The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

April 3, 2013

Pasta dish, rhubarb sauce reflect spring's mood

JOPLIN, Mo. — The unpredictable nature of spring -- balmy one moment, frigid the next -- makes us hanker for dishes that reflect the season's maybe-maybe not feel.

And that was the inspiration for this dish, which blends one of the heartiest of winter pastas -- potato gnocchi -- with asparagus, a light vegetable that has come to represent one of surest signs of spring. We wanted protein, too, but nothing as heavy as meat, nor as light as beans or tofu. Shrimp, which pair so nicely with asparagus anyway, were the perfect choice.

To tie it all together, we started robust with some crumbled Gorgonzola. And to balance those big bold flavors, a light squeeze of lemon juice.

Rhubarb, which ripens in the spring, is a vegetable, not a fruit, and it's so tart (not sweet) that it's rarely present in a recipe without some kind of sugar added for balance.

An import from England, rhubarb was known in 19th century America as "the pie plant" because that was where it usually ended up -- in pies, often paired with strawberries. But the rhubarb's acidity makes it a splendid ingredient in savory dishes, too.

On the shelf in your grocery store, rhubarb looks a lot like celery, except that it's usually a fetching reddish-purple in color. It comes in long, slender stalks, with strings running from top to bottom. To eliminate the toughness of the strings, some cooks peel their rhubarb before cooking by thinly slicing the stalks across the grain of the strings.

Given its high water content, turning rhubarb into a sauce requires little more than cooking it. It breaks down quickly and becomes nice and thick.

As for the cut of pork on which we ladle this sauce, go with the tenderloin instead of its neighbor, the loin. Both are lean, but they call it the tenderloin, after all, for a reason. However, this isn't to say it won't turn out tough and dry if you overcook it, so be sure to keep your eye on the cooking time and let it rest after you've taken the meat out of the skillet.

 

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