Of course there was going to be fool given the date, and of course there was going to be rhubarb, since the first new season’s stalks finally made their way into my local supermarket.
I love rhubarb inordinately. My mother loves rhubarb too – stewed to a pale pink pulp, poured over yoghurt, topped with vanilla ice cream, crumbled – you name it, she’ll eat it. When I was little she’d buy bags of rhubarb and stand at the kitchen counter chopping it and dropping it into the oven dish. I’d be given a stick of raw sour rhubarb to chew on, and a little bowl of sugar to dip it into. For every bunch I buy, one stick is sacrificed to re-creating this food memory.
Once the rhubarb is cooked, it can be frozen, so it’s worth investing when there’s a seasonal glut and it’s going for a song.
Rhubarb fool is one of the purest forms of “cooking” with rhubarb – the vegetable (yes, it’s a vegetable) is poached to a soft, sweet puddle, then swirled into whipped cream and spooned into glasses. It’s perfection just as it is, but a rhubarb fool pavlova is a seriously beautiful, impressive desert. Again, there’s no great culinary secret. You make a pav, you top it with fool. You spoon some syrup over the top. And life is very, very good.
I’d suggest a desert first dinner – rhubarb fool followed by some great cheese, a French loaf, some celery and a bunch of grapes. I love backwards dinners – they benefit from feeling ever so slightly naughty – we’ve been brought up to expect and to eat a “proper” meal but actually we’re eating treats! A topsy turvey day like April 1st needs no other excuse.
For the rhubarb fool:1 kg pink rhubarb (as pink as you can find or you’ll end up with a khaki puree) 350 g sugar 1 vanilla pod 500 ml cream
- Pre heat the oven to 350F
- Wash and slice the rhubarb into coins and tip into an oven-proof dish
- Pour over the sugar
- Slice the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape out the seeds, adding them to the dish. Mix well
- Cover with foil and bake for 45 mins until soft
- Drain the rhubarb, collecting the juice, then puree the rhubarb until smooth (I sometimes skip this step – I like the texture of cooked rhubarb)
- Pour the juice into a pan and reduce by half until it forms a thick pink syrup
- Let the rhubarb and the syrup come to room temperature
- Whip the cream and stir in the rhubarb puree – I like it to be rippled with pink
If you’re serving it at this stage, which would be delicious, spoon into glasses and drizzle over some of the syrup
For the pavlova:3 egg whites 6 oz caster sugar A cut lemon
- Pre heat the oven to 2750F
- Wash and dry the mixing bowl and whisk (an electric whisk is a good idea here), then wipe them with the cut side of a lemon to make sure there’s no oil at all (or the eggs won’t whisk up)
- Tip the eggs into the mixing bowl and get whisking. If any egg yolk gets near the whites they won’t mix up, so I break each one into a separate cup so if a bit of yolk catches on one I don’t have to throw the other two out
- Once the egg whites are whisked into stiff peaks (you should be able to turn the bowl upside down without them falling out – but don’t over beat them or they’ll fall again) add the sugar 1oz at a time with the beaters running until it’s incorporated
- Draw an 8inch (approx) circle on a piece of baking parchment, then turn it over (so the pencil line never touches the food) and dollup the meringue mixture onto it. Use a spatula to smooth the top and sides
- Put into the oven and immediately turn down the heat to 250F. Leave the meringue for an hour (it should look pretty cooked at this point. If it doesn’t feel hard to the touch, leave it in – and make notes – this is how you learn about your oven’s quirks – it’s amazing how much they vary.)
- Once the meringue feels hard to the touch, turn the heat off and leave it in the oven to dry out – preferably overnight, but for at least a couple of hours
- When you’re ready to serve, invert the pavlova base onto a plate – the bottom, which is slightly squidgy-ier melds with the cream, and makes the whole things extra delicious – also, it’s flat
- Top with the rhubarb fool and pour over the syrup before serving