Saturday, 23 February 2013

Poached spiced rhubarb

Poached spiced rhubarb
with yoghurt, honey and biscuit

We're well into the forced rhubarb season now so, if you haven't bought it yet, you'll need to get your skates on.  Very different from the later, unforced, crop which is better used in pies, crumbles and chutneys, it's well worth seeking out.  It is grown by candlelight, generating an atmospheric glow in the forcing shed.  You can force your own garden rhubarb by covering it with an upturned pot once it starts to bud - although don't try this two years in a row as you will stress the plant too much.  Once cut, the delicate pink stems will soften and droop in no time at all, so you can't hang about.  I've given you a couple of recipes in the past and, if you want to know more about rhubarb or to see the recipes, the links are below.  What you really need to know is the best way to poach it; then there are so many possibilities. Throughout January and February I make a weekly dish of poached rhubarb to pop in the fridge. It will happily  keep this way for up to a week and is perfect for creating a quick dessert when things get hectic.

Eating lunch in London tapas bar Barrafina this week, I was surprised, and frankly a little alarmed, to be offered a Spanish take on the English Rhubarb Crumble.  I very nearly skipped it but was glad I didn't. Layers of poached rhubarb and whipped cream were sandwiched elegantly, in a Martini glass, between crushed almond biscuit crumbs.  OK, so nothing radical there, but it was the spicing which sold me on the dish.  I sometimes poach my rhubarb with either vanilla sugar or pod.  Here they had used not only vanilla and cinnamon but there was a hint of clove too, and it really worked. So here's my way of poaching rhubarb with the addition of cloves.  Having recently learnt that cloves contain vanillin, it perhaps should have come as less of a surprise to me that cloves would be sympathetic.

I don't endorse products but, if you are using vanilla, I'd urge you to seek out the brand Ndali, especially as we are about to enter Fairtrade Fortnight (25 February-10 March).  The Ugandan Ndali cooperative produces exceptional quality vanilla and its principles deserve support.

Poached spiced rhubarb

1 kg pink forced rhubarb
175-200g caster sugar
Half a vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped out
1 whole clove
Juice of half an orange (optional)

Heat oven to 160C.  Wash and trim the rhubarb and cut into 1 inch/2cm lengths.  Place in an ovenproof dish.  Sprinkle over the sugar (and add orange juice if using).  Tuck the half vanilla pod and seeds and the whole clove in with the rhubarb.  Cover with greaseproof paper or foil and cook for about 40 minutes, stirring gently once.  Check after 40 minutes - the fruit should be soft, yet still holding its shape.  Remove from oven and, using a slotted spoon, gently place the rhubarb in a bowl.  Discard the clove. Wash the vanilla pod and leave to dry (once dry it can be added to a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar).  Pour the juice into a small heavy-based pan, bring it to the boil then simmer until the juice is reduced by half.  Cool and stir the thickened juice gently into the fruit.  The compote will keep, covered, in the fridge for up to a week.

Links which might interest you:
Rhubarb Triangle & Rhubarb Mess
Rhubarb & Ginger Polenta Cake