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Rhubarb is marinated in a mixture of honey and rosemary before going into this delectable dessert. Photo by Sue Doeden

Stalking rhubarb: A dreamy dessert just in time for summer

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How many rhubarb pies, cobblers and crisps can a person eat? At my house, it would be quite a lot, actually.

How can anyone get enough of those pinkish green stalks, so intensely sour, yet so deeply delicious when paired with sweet ingredients, such as honey, sugar or maple syrup?

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It's my penchant for rhubarb that has me hunting it down in neighbors' gardens and at farmers markets. Oh, sure, I know it's supposed to grow like a weed. It does for most people. Not me. I've got some in the same garden that has those two crowns of asparagus I told you about last week. Every year I find the same thick growth of dwarf rhubarb leaves hugging the ground on very short, skinny stalks. Can you hear me sighing?

I found a bag of long, slender petioles (stalks) at my local farmers market over the weekend. If I could replicate the most delicious strawberry-rhubarb pie my grandma used to make, I would have definitely started making pie crust as soon as I got home. Unfortunately, I can't. That's another sigh you hear.

I flipped through recipes in my personal file and paged through some cookbooks for inspiration. I went online. I read about a chef in Massachusetts who marinates rhubarb in honey and rosemary for a couple of days before serving it raw in a compote with dried apricots and dried cranberries. The idea of soaking rhubarb in a bath of sweet fragrance intrigued me.

I sliced enough rhubarb to make 4 cups, then stirred in some local honey and a nice sprig of rosemary, clipped from the plant I bought but still hadn't gotten into the ground. After a gentle stir to coat all the chunks of rhubarb with honey, I covered it and tucked it into the back of the refrigerator. Twenty-fours later, the marinating rhubarb had created juice in the bowl. When I drained the rhubarb, the liquid measured about a cup. The juice was only slightly sweet with a very subtle fragrance of floral and pine. I was tempted to mix it with some sparkling water and splash of fresh lemon juice for a refreshing beverage, but held my stir stick back. I wanted the full amount of that exotic syrup to add to the custard that would bake atop a shortbread crust.

I adore the natural partnership of rhubarb and almonds. After using almond meal in the Creamy Parmesan Sauce for asparagus last week, I still had plenty of the finely ground almonds in the bag. I added a full cup of almond meal to shortbread crust, using it to replace some of the flour. And I used almond meal as a thickener in the creamy rhubarb mixture that bakes on the crust.

Rosemary-and-Honey Infused Rhubarb Dream is familiar enough for the skeptics to give it a try. And it's got just enough striking uniqueness to interest those with a discerning palate.

At this point, I've eaten the Dream with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and I've indulged in the Dream with a slash of sweetened whipped cream. It's delicious both ways. But to really appreciate its buttery rich crust and sweet-tart floral custard of satisfying smoothness, eat it as is, unadorned and luxurious. You'll never get tired of Rosemary-and-Honey-Infused Rhubarb Dream.

Rosemary-and-Honey-Infused Rhubarb Dream

4 cups sliced rhubarb

3 tablespoons honey

1 sprig fresh rosemary, wrapped in cheesecloth

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

2/3 cup powdered sugar

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided

1 1/2 cups almond meal, divided

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

In a mixing bowl, toss rhubarb with honey. Push cheesecloth-wrapped rosemary sprig into the rhubarb. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to assemble the dessert, use electric mixer to beat butter in a large mixing bowl until creamy and smooth. Add powdered sugar and blend. With mixer at low speed, add 1 cup flour and 1 cup almond meal and beat until dry ingredients are thoroughly blended into butter mixture. Spoon dough into a 9- x 13-inch glass baking dish. With wet fingers, pat dough to cover bottom of pan evenly. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 15 minutes.

While crust is baking, remove cheesecloth-wrapped rosemary and drain liquid from rhubarb. There will be about 1 cup of liquid. Set rhubarb and liquid aside. Beat eggs in the same bowl used for mixing crust. No need to wash it out first. Add sugar and salt and blend well. Add reserved liquid and blend well. With mixer on low speed, mix in remaining 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup almond meal. Stir in rhubarb. Pour over baked crust and bake for 35 minutes in 350-degree oven. Custard filling will be set and crust will be brown.

Makes 12 to 15 servings.

Tips from the cook

--Almond meal is available in all well-stocked grocery stores. I use the Bob's Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour.

--For a more elegant presentation, cut rounds of Rosemary-and-Honey-Infused Rhubarb Dream with a biscuit/cookie cutter. Coat the cutter very lightly with non-stick cooking spray and the dessert will slide right out.

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