I know that warmer weather has arrived when I can harvest the first sticks from my rhubarb patch. I watch carefully throughout March as the stems thicken and then monitor daily throughout April to check for just the right hue of pink that signals the fruit is ripe and ready for picking before it becomes stringy and coarse. And yes I know it’s really a vegetable not a fruit but ….
we all tend to treat it like the latter using it in puddings, cakes and sweet sauces, although I have experimented successfully with new uses in savoury sauces, gratins and believe it or not stir-fries!
One of my most successful was using it in a fried rice mixture with prawns, crispy vegetables, Chinese seasonings and herbs. You could of course use cauliflower rice if you can’t tolerate the usual rice offering.
However, most of the early rhubarb recipes I turn to involve using the tender stems in poached fruit dishes, tarts, cakes and sauces where minimal cooking is applied so the colour shines through and the fruit stays whole or in shape. Older, tougher stems get the baked or blitzed treatment in crumbles, bakes, sauces and toppings for my porridge or breakfast yogurt.
One of the very first I have developed this year is a sort of pound type cake that is studded with sliced rhubarb and flavoured with orange – a great if familiar pairing. It stores well in an airtight tin in the refrigerator for up to 5 days and can be frozen (closely wrapped) too. It makes a wonderful teatime treat but also pudding when served warm with yogurt. It may sound strange, but trust me on this, it’s extra special if sprinkled with a little ground black pepper. It works on the same principle of adding pepper to sliced strawberries – a delicious taste once you overcome the doubt!
RHUBARB AND ORANGE LOAF
225g plain flour/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
250g/8 oz xylobrit or the equivalent to 225g/8 oz caster/superfine sugar as your chosen sweetener
250g/1 cup fat-free plain quark
3 eggs, separated
grated zest and juice of 1/2 orange
125 ml/1/2 cup oil
200 g/7 oz rhubarb, sliced
1. Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F/gas mark 4. Grease the base and sides of a 900g/2 lb loaf tin/pan and line the base with non-stick baking parchment.
2. Sift all but 1 tbsp of the flour with the baking powder and xylobrit (or other chosen sweetener) into a bowl. Mix the quark with the egg yolks, orange zest and juice and oil. Toss the rhubarb with the 1 tbsp flour to coat. Whisk the egg whites in a clean oil-free bowl until soft peaks form.
3. Stir the quark mixture into the dry ingredients then add one-third of the egg whites and mix well. Carefully stir in the rhubarb taking care not to break up and bruise. Fold in the remaining egg whites with a metal spoon.
4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 50-60 minutes or until well-risen, golden and firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the tin before turning out to slice and serve with yogurt if liked.
MAKES 16 SLICES
WLS PORTION: 1/2-1 SLICE
V suitable for Vegetarians
CALORIES PER SLICE: 185
Mini Rhubarb Crumbles from ‘Return to Slender … Second Helpings (see here)