Before this week, I had never eaten rhubarb. This is because I am of the firm belief that any dessert without chocolate is not worth my time and—even though rhubarb is a vegetable and pie is almost universally not worth the effort—people insist on serving rhubarb in pie form. Maybe it’s got something to do with the color.
But the CSA that I mine for lunch fodder delivered a whole bundle of ruby rhubarb this week. Expanding my produce repertoire is part of the point of this lunch prep series so rather than default to crumb cake or pie, I sought out savory ways to work it into a week-long meal plan that you can see in the video below.
After making Monday’s recipe twice (once as a test run) I can assure you, if you have also never tried rhubarb—or never tried it in a savory dish—you need not be apprehensive. First of all, it’s a plant; it can’t hurt you. It is also low maintenance, quick to cook, and provides a sort-of-citrusy tartness. Plus it’s season right now.
Grocery Store Additions
Chicken breast, at least three
Some sort of bread roll for a sandwich
One potato, russet/other large baking potato
Pantry staples you probably already have (but should add to the grocery list if you don’t):
Rice wine vinegar
Hot sauce of your choice
If you’ve got an especially busy week, or you’re an especially busy person (who has time to read blogs like this, suspicious...) one great thing about this particular meal plan is that it can all be prepped Sunday. The video above shows each recipe freshly cooked and, look, that’s how they taste best. Microwaves are some kind of Satanic kitchen magic. They’re powerful, but not particularly forgiving. That said, all these meals can be successfully reheated and I’ll specify how to make each dish more microwave-compatible.
Regardless of when you’re doing the culinary heavy-lifting, cook a box of pasta before the week starts—just your basic boiling water, salt, and dried pasta done a little less than al dente to accommodate future reheating. I used whole wheat pasta both because the extra heartiness holds up better in the fridge and because it’s gotta be the easiest concession you can make to eating nominally healthier.
As far as veggie prep goes, first give everything a rinse. Slice the scallions fairly small and chop the rhubarb into half-inch pieces. The broccoli, bok choy, and half the onion can be cut into basically bite-size bits. Turn the other half of the onion into thin slices. Rough chop your Swiss chard and lettuce. Invest in Ziploc and put everything into separate baggies.
We’re starting with the savory rhubarb, making a riff on this skillet chicken—only a version that doesn’t require starting the night before, or cooking a whole chicken. First, brown all three chicken breasts in hot olive oil. One pretty hungry person will consume all three throughout the week so if you’re feeding a friend, scale appropriately.
You don’t need to worry about cooking them through right now, so go ahead and crank the heat. There’s some gorgeous deglazing coming up, so you want as many browned bits as you can safely sear. Salt the chicken as it’s browning, but don’t worry too much about seasoning for now. Flip ‘em back and forth a few times until it looks good enough to eat (note: DO NOT EAT, the inside is still raw).
Reserve two browned chicken breasts on a plate and set aside, and stick the remaining one in the oven I forgot to tell you to preheat. Bake the lonely chicken at about 400 degrees for another 10-15 minutes (I can’t give you a super precise bake time since I’m not sure how much cooking you accomplished while browning, go ahead and cut into it after 10 minutes to check).
Meanwhile, you’re making the sauce in the same skillet in which you browned the chicken. Turn the heat down a bit and add the chopped scallions and maybe some extra oil if the skillet is looking especially dry. Give those a few minutes to soften, then toss in a chopped garlic clove or two. It’s time to deglaze, so go get your wine. The recipe I linked to says to use half a glass. You’re going to want to err on the side of, oh, I don’t know, twice that. Not because of some refrigerator magnet logic about how if some wine is good, more must be better, but because you want to reserve some sauce for a later lunch and extra wine is a great way to stretch what you have. The cold wine will make scraping up the browned chicken bits a breeze. Toss in a few sprigs of fresh thyme, stems and all, and remove before serving.
Once the skillet is all deglazed and the bubbling wine has settled some, toss in the chopped rhubarb and a squeeze of honey. Now’s a good time to season with some salt and pepper. Put the two chicken breasts that you didn’t bake back in the sauce-filled skillet. Nestle ‘em down in there so they soak up lots of flavor.
Cover the skillet and simmer for 15-20 minutes to finish cooking the chicken. Pull the chicken breasts back out and stir in about half a stick of butter to make the sauce rich and creamy. If you’re eating this for dinner, the dish is done when the butter is melted. Serve the chicken on a bed of pasta and pour sauce over the whole thing for a dish that tastes a little French and oddly like stroganoff even though it has no beef or mushrooms.
If you’re saving it for later in the week, pack one chicken breast and half the sauce with some of your cooked pasta for Monday. Listen closely: pack the other chicken breast and the rest of the sauce separate from each other. I know, it’s a lot of tupperware, but it’ll all make sense soon enough.
A chicken sandwich doesn’t make for riveting blog material, but it’s a pretty decent lunch. This particular sandwich gets a gourmet boost by using the super flavorful chicken breast you cooked in the rhubarb sauce—but, without the sauce. Serve it on a bun with lettuce, onion, cheddar, and mayo like I did, or with whatever sandwich fixings you keep on hand.
You’re using the rest of the pasta and the remaining rhubarb sauce to make a
pasta salad that’s just as good either hot or cold. But first, you need to prepare some extra mix-ins—namely, some Swiss chard and pancetta. This part can be done either mid-week or over the weekend along with the bulk of the cooking.
Usually we just eyeball all these measurements but since the butcher behind counter will ask you how much pancetta you want, I’ll note that I used a quarter-pound for one person for two meals. Get it sliced thick for better cubing.
Anyway, chop however much pancetta into bacon-bits-but-better size and toss them in a hot skillet. Once they’re fully crisped, pull half out to reserve for later. Leave the rest in the skillet and add some Swiss chard (skip the woody stems for this recipe since they take longer to cook—just pull the greens off from either side before chopping). Toss it all together with the pancetta grease for about a minute to just barely wilt the chard without cooking it down too much. The salty, peppery pancetta provides plenty of seasoning, so that’s it! Stir it into your cooked pasta and drench the whole thing in rhubarb sauce if you’re ready to eat. If you’re packing it up, store the pasta, sauce, and chard-pancetta mixture separately and combine at the office.
The lone remaining chicken breast—the one we finished cooking not in the rhubarb sauce but in the oven—makes a reappearance in a admittedly half-assed stir fry that’s easily customizable and requires no preparation in the office beyond reheating.
Back to the same skillet that’s getting a workout this week: Sauté twice as much broccoli as you think you want in a little bit of olive oil. When it’s just about cooked through, pull out half and add chopped onion, bok choy, and a couple splashes of rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. Cover the skillet and let it sit for about 5 minutes so the vegetables can steam. When all those veggies look done add a squeeze of honey, a splash of hot sauce, and the chicken chopped in to bite-size bits. Stir it all together, maybe give it another minute for the chicken to soak up some of the flavors and then eat it or pack it up for later.
Reward yourself for surviving the week with liquid cheese. Having to make a roux as the base for this broccoli pancetta cheese sauce might seem like more trouble than it’s worth, but trust me, it’s worth it.
Melt butter and stir in flour, mixing continuously to keep clumps from forming. Slowly pour in milk that you heated either in a separate pot or, let’s be honest, in the microwave. Keep stirring until the mixture gets thick enough that you can leave behind a noticeable trail when you drag your spoon through it. Add the cheese and stir until it’s melted and you’re left with a borderline obscene creamy cheese situation.
If you’re eating it right away, add the chopped leftover broccoli and pancetta and spoon the whole mess over a split baked potato. But if you’re packing up for later in the week, keep the broccoli and pancetta separate from the cheese sauce for now (they can share a baggie) so they stay relatively crisp.
Bring to the office: One uncooked baked potato, the bag of broccoli and pancetta, and a container of cheese sauce. Cook your potato in the microwave by stabbing it a few times with a fork and zapping it for about 8 minutes. While that’s too hot to touch, reheat the cheese sauce and stir in the broccoli and pancetta. Split the potato, pour over the sauce, and mmm, doesn’t that look good?