream into the cheese using a silicone spatula (the cheese can get pretty sticky!).
Assemble the Crostini
- I quickly infused some olive oil with tarragon, mint, and a pinch of kosher salt. After letting it sit for at least an hour I brushed it onto the bread and grilled it till crispy. You can also use regular olive oil and toast the bread in a pan or oven. Let the bread cool.
- Spread a layer of the whipped goat cheese on the bread and then a layer of the chutney on top.
- Finish it off with a little mint.
- (Apologize to your friends for causing them to lose their pants.)
*You don't need to use cherry juice -you can substitute pomegranate juice or even water - the juice adds a little more color and an extra layer of tartness but it's main purpose is the liquid.