Think you don’t like rhubarb? Think again. Elisha Young (aka @elisha.eats on Instagram) is here to convince you that it makes the perfect dessert for the month of love
For some, the mention of rhubarb conjures images of unappetising, khaki-coloured slush, with a mouth-puckeringly sour taste and stringy texture. Too often in the British culinary tradition, rhubarb has been cooked to oblivion and used to traumatise a generation of children. But I’m here to change your mind, by telling you about the wonders of forced rhubarb.
Produced within a specific area of Yorkshire called ‘the rhubarb triangle’, forced rhubarb is grown in huge sheds to deprive it of light. This ‘forcing’ means the resulting stalks are much thinner and a more vibrant pink – and sweeter, too. The plant has to be harvested by candlelight and, in its search for sunlight, grows so quickly (up to an inch a day) that the sound is audible to the human ear.
You can replicate this in your garden. Either use a rhubarb forcer – which looks like a large terracotta urn – or repurpose a big bin by turning it upside down over your plant. You have to do this early enough, before it starts sprouting, or depriving it of sunlight won’t have the desired effect. Last year, we tried this in my garden using a broken water butt, and it worked so well, I ended up having to invent new and exciting things to put rhubarb in – which wasn’t difficult, as I love its sharp flavour.
When combined with sugar, the acidity of the plant is balanced and becomes tart and a little sour – a bit like lemon. If you want to experiment, take thin slices of raw rhubarb and dip them in caster sugar to create a sherbet-like flavour sensation. From soufflés to frangipane tarts, jellies, crumbles, pies and rice pudding, rhubarb goes well with pretty much any sweet treat.
For options in Cambridge, I highly recommend the zingy sorbet from Jack’s Gelato. There’s also Galleria on Bridge Street, which combines rhubarb with brandy to top its baked vanilla cheesecake, while Browns offers the unusual pairing of rhubarb and scallops with smoked pancetta and pea shoots. Rhubarb gin is easily available in most bars (Warner’s Distillery’s is excellent in a G&T), but if you prefer cocktails, try The Tipsy Vegan’s ‘Trouble in the Orchard’, with apple, lemongrass, lime leaf and rhubarb.
Since this is the month of love, why not use this beautiful, pink plant to wow your significant other? I suggest an impressive vanilla panna cotta with poached rhubarb.
Making panna cotta may seem daunting, but it’s fast, simple and only uses five ingredients. Heat 300ml double cream, 150ml milk, 75g caster sugar and 2 tsp vanilla bean paste in a saucepan over a low heat until just steaming. Add two platinum-strength gelatine leaves that have been bloomed in cold water, and stir until thoroughly dissolved. Then pour the mixture into ramekins or moulds and leave to set in the fridge overnight. Cut your rhubarb stalks into inch-long sections and place on a tray, then sprinkle with a generous coating of caster sugar and a splash of water. Cover the tray with tinfoil and cook in a 160°C oven for 20-25 minutes – leave to cool in the fridge.
The result is a smooth, luscious custard that’s gently fragranced with vanilla and simply melts in your mouth – contrasted with the sweet sharpness of poached rhubarb. If your other half didn’t love you before, they certainly will now!
For more foodie content, check out these recipes from Titchwell Manor’s very own head chef here!