Fooling With Rhubarb
If you ever want to try eating vegetables for breakfast, you can do it with rhubarb. I just did -- and it's making me swoon.
Actually, I hadn't planned on eating rhubarb for breakfast; I was layering the rhube with strawberries and whipped cream for a photo of a "fool," a sublime parfait type of dessert that you must try at least once in your lifetime.
As I spooned my way through the pillowy cream to get to the satiny mauve puree, it occurred to me that yogurt would be lovely in place of the cream, particularly at 8 o'clock in the morning. And then -- oh yes! -- maybe I had a seasonal topper for the dreaded morning cholesterol-lowering oatmeal I'm supposed to be eating.
It was last year at this time that I feasted on rhubarb, and already I'm beginning to miss it. Catch it while you can -- it will be here maybe until early June -- and then poof! you must sup on memories. However, if you live in the Pacific Northwest or will be traveling that way this summer, you'll get plenty of rhubey opportunities. This relative of buckwheat likes chilly climes.
For rhubarb lovers closer to the south, you can stock up on stalks and freeze them for later use, when berries and cherries and plums come to town, for crisps, pies, chilled soups and fools, of course. The flavor mix-matching possibilities seem endless (Hey, what about asparagus and rhubarb?), but please, whatever you decide, DON'T EAT THE LEAVES. They're poisonous.
Now, back to that fool, pictured above. The name comes from the French word "fouler," which means "to mash." And that is what a fool is -- mashed up fruit, sitting pretty in a parfait glass. You want to pick acidic subjects -- they love the fat of the cream -- so passion fruit, kiwi and raspberries would all make respectable fools.
Stewing rhubarb is a lot easier than it sounds, by the way; you chop it up, throw it into a saucepan, and add a wee bit of water and some sugar. Cook over low heat, covered (to create moisture) and then uncovered, to let liquid reduce. That's it.
The recipe below, which I've consulted on several occasions, calls for the addition of rose syrup, which is a sweetened syrup made from rose petal extract found in Middle East groceries. It's lusciously heady and aromatic, but unnecessary if there is none to be found. I have use rose water as well with great results.
Jeff Cox, in his "The Organic Cook's Bible," suggests stewing rhubarb with honey and grated ginger, a combination that is begging to be paired with a scone or perhaps even a piece of halibut (or maybe even some scallops).
And please, if you've got one up your sleeve, share your favorite way to eat rhubarb in the comments area below!
Adapted from June 2005 issue of Food & Wine magazine
1 1/4 pounds (3-4 medium stalks) rhubarb, trimmed of leaves, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 cup (or 1 ounce) water
1/8 cup rose syrup (optional; see note)
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 pound strawberries, thinly sliced (about 1 1/4 cups)
In a large saucepan, combine the rhubarb, sugar and water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb breaks down, about 10 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring often, until the liquid has evaporated and the rhubarb is thick and jammy, about 10 minutes longer.
Put rhubarb in a bowl. Refrigerate until chilled.
Stir the rose syrup (if using) and lemon juice into the cooled rhubarb.
In a medium bowl, beat the heavy cream with confectioner's sugar until soft peaks form.
Spoon half of the rhubarb into 5 wine or parfait glasses and top with half of the sliced strawberries and half of the whipped cream. Repeat with the remaining rhubarb, strawberries and cream.
Serve immediately. Recipe may be doubled. The stewed rhubarb can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight.
Note: Rose syrup is a sweetened aromatic syrup found in Middle Eastern groceries. A splash of unsweetened rose water is also nice for dessert aromatherapy.
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