Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pink and Proud

At last, there is some sign of life in the garden.This morning, I was thrilled to find the first few beautiful pink stalks of rhubarb proudly pushing there way up through the still chilly soil. I immediately gave them another good blanket of well rotted manure to nourish them a bit more and to protect them from the cold, just in case Jack Frost comes back to visit. The problem now is to force myself to leave them alone until they get a little bigger.
In the meantime, I will engage myself  with thinking what I will do with  the rhubarb when it is actually ready to harvest.
A fool is definitly on the list and here is a recipe for you to be thinking about.
I will be thinking of more treats to add to the fool recipe.

Rhubarb Fool and Poached Rhubarb 

The first tender and pink stalks of rhubarb are always a great treat. Expensive and scarce, their appearance heralds the arrival of spring and they never taste better than in the first few weeks of the season. When buying rhubarb, the leaves are a good indication of the freshness. They should be glossy and fresh looking. The stalks should brightly coloured, firm and neither too fat nor too thin.  Buy exactly the quantity you need and try not to let any go to waste. Later, the first of the homegrown strawberries will arrive and they combine beautifully with the rhubarb to give you another option.
Fruit fools are easy to make and are soft, comforting and delicious. The trick is trying to get the balance of fruit and cream right. Too much cream dilutes the flavour of the fruit and is too rich, and too little cream can leave the fool tasting a bit under whelming. The consistency of the whipped cream is another crucial element. If the cream is too soft, the fool will be runny and more like a soup. If the cream is too stiffly whipped, the fool can become grainy. So look at your poached fruit and gauge the necessary consistency of the cream accordingly.
 I always like to serve a bowl of poached rhubarb with the fool. I find this lightens the effect of the cream and find it improves the eating experience.

1 lb / 450g Rhubarb, cut into 1 in / 2cm pieces
6-8oz / 175-225g Sugar
2 tablespoons of water
10fl oz / ½ pint / 300ml of softly whipped cream

Place the rhubarb, water and sugar in a small stainless steel saucepan and stir to mix. This seems like a very small amount of water, but the rhubarb will release its own juice as it cooks and the less water you use the better the flavour of the fruit will be.  Cover with a very tight fitting lid and bring to a simmer. Cook gently until the rhubarb is collapsed and tender, about 20 minutes. Sit a sieve over a bowl and drop the cooked rhubarb in, allowing the excess syrup to drain into the bowl. Do not press the rhubarb. Allow the fruit and the syrup to cool completely. Place the cooled rhubarb in a bowl and mix gently with some of the strained syrup spoon to break it up. Fold in the softly whipped cream and add a little more of the strained syrup if the consistency is not soft enough. Handle this gently and do not over mix. Serve chilled in pretty glasses or bowls, using some of the left over syrup to drizzle over the top. 

Poached Rhubarb

The object of the exercise here is to achieve perfectly tender pieces of poached and sweetened rhubarb that are still holding there shape. Proceed with caution and follow the rules!
 I like to add a few strips of orange rind to the rhubarb when poaching. The flavour of the orange and rhubarb work very well together. Don’t forget to remove the strips of orange before serving.

450g/1lb rhubarb
400ml/ 14fl oz syrup
4 thin strips of orange rind

Cut the rhubarb into 5cm(2in) pieces and place in a stainless steel saucepan that they fit snugly into. Cover with the cold syrup and add the strips of orange rind. The amount of syrup will look scant, but that’s fine as the rhubarb will produce a little juice of its own.  Cover and bring to a boil. Immediately, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Leave the lid on the saucepan to keep in the steam and allow the rhubarb to finish cooking. I like to use a glass lid or pryex plate to cover the saucepan. That way I am more likely to see the liquid coming to the boil and not forget about it. If you forget about it, you will end up with stewed rhubarb which is fine, but not nearly as interesting as individual tender and luscious pieces of rhubarb in a pink and orange flavoured syrup. 
Serve with rhubarb fool or with whipped cream or a thin, vanilla custard.

The essential shortbread biscuit to accompany the fool

Vanilla Shortbread

I am a big fan of this simple shortbread recipe. Measure the ingredients accurately and you will have no problems. The biscuits can be served with tea or coffee, or as here with a fruit fool , made into jam tarts or sandwiched with seasonal fruit and cream to make a more complicated confection.  The biscuits will keep fresh in a tin for a couple of days.

Makes c. 20 biscuits

6oz / 170g plain white flour
4 oz / 110g butter
2 oz / 55g caster sugar
2 drops of vanilla extract

Put the flour in a bowl. Add the vanilla extract and rub in the butter and sugar until it resembles coarse bread crumbs.  Keep going and it will come together into a mass. Knead lightly to form a smooth dough. Do not be tempted to add any liquid. If you have measured the ingredients accurately it will work. Chill at this point if you wish or roll out on a floured surface to a thickness of ¼ in / 7mm. Cut out the shapes of choice with pastry cutters and transfer to a baking tray. Gather up the trimmings, lightly shake off the excess flour and roll and shape again. Bake in a moderate oven, 180c / 350f / gas 4 until a pale golden colour. Immediately remove from the baking sheet and place on a wire rack to cool. If you leave them on the oven tray they will stick and burn.
The biscuits can be simply served with a light dusting of caster or icing sugar.