I knew I was going to be a happy cook in Portland the first time I shopped at the Montavilla farmers market near my temporary apartment.
There, taking center stage in one stall, were large crates of plump, perfect rhubarb stalks in all their fuchsia pink glory.
Most people probably wouldn’t consider rhubarb — a vegetable that passes as a fruit — an exotic ingredient, I know. But my search for fresh, vibrant rhubarb usually felt like a treasure hunt when I lived in Northern California.
Often the small supply would be sold out before I got to the farmers markets in Santa Cruz. One year I missed the season altogether. Supermarket rhubarb, when I found it, inevitably was dull, limp and uninspiring.
But the Portland rhubarb was everything I desired and right next to it was a pile of dark red cherries. That seemed like the perfect pairing of tart and sweet so I took some of each home without really knowing what I would make.
By the time I settled on simply poaching the rhubarb and cherries with cinnamon and ginger, I had decided to serve them folded into crepes. The delicate crepes highlight the bold flavors of the spiced compote.
Crepes are not as difficult as many cooks fear. I usually follow Julia Child’s basic recipe. Never a purist, Julia whirled her crepe batter together in a blender, which simplifies the whole process. This version comes from “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home,” by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin (Knopf, 1999).
Julia also liked to use non-stick pans and I was eager to try out the Scanpan CTX skillet in my borrowed kitchen. At 8-inches, the little Scanpan is the perfect size for crepes and I love the fact that the ceramic and titanium coating doesn’t produce any harmful gases. The skillet is fairly pricey, but it’s the best non-stick pan I’ve ever used. The very first crepe slid right out of the pan.
However, you don’t need a fancy pan to make crepes. A small frying pan with about a 7-inch diameter bottom will work if you use enough butter and a little patience. Like any pancake, the first couple may stick a little until you get the hang of it.
You can bake a few crepes at a time if you’re only serving a couple of people. Or you can cook off all the batter at one go, allowing the crepes to cool on a wire rack before stacking them on a plate.
They freeze well, which is a blessing at this time of the year. With a batch stashed in the freezer, you’re always prepared when irresistible fruit shows up at the market.
Serves sixFor the compote:
3 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3/4 cup sugar or more to taste
2 thick slices of ginger
1 stick cinnamon
2 cups sweet cherries, pitted
For the crepes:
1 cup flour
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup melted butter plus more for brushing the pan
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
3/4 cup water
For the topping:
Whipped cream or creme fraiche, sweetened to taste
Make the compote: Peel the rhubarb if the stalks are thick and dice. Place in a medium saucepan with sugar and let stand 15 minutes to allow the juice to run freely. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat and immediately lower heat to a gentle simmer. Add cherries, ginger and cinnamon stick. Simmer until rhubarb is tender but still holds its shape, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rhubarb and cherries cool in the syrup, which will thicken on standing. Remove ginger slices and cinnamon stick before serving.
Make the crepes:
In a blender jar, place flour, eggs, yolk, milk, melted butter and sugar in that order. Whirl 5-10 seconds to make a smooth, thick batter. Add water and blend until smooth. Batter should be the consistency of heavy cream. Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the flour particles to absorb the liquid.
Heat a small skillet or crepe pan over medium heat for a minute or two and brush with a little melted butter when hot. Pour about 3 tablespoons of the batter onto one side of the pan bottom, quickly swirling and shaking to cover the bottom evenly with batter. (If you have holes, cover with a few more drops of batter.)
Cook about 1 minute, until the edges are cooked and the bottom lightly browned. Loosen edges with a spatula, then lift crepe with the spatula or your fingers and flip it over in the pan to brown the other side for about 30-45 seconds. You may have to adjust the heat to get the timing right. Turn the crepe out on a wire rack to cool before stacking or serving.
Wipe your pan with a paper towel to remove any remaining bits of crepe. Brush pan with butter again. Repeat the process until all the batter is used.
Serve: Place a crepe on a plate with the prettiest side down. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of the compote over the crepe and roll or fold like an omelet. Top with whipped cream or creme fraiche and serve.
(Crepe recipe adapted from “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home,” by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin.)