Brilliant pink rhubarb makes most waves or, more accurately, the loudest pop) at the middle to end of January. It’s almost March now (WTF?). But there are still plenty of lovely stalks around, even though some of them will be from Holland, not Yorkshire.
A few years ago (around chef school time, I suppose), I was keen to ensure the rhubarb I cooked appeared in perfect, uniform, glossed and tender but still firm and very much regimented fashion on my plate. Next to a pannacotta or something. That required a gentle, closely observed simmer or sauté on a hob.
Uptight cooking doesn’t necessarily lead to the most enjoyable eating, though. And of late, I’ve taken to giving rhubarb batons a short-ish and aggressively sharp roast in the oven. After 15 minutes or so, you’re left with a mix of blistered batons, slightly uncooked ones, some that are breaking into strands. Left to cool, firm and mingle for a while, these all come together to form the perfect compote: of seasonal fruit and its syrup, which are at once sweet and sour, soft but textured.
All of which leads me towards the recipe in my February 2016 Borough Market herb guide: bay leaf rice pudding and roast rhubarb.
Bay leaf rice pudding and roast rhubarb
Serves 4-6, depending on appetite
- 800g forced rhubarb (trimmed weight)
- 12 fresh bay leaves
- 105g golden caster sugar
- 1 vanilla pod
- 900g whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom from Spice Mountain
- 180g short grain pudding rice
- 150g double cream
Heat your oven to 220C.
Wash and trim the rhubarb, then cut into 5-6cm batons. Tip these into an aluminium, enamel, pyrex or earthenware roasting tray or baking tray (coated steel or not so non stick any more trays can discolour the rhubarb). Sprinkle with 80g of the golden caster sugar and add 8 bay leaves. Fold (but don’t tear) each of the bay leaves a few times to release the oils. Mix the contents of the tray a little and leave for 10 minutes as the oven warms and the sugar draws a little moisture out from the rhubarb.
When the oven is up to temperature, place the tray of rhubarb right at the top and roast for 18-20 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft, blistered, with a few charred spots. Remove from the oven and place on a heatproof mat. Try not to disturb the rhubarb batons at this point – they’re very soft and too many of them will breakdown into mushy strings if you move them. Simply ensure that the bay leaves and vanilla pods are under syrup and leave to cool to room temperature – when more of those bay and vanilla flavours will have seeped into the syrup, and the rhubarb will have hardened a little.
Start cooking the rice pudding after the rhubarb is cooked (to give it time to cool).
Measure out the milk and pour into a large saucepan. Add the remaining 25g of sugar and the ground cardamom. Cut the vanilla pod in half and scrape out the seeds using the top, blunt edge of a small knife. Put those seeds in the milk, then cut the vanilla pod halves in half again, and add to the rhubarb. Add the rice to the milk, then place on a medium heat to bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 30-35 minutes, stirring regularly to encourage a creamy texture. It’s ready when the grains of rice have absorbed the milk, is swollen, tender and not at all nutty or grainy.
Finish the rice pudding by removing the bay leaves and stirring the double cream through it. The cream might make it seem a little loose, but stir for a minute then leave to rest for 5 – when it will set a little.
Serve with a big spoon of the cooled rhubarb on top, plus another spoon or two of the rhubarb juices.