For those of you who missed my set of seasonal rhubarb recipes when they came out in February, here they are. Of course they work with main season rhubarb but try them now with the pink forced version that’s in now.
With its delicate slender stems with their distinctive, almost Barbie pink colour, yellow leaves and fine acidic flavour, new season’s rhubarb is a welcome sight for the cook yearning for fresh British grown fruit in the midst of the dark days of winter. At this time of year rhubarb is ‘forced’ – grown in the dark in warm sheds, where the sound of the rhubarb cracking as it grows can be heard, to produce brightly coloured tender stalks that are harvested by candlelight.
As a child of the Second World War my mother hated rhubarb because there was never enough sugar to make it palatable. And she was right – adding enough sugar is the secret to successful rhubarb cooking. Forced rhubarb is more delicate than the outdoor version so treat it with respect and cook it gently. I never get bored with its flavour and like its acidity as a partner for sweet and savoury dishes so – in a pavlova, classic pie or crumble or with fish or pork as in the recipes here.
Five spice belly pork with baked rhubarb
Pink forced rhubarb makes a lovely partner for pork as an alternative to apple sauce now of year as the acidity balances the rich meat perfectly – and this recipe served with creamy mash or roasted sweet potatoes makes the perfect comforting Sunday roast
Serves 4/Prep: 10 minutes/Cook: 1 ½ – 2 hours
750g piece free-range pork belly joint
½ tsp five spice powder
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp coarse sea salt
400g forced rhubarb, trimmed
50g caster sugar
2 – 3 star anise
1 Preheat the oven to 220C Gas 7. Remove the string from the joint and unroll. (If you buy your pork from the butchery counter it will be already scored but if not score the skin of the pork with a sharp knife.) Mix together the five-spice powder, pepper and salt and rub all over the skin, working it into the scored areas.
2 Place the pork skin side up in a roasting tin. Roast for 30 minutes. Lower the temperature to 180C Gas 4. Cook the pork for a further 1 hour until the skin is tender and starting to crisp.
3 Turn up the oven to 220C gas 7 again and give the pork a blast if the crackling needs crisping up. Remove the pork from the oven, transfer to a warm plate to rest while you roast the rhubarb. Slice the rhubarb into 5cm pieces then arrange in a single layer in a small roasting tin, add the star anise and scatter with the sugar. Cover with foil and roast for 15 minutes until the rhubarb is tender but still holding its shape. I like my pork with wedges of roasted sweet potato and steamed greens or sprouts for a comforting February Sunday lunch.
Rhubarb and orange polenta cake
With both oranges and rhubarb at their sweetest and best now bring them together for this simple versatile cake recipe, which works well as a pud with ice cream or in slices with tea or coffee
Makes one 20cm cake/Prep: 15 minutes/Cook: 1 – 1 ¼ hours
200g caster sugar
grated rind and juice of 1 large orange
3 medium eggs, beaten
1 ½ tsp baking powder
75g ground almonds
400g forced rhubarb, trimmed and thickly sliced
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 Preheat the oven to 180C/ Gas Mark 3. Butter and base-line a loose-bottomed deep 20cm cake tin. Cream the butter until soft then beat in the caster sugar and orange rind and continue beating until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs a spoonful at a time. Fold in the polenta, baking powder and ground almonds to give a soft mixture that drops easily off a wooden spoon. Spoon half the mixture over the base of the cake tin.
2 Arrange the rhubarb over the cake base then drop the rest of the mixture over the rhubarb, leaving gaps. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 – 1 ¼ hours until well-risen and golden and a skewer inserted into the centre emerges clean and dry. Make holes in the surface of the cake with a skewer then scatter the granulated sugar over the top of the cake and sprinkle with the orange juice,
3 Cool in the tin for 15 minutes then remove and leave on a wire rack to cool. Serve warm with crème fraiche or vanilla ice cream or cool completely and serve sliced with coffee.
Mackerel with soy, ginger and rhubarb
The oily flesh of mackerel goes well with a sweet-sour combination of soy, ginger, brown sugar and rhubarb in this easy meal for one. Or double up for a supper for two
Serves 1/Prep 5 minutes/Cook 20 – 25 minutes
100g forced rhubarb
1 whole medium mackerel, cleaned, head and tail removed
Small piece fresh ginger, shredded
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
¼ tsp dried chilli flakes
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp soft brown sugar
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 Preheat the oven to 190C gas mark 5. Oil a large piece of foil. Cut the rhubarb into 7cm lengths then each length into thin slices. Arrange in the middle of the foil. Place the mackerel on top of the rhubarb.
2 Season the fish then scatter over the ginger, garlic and chilli, pushing some into the cavity of the fish. Sprinkle the soy sauce, sugar and cider vinegar over the top. Fold in the sides of the foil and make a pleat along the top to make a neat parcel enclosing the fish.
3 Place the parcel on a baking sheet and cook for 20- 25 minutes until the fish is just cooked through. It should come away from the bone when you put a knife into the middle. Serve with steamed rice and stir fried Pak choi.
Three quick ideas with rhubarb
Layered rhubarb and ginger fool – bake rhubarb as for the belly pork but add a teaspoon of ground ginger rather than star anise. Check sweetness then puree and cool. Spoon a layer into the base of individual serving glasses then top with Madagascar vanilla custard then whipped cream. Serve with ginger shortbread biscuits
Rhubarb compote with vanilla – perfect with my breakfast yogurt, muesli or porridge, I like to gently poach sliced rhubarb with a couple of tablespoons of apple juice, caster sugar to taste and a split vanilla pod, aiming to keep the slices whole. Cool, remove the pod.
Open rhubarb and Demerara pie – toss sliced rhubarb with a third its weight of demerara sugar and a tablespoon or two of flour. Arrange over the centre of a sheet of all-butter shortcrust or puff pastry set on a baking sheet. Bring in the edges of the pastry to hold the filling but don’t cover completely. Brush the pastry with egg white and scatter with more sugar then bake in a hot oven until golden.