April – rhubarb-rhubarb
April 18th, 2012
April Food Memories – ‘Rhubarb, Rhubarb’
Yes I know it can be perishing cold but to my mind April is the start of a new phase at least in the cooking year. It is now that I move away from the darker store-cupboard meals so comforting before and find the light turned on in my green larder: the garden and surrounding hedgerows. I am even more inspired this year as I have just added on to my veg patch. More of this another time but as you can imagine I am impossibly smug at the moment and full of optimism for future green harvests – aside from nettles I mean though these have their own culinary virtues….
The health gains of growing your own produce are widely documented and my own dear father liked nothing more than a little light weeding in the veg patch with a Benson&Hedges sending curls of smoke up into his eye and a whiskey propped up against the rhubarb. He liked rhubarb. He particularly liked saying the word over and over whenever there was a cine camera pointed at him. He claimed it made your face look natural. Maybe so, after a couple of whiskeys.
If we had rhubarb for pudding it was always stewed. My father always asked for ground ginger to sprinkle on the top which always irritated my mother as she believed he was just being difficult rather than actually liking the combination. My mother didn’t really like fruit puddings which was why her attitude to them was ‘stew it and eat it’. Her husband’s liking for food adornment was in her eyes typically fussy and rather prissy.
I can’t say the ground ginger of his food memory is one I’d go for but it’s true that I can’t seem to bake rhubarb without adding a little chopped fresh ginger. Having said that I love the pretty pinkness of simple ‘gingerless’ rhubarb fool and rhubarb crumble is of course as delicious now as it was at school.
One crop my parents did agree on, even at the table was purple sprouting and I am looking forward to having the space to grow my own. Surely this -wonderful plant is the jewel in the crown of March Veg. So delicious it deserves to be a course in its own right. How’s this for an idea: My husband is ‘off’ bread at the moment which has quite spoilt his innocent enjoyment of eggs for breakfast. Finding myself with a bundle of purple sprouting and some fresh eggs I steamed the broccoli, added the eggs underneath to get them to the soft boiled stage and we all dipped the buttered spears. The eggshells took on a pleasing green hue and we were all very happy with the result. Hoorah!
Please note pigeons also share my enthusiasm for purple sprouting.
Baked Rhubarb with Vanilla Ice-Cream
750g of rhubarb chopped into about 3cm pieces
Juice of 1 orange
1 tsp of peeled chopped fresh ginger
Place everything in a baking dish and cover with foil. Bake at 140oC/gas mark 1 for 45 mins being careful it doesn’t burn round the edges.
Test for sweetness and add a little more sugar if needed. Serve hot with ice-cream and a couple of shortbreads or similar to push with. Yummy!
Rhubarb and Rosewater Parfait
500g forced rhubarb
250g caster sugar
4 large egg yolks
250ml whipping cream
Vodka, gin or kirsch (optional)
Mint leaves and pistachios to decorate
1 Place eight glasses in the freezer to chill. Trim the rhubarb, chop into small pieces and place in a pan with 100g of the sugar.
2 cook over low heat until the juices start to release. Increase the heat and cook, covered for 10 minutes or until soft. Strain on a little liquid to use as a syrup.
3 Cool then blitz with a hand blender.
4 Make a sabayon by whisking the egg yolks until thick and fluffy. Meanwhile dissolve the remaining sugar in 5 tbsp of water with a few drops of rosewater.
5 Bring to boil and boil rapidly for 4 minutes. Add alcohol and bring back to boil.
6 Slowly pour onto the egg, whisking on full speed. Keep whisking until thick and leaving a 2 second trail. Plunge bowl into cold water.
7 Taste and add more rosewater or kirsch if required.
8 Whip the cream to soft peaks and fold into the rhubarb followed by the cold sabayon.
Pour into frozen glasses and return to the freezer for 1-2 hours. Drizzle over the syrup.
Alternatively, line a cook’s ring with cling film on a tray and invert when set. Decorate.
Nettle soup with spring herbs
As mentioned in my food memory article the first crop from my new allotment is definitely nettles. In my own garden over the years they have caused my first spring song of oaths and curses as I clear them from under the roses or catch my wrist against them while picking daffodils. How nice them to put on my rubber gloves, pull their heads off and put them in a soup. I like to throw in some sorrel, chard, watercress, spinach or the outside leaves from a lettuce if I have any of these. If you don’t just stick with the unadulterated nettle.
1 small carrier bag or bucket of nettle heads
A couple of handfuls of your spring herbs
About 4 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 litres of stock
Juice of a lemon
4 cloves of garlic – crushed
Large knob of butter
300ml (1/2pt double cream)
Nutmeg, salt and pepper.
Melt the butter and gently seat the onion and garlic with some salt. When soft add the potatoes, nettles and other leaves if using. Cook for another few minutes with the lid on before adding the stock. Simmer for fifteen minutes then add the lemon before blitzing in a liquidizer or by using a hand blender. Stir in the cream and grate in some nutmeg and a few turns of black pepper.