Sunday, March 26, 2017

Rhubarb and Patience

I have never been a fan of rhubarb.  Stringy and bitter with poisonous leaves.  How did it ever end up on anyone's table?  However, Peter loves it and we grow it in the garden.  Every Sunday during the season I stew a few stalks and he has a spoonful every day for breakfast.  This summer we planted an all-year round variety so now we have twice as much.  I don't like to not eat the food we produce so I did a little investigation.  I can tell you now that rhubarb is a vegetable, not a fruit and if you eat it as dinner rather than pudding it is actually very palatable [=delicious (ed.)].
Start with a simple rhubarb and chard dish. I served this with pork sausages.  If you cook the sausages first in a pan and set aside,  you can cook the chard and rhubarb in the same pan. Add 1 finely chopped shallot to the pan and cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add a little olive oil if required. Stir in 1 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds and 2 finely chopped garlic cloves. Cook 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup thinly sliced rhubarb and 500g rainbow chard leaves, a handful at a time, with a large pinch of salt. You can thinly slice the chard stalks and add some with the rhubarb, but I don't think you want them all.  I always save the stalks if I don't use them straight away and use them up during the week.  Cook until the greens wilt and become tender, about 10 minutes. Season with more salt and pepper. Serve sausages on top of greens.
What about a chicken tagine with rhubarb?  Start by poaching some rhubarb. Combine 1 1/4 cups water and 1 cup sugar in a medium saucepan. Add vanilla seeds and pod. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stir until sugar dissolves and add 2 cups diced rhubarb. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer rhubarb for 5 minutes, or until it can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife but remains intact. Do not overcook or else rhubarb will fall apart. Strain rhubarb over a bowl. Put the syrup aside to use another day.
Now on to the chicken.  I used bone-in leg quarters - what used to be called a Maryland - but you could use boneless thighs if you are delicate about bones. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add 2 tbsp olive oil. When oil is hot, brown chicken pieces, in batches, on both sides until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Remove and set aside.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the Dutch oven and add 1 finely chopped onion. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze, until onion begins to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1 each of finely chopped carrot and leek. Cook, stirring often, for 3 to 4 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add a clove of crushed garlic and cook, stirring, about a minute. Add 1/2 tsp turmeric and 1 tsp sweet paprika and stir.
Return chicken to Dutch oven and add 1 cup chicken stock, 1 cinnamon stick, 1/2 tsp sugar and salt to taste. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat, cover and simmer 35 minutes. Add 4-6 pitted green olives then cover and simmer another 15 to 20 minutes, or until chicken is falling off the bones. Stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons  of the rhubarb syrup. Season to taste.
Before serving, stir in parsley and 1 cup of the poached rhubarb and heat through over low heat.  Serve with rice or couscous.
You can make a delicate jelly with the leftover poaching liquid.  You need 4 leaves of gelatin for 2 1/4 cups of liquid.  Soften the gelatin in a bowl of cold water.  Make the rhubarb syrup up to the 2 1/4 cups by topping up with soda or prosecco.  Add a tsp of lemon juice.  Bring the liquid to the boil and take off the heat.  Squeeze out the gelatin leaves and stir into the hot liquid.  Pour into a dish and refrigerate to set.  I had made mine too late in the day and it was not quite firm enough so I just spooned into a glass with lemon jelly and lemon sorbet.  If you are prepared, your jelly will have set so that you can cut it into cubes and decoratively arrange on a plate.
Now that I am on a bit of a rhubarb roll, I made another rhubarby pudding.
First I made a rhubarb spoom.  Yes that is a thing. Cut about 4 stalks of rhubarb into 2 cm lengths and put in a saucepan with 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar (or less according to your taste).  Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved, bring to the boil and simmer covered until the rhubarb is tender about 5 minutes.  Cool and puree until very smooth then chill completely.  Stir in 1 tbsp rosewater. Beat two egg whites until they form soft peaks.  Add 2 tbsp sugar and beat until you have stiff peaks.  Now this is the magic.  Fold the egg white into the puree making sure they are completely mixed.  Transfer to a freezer-proof container and freeze for four hours.  You now have a smooth creamy mixture that contains no fat and has not required churning.
Finally, I roasted some rhubarb. Cut about 8 stalks of  rhubarb into 6 cm pieces and place in a medium bowl. Finely grate the zest of half an orange over the rhubarb and then squeeze the juice of the whole orange into the bowl. Split 2 vanilla beans and scrape out the seeds and place both in the bowl. Add 2 tbsp liquid honey and stir to combine. Pour the rhubarb into a baking dish and arrange the pieces so that they lie flat. Bake at 175 for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the vanilla pods. Serve the rhubarb and the spoom with the syllabub from October 2014.

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