>> Saturday, May 8, 2010

For some reason I have always associated rhubarb with winter.

Even the name sounds barren and hardy; a vegetable to brave the cold. That’s right, vegetable. Even though it’s pink and us westerners always eat it sweetened or as a compliment to meat, it’s a vegetable which starts to appear in early spring and most certainly is not a fruit. It’ll boost your Vitamin C levels and up your dietary fibre, but if you need more than just one excuse to add it to your shopping basket; it sure is pretty.

Up until he moved into a rest home a few years ago, my pépé has always grown his own rhubarb in his back garden. Huge, enthusiastic plants which exploded from the ground and took over their corner of the vegetable patch. I can always remember him grabbing his French Opinel knife and stretching down without bending his knees to cut a healthy bunch of thick rhubarb into a plastic bag for us to take home. No one else we knew grew rhubarb (or really ate it) and as a result I tend to associate it with my family more than any other vegetable or fruit. All the rhubarb my grandfather grew was either melted down into a delicious, caramely compote by my grandmother, stewed to go on top of cereal or added to a fruit crumble.

To me, rhubarb will always be a particularly French vegetable.

But I’m in London, and last weekend was cold and windy and didn’t quite know what to do with itself. So I made something typically English.

Rhubarb and custard.

Oh deliciousness. The rhubarb is tart and syrupy sweet, and leaves your mouth slightly dry. The custard is velvety, luxurious and tastes just how home should make you feel; warm and contented.

I felt a bit naughty using almost a litre of full fat cream to make this, so for next time I’m going to find a recipe that uses milk instead of cream. But oh, the cream is so good. And if you only eat it once in a while, then who’s to know?

Homemade custard is surprisingly easy to make. It tastes richer and so much more real that anything you can buy in supermarkets. Once you try it for yourself, I don't think you'll ever go back to the plasticy, slightly fluorescent kind from a carton.

Chris and I had this for dessert on Sunday night while watching a movie we rented from the library. We had seconds and afterwards I didn’t feel full or overwhelmed by the sugar and creaminess at all. It's a relatively light dessert - the rhubarb and traces of cinnamon and star anise keeping the richness of the custard in check.

It's a bit chilly in London again this weekend. I feel like making another pot of custard and warming myself up. But, I'll resist. There are six egg whites waiting for me in the fridge, so I'll be good and bake something else equally delicious if not quite as satisfying as a bowl of shiny custard. Coconut macaroons? To be continued....

Vanilla Custard
(adapted from Modern Classics Book 2 by Donna Hay)

3 cups (24 fl oz) single or pouring cream
1 spilt and scraped vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla essence)
6 egg yolks
1/3 cup caster sugar
2 tablespoons cornflour
1/3 cup milk

Heat cream and split vanilla bean and seeds (or vanilla essence) in a saucepan over a low to medium heat until hot but not boiling. Stir regularly to keep from scorching the bottom of the pot.

Whisk together egg yolks and caster sugar until doubled in volume.

In a separate bowl, mix cornflour and milk until well combined.

Slowly pour the hot vanilla cream over the egg mixture, one ladleful at a time, whisking well during and after each addition to ensure the egg does not separate. Whisk in the cornflour mixture until combined. Return to the saucepan and stir slowly over low heat for 4-8 minutes until the desired consistency is achieved. The longer you leave the custard to cook, the thicker it will become.

Serve warm. Makes about 3 1/2 cups.

Baked Spiced Rhubarb
(adapted from Nigel Slater in The Observer Magazine)

400g young rhubarb
3 heaped tablespoons liquid honey
a small orange
a cinnamon stick
2 whole star anise

Set the oven at 160°C. Trim the rhubarb and cut it into short lengths. Put the pieces into a baking dish, then trickle over the honey. Zest the orange then cut in half and squeeze the juice over the rhubarb. Add the orange shells to the dish along with the cinnamon stick, star anise and orange zest. Cover with a piece of foil or a lid, then bake for 30 minutes, or until the rhubarb is soft but has kept it's shape.

Serve a few pieces spooned on top of some of the warm vanilla custard.


Kelly Cook September 13, 2010 at 9:50 PM  

Yum! Love the star anise inclusion :) Rhubarb was also something grown by my grandfather, and it was always made with custard (he was English after all). I've really been craving something custardy or crumbley this weekend as the rain started so may have to give this a go - I think I've even seen rhubarb in the supermarket, although I almost feel wrong buying it... kind of like feijoas!

I think my favourite part of this is the fact that once you've used the yolks you've then got a perfectly good excuse to bake something else!

If only I didn't have 4 more hours of work left today!

natalie September 14, 2010 at 10:07 PM  

You definitely should! So delicious and perfect to have when it's cold and rainy outside.

I feel totally the same way about buying rhubarb in the supermarket... I can't quite believe how much they charge for only three or four stems! Ridiculous - especially considering how easy it is to grow.

Let me know how it turns out if you do try it!

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