Of course there was going to be fool given the date, and of course there was going to be rhubarb, since the first new seasonâ€™s stalks finally made their way into my local supermarket.
I love rhubarb inordinately. My mother loves rhubarb too â€“ stewed to a pale pink pulp, poured over yoghurt, topped with vanilla ice cream, crumbled â€“ you name it, sheâ€™ll eat it. When I was little sheâ€™d buy bags of rhubarb and stand at the kitchen counter chopping it and dropping it into the oven dish. Iâ€™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 itâ€™s worth investing when thereâ€™s a seasonal glut and itâ€™s going for a song.
Rhubarb fool is one of the purest forms of â€œcookingâ€ with rhubarb â€“ the vegetable (yes, itâ€™s a vegetable) is poached to a soft, sweet puddle, then swirled into whipped cream and spooned into glasses. Itâ€™s perfection just as it is, but a rhubarb fool pavlova is a seriously beautiful, impressive desert. Again, thereâ€™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.
Iâ€™d suggest a desert first dinner â€“ rhubarb fool followed by some great cheese, a French loaf, some celery and a bunch of grapes. I love backwards dinners â€“ they benefit from feeling ever so slightly naughty â€“ weâ€™ve been brought up to expect and to eat a â€œproperâ€ meal but actually weâ€™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 youâ€™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 â€“ 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 â€“ I like it to be rippled with pink
If youâ€™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 thereâ€™s no oil at all (or the eggs wonâ€™t whisk up)
- Tip the eggs into the mixing bowl and get whisking. If any egg yolk gets near the whites they wonâ€™t mix up, so I break each one into a separate cup so if a bit of yolk catches on one I donâ€™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 â€“ but donâ€™t over beat them or theyâ€™ll fall again) add the sugar 1oz at a time with the beaters running until itâ€™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 doesnâ€™t feel hard to the touch, leave it in â€“ and make notes â€“ this is how you learn about your ovenâ€™s quirks â€“ itâ€™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 â€“ preferably overnight, but for at least a couple of hours
- When youâ€™re ready to serve, invert the pavlova base onto a plate â€“ the bottom, which is slightly squidgy-ier melds with the cream, and makes the whole things extra delicious â€“ also, itâ€™s flat
- Top with the rhubarb fool and pour over the syrup before serving