WELCOME TO SPRING! We have arrived once again at the tipping point when we begin to see more daylight hours than nighttime hours, minute by minute. Spring signals the return of the light, and while many people think of spring with budding flowers and tender green shoots, at this point in March, we’re all a bit more like rhubarb.
“Rhubarb itself is kind of a magical creature, grown in the dark and searching for light,” says Marie Rutherford, chef and co-creator of Moon Pizza, along with Kit Schumann.
This time of year, we don’t have the full-on sweetness of apricots or tender green peas; there’s still a tinge of sour with our sweet, which describes rhubarb perfectly. Rutherford has a lot to say about spring and rhubarb — and how the thunderstorms of spring serve as a wake-up call not only to the soil, but to our bodies.
“There is a lesson in thunder: To change, we need to move. Rhubarb is a curious creature crawling forth from the drab earth, shocking us with its red and pink stalks and a spray of poisonous green. Rhubarb holds strong as a springtime favorite, and although its roots are not deep nor large, they do support the weighty plant,” she says.
Rhubarb is also one of Schumann’s favorite vegetables. He says, “It just goes to show how desperate we are in the spring after winter that we take this vegetable that pushes itself out of the ground as toxic leaves like bitter celery. But if you can make it sweet enough, you can draw out this beautiful flavor.”
At Moon Pizza, which has a residence every Monday at Fremont’s Sea Wolf Bakers (which Schumann owns with his brother Jesse), Rutherford and Schumann create two distinct pizzas each month, with toppings inspired by the seasons as well as the 12 traditional full-moon names. For March, known as the worm moon (also crow moon, sugar moon or sap moon), they’ve taken inspiration from rhubarb to create a whimsical pizza that utilizes the vegetable in a savory application that isn’t often seen.
By sugaring and salting the rhubarb, it “tightens and concentrates the flavors and texture,” says Schumann, giving you a rhubarb that retains its shape rather than dissolving into mush.
“I once thought rhubarb was only edible sweetened by sugar and softened by heat, but applied in savory situations, it is electric. More than this, the essence of rhubarb offers a strong new pathway to grow roots in Mother Earth, even if cut back,” Rutherford says.
Combined with an aioli/ricotta mix, sweet roasted fennel bulb and feta, this “Blushed & Bashful” pizza gives us the perfect version of spring for this snapshot in time. You also will be able to grab this pizza during the month of March at Moon Pizza, each Monday at Sea Wolf Bakers.
Moon Pizza, Blushed & Bashful
Yield: 1 15-inch pizza
1 thinly stretched prepared pizza dough
¾ cup Aioli/ricotta white sauce (see below)
½ to ¾ cup seasoned rhubarb (see below)
1 cup roasted fennel
2 ounces feta, crumbled
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Fennel fronds, roughly chopped
Yield: about 2 cups
3 egg yolks
1½ cups neutral oil, such as safflower oil
3 cloves garlic, microplaned
Zest and juice of ½ a lemon
Kosher salt to taste
Water to thin, if needed
- Place the egg yolks in a food processor. While the machine is running, add half of the oil EVER SO SLOWLY. Nope, slower.
- Once the mixture begins to come together, add the lemon zest and juice and garlic. The juice will thin the sauce out a bit.
- Add the remaining oil. Season with salt to taste. You are looking for a velvety consistency, not sticky, tacky or gloopy. If the aioli has any of these qualities, simply add some water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the consistency is smooth but still holds a nice shape.
For the white sauce: Mix 1 cup Aioli with 1 cup ricotta. If the ricotta is a bit wet or runny, simply place it on a towel and then into a colander to drain for 10 minutes.
Yield: You will need a little over ½ cup. More if you’d like!
2-3 stalks fresh rhubarb, depending on size, washed and trimmed of any dirt
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
- Cut the rhubarb lengthwise in half and then into 2-inch pieces. Place in a bowl.
- Toss the rhubarb with the salt and sugar, and place in a colander, and then a larger bowl. Allow the rhubarb to slowly strain and drain in the refrigerator for 1 hour to overnight. The rhubarb should leech out some natural juices.
Yield: about 1 cup
1 fennel bulb, top and bottom trimmed, fennel fronds reserved and minced lightly
¼ cup olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Slice the fennel bulb in half. Then slice each half into 6 nice wedges.
- Place the fennel on a cookie sheet, drizzle the olive oil over the fennel, sprinkle the fennel with salt and toss everything together to coat evenly.
- Place in the oven, and roast until the fennel is just fork-tender and a little charred on the edges.
To assemble the pizza:
(At Moon Pizza, we stretch our pizzas to 15 inches in diameter.)
- Using a large pastry brush, brush the Aioli/ ricotta mixture, leaving 2 inches around the edges unsauced.
- Sprinkle ¾ of the mozzarella amount on the pizza; top with rhubarb and roasted fennel. Sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and the feta.
- If you have a pizza stone, place the pie on it and bake at 500 degrees F for 7-8 minutes. Rotate it 180 degrees halfway through. (All ovens are not created equal, so keep an eye on your pizza, and keep in mind your preferences! What’s good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.)
- Once the pizza is out of the oven, top with the toasted sesame seeds and the chopped fennel fronds.
— from Marie Rutherford and Kit Schumann