What can I say? She’s a babe. Eight weeks ago rhubarb lay dormant in her own leafy compost, today with hot pink stalks and abundant crinkly leaves ablaze, she struts her stuff. These first leafings are positively iridescent in their exuberance. (Don’t even think about eating them!) Enough for a small bowl of sauce.
The backyard scene is brimming with adolescent attitude. Lilacs on the brink, daffodils almost done now, and aromatic evergreen Clematis in full array. Small lettuce starts in the back row are growing like weeds, peas planted two weeks ago are just barely peaking out, surrounded optimistically by sturdy poles for their climbing, garlic and the leeks’ green leaves become more robust every day, chives have been around for weeks now, sorrel has come into its own, plenty of dandelions too, and in the far corner by herself, rhubarb.
Rhubarb in the garden is a lot like tending the kale plants each year, which is almost not at all. Once established, rhubarb literally takes care of itself and feeds us from March into June. With kale, it’s October through March and then florets take over for a few weeks, a prelude to their final seasonal bow.
I arrived home from a workshop late afternoon Saturday, brain improved perhaps, but frustrated that I’d missed a beauty of a day outside, the Vernal Equinox. First day of spring. Buoyed by scents of green and flowers and buds from the backyard, I slipped through whispers of fragrance on the way to the back door. The balmy day had stirred the earth and warmed the plants into celebration. It was a divine first-day-of-spring moment, frustrations swept away.
I’ll make the first rhubarb pie on Easter weekend as usual, and there will be a few more on the table throughout spring along with rhubarb crisps, rhubarb sauce, rhubarb chutney. Today it’s Rhubarb Fool, made with a few of the earliest stalks, star anise and served with Greek yogurt. Traditionally you would use whipped cream for a Fool, but I have this delectable yogurt.
You might ask yourself, what is a Fool, dessert-wise? Plenty of ways to play with that name. I’m a fool for wordplay myself, but I’ll try to refrain. I said I’d try.
Fruit Fool is a classic British dessert, dated as early as the 16th century, usually consisting of fruit puree, whipped cream and whipped egg whites. It’s the perfect backdrop for any seasonal fruit.
Rhubarb Fool with yogurt is dessert- or brunch-worthy. To make it fancy (and traditional), substitute whipped cream for the yogurt if you’re so inclined, and make the little rhubarb curls for garnish, crunchy and delicious. It’s all easy and fast, especially if you have rhubarb growing in the backyard or in the neighborhood (ask first). Local rhubarb is available at Farmer’s Markets for the next few weeks too. Rhubarb might be one of those things you have to have grown up eating, which I, fortunately, did. If you haven’t tried rhubarb before give it a shot. Making a small pot of sauce is a deliciously easy start.
First Days of Spring Rhubarb Fool
Place a spoonful of this sauce in the bottom of a glass, then a spoonful of Greek Yogurt or whipped cream, more sauce, more yogurt and so on. Since the sauce is sweetened, this is good with Greek yogurt, plain and unsweetened, or a mix. Top it off with a drizzle of the sauce’s syrupy juice and a sprig of mint if you have it. Your Fool is ready. (It’s tempting, but I’m not going there.)
4 C rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
2/3 C sugar (let it cook a bit, taste it and add more or less sugar while sauce is still piping hot)
1 Star Anise, and/or 1 T finely chopped candied ginger
1/2 t salt
Bring it all to a gentle simmer in a saucepan, let it boil for 3 or 4 minutes, cover, turn off heat and let sit for another 5 minutes/ Place in a bowl and refrigerate before serving/ You could strain excess juice off the rhubarb, return it to the pan to simmer and reduce by about half/ This makes a nice syrup for drizzling over each serving. Assemble these ahead of time and let them sit in the fridge for a while – something good happens as it sets, can’t explain it. Drizzle with syrup and a crispy curl just before serving.
Candied Rhubarb Curls: A little fussy (not much), these are worth it. A garnish that make this super simple seasonal dessert smashing. Using a vegetable peeler, peel a dozen or so 6-inch strips of rhubarb off the stalk. Dip into sugar syrup, place on parchment so that they’re not touching each other, and bake for 45 minutes at 200º. The moment they’re removed from the oven, briefly wrap each one around the end of a wooden spoon and set aside. A few were too crisp to curl, but still delish. They’re a wonderful crunchy counterpoint to the soft yogurt and rhubarb sauce.
To make sugar syrup: place equal parts water and sugar in a saucepan (I used 1/4 C each) and simmer until sugar is completely dissolved.
Enjoy your Fool.
Thanks to Epicurious for inspiration for the Fool and crispy curls.