Rhubarb is the perfect spring time ingredient and it can be used in so many ways to add a fruity vibrancy to many dishes, both sweet and savoury.
Botanically speaking, rhubarb is a vegetable, though in 1947 a court in New York ruled that rhubarb is a fruit, and indeed many people regard it as a fruit. Easy to grow, rhubarb comes up faithfully every year in the garden, and when the large green leaves appear there are usually plenty of pink stalks to pick and use in so many ways.
Rhubarb is rich in several B-complex vitamins such as folates, riboflavin and niacin, and the pink stalks contain vitamins A and K. Low in calories, rhubarb also contains minerals such as iron, copper, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. Enough of the science. This versatile stalk can be used to make some lovely springtime desserts.
Cooked rhubarb can of course be used to make wonderful pies, crumbles and tarts, either alone or combined with other fruits such as apples, pears or plums, but if you have some leftover cold custard (tinned or carton custard is also brilliant), one of the easiest desserts to conjure up in a few minutes is rhubarb fool.
Start by poaching the rhubarb chunks in a saucepan with a little orange juice, and when tender, mash or puree the rhubarb and sweeten to taste. When cold, simply fold in some custard and a little whipped cream for sheer indulgence, and serve in individual glasses.
Try adding small chunks of raw rhubarb to muffins for an unusual and fruity tang, and combined into chocolate brownie mixture alongside the chocolate chunks, rhubarb adds an interesting depth of flavour which cuts through the richness of the chocolate. Hey presto, you’re getting one of your five a day while enjoying a brownie or a muffin!
Try the same with flapjack, sponge or fruit loaf. A slice of any of these, arranged on a nice white plate with a drizzle of combined rhubarb juice and apricot jam, alongside a dollop (or quenelle if you’re feeling clever) of clotted cream or creme fraiche, would make a very worthy spring time dessert. It also makes you look very clever for turning that humble yet healthy stalk into a divine and seasonal treat.
Cooked rhubarb can be swirled into ice cream to make a deliciously zingy, rippled ice cream, and it can proudly top a cheesecake, either alone or partnered with a little grated orange zest and a grinding of nutmeg.
Rhubarb and custard are a match made in heaven, and using up the rest of that cold custard, cooked rhubarb can be the surprise star of a delicious spring trifle when layered among the sherry-soaked sponge pieces.
As an alternative to stewing, lightly roasting chunks of sugar-dusted rhubarb until tender, in the oven on a baking tray, helps to keep the shape, and these delicate pieces can then be used to adorn the top of a trifle, as well as ice cream, or creme brulee.
Try folding into Greek yoghurt, then divide among individual dishes and sprinkle over some muscovado sugar. Left in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours, the dark sugar melts to form a rich, sticky sauce, that contrasts beautifully with the tangy rhubarb, and guests will think you spent ages making this simple yet tempting dessert.
For the more adventurous, why not try your hand at a rhubarb syllabub, or rhubarb curd which is heavenly when sandwiched between Victoria sponge layers and whipped cream. Puff pastry opens up interesting avenues to rhubarb mille feuille, and filo pastry might lead to an unusual strudel, especially when combined with some sweetened ricotta cheese.
If you can make a crisp, buttery pastry tart case, then it’s a short hop to producing an elegant rhubarb and custard tart, creme patissiere or that cold custard again, finally topped with some gently baked rhubarb sticks arranged artfully.
The possibilities for rhubarb desserts are endless, and really, the only limit is your imagination.