I wrote my love song to rhubarb in my post for Rhubarb-Almond Crumble, but it bears some slight repeating. To go through a spring without this sassy vegetable is something I can’t even consider.
Aside from the crumble that I ritualistically make every year, I make a huge batch of this roasted rhubarb. Tossed with sugar, covered, and placed in a hot oven it becomes soft and sweet. Those tart stalks holds their shape, and release some of their complex, almost perfumed essence, into the puce-pink syrup that’s created by the sugar. It is the pinnacle of rhubarb flavor. That syrup is like an elixir. Nectar of the gods. It’s liquid gold. Or rose gold? Maybe? Whatever.
I love it with Greek yogurt in the morning for breakfast. The rhubarb is still tart, as is the yogurt, but that syrup, cascading over the snow-white landscape, is not only beautiful, but also balances that tartness with a hit of sweet. Spooned over an eggy vanilla ice cream, heavily flecked with vanilla seeds, is equally good, and both are usually scattered with flaked almonds or shelled pistachios. Draped over pillowy whipped cream atop crunchy and glossy meringues, it’s the ultimate spring pavlova; crush the meringues and make alternate layers with these same things for a rhubarb Eton mess. Actually, when the rhubarb itself is used up but some syrup remains, I mix some into carbonated water for a soda or cocktail, or boil it down a bit further to pour over ice cream, like a Technicolor take on caramel sauce.
When I make this I use a mix of regular granulated sugar and vanilla sugar. Vanilla sugar is simple enough to make; any time you split a vanilla bean and scrape out the caviar, chuck the pod in a jar of sugar and let it perfume the sugar with its flavor. If you don’t have vanilla sugar on hand that’s fine, just very gently add in 2 – 3 t-spoons of good vanilla extract once the rhubarb has come out of the oven and had a chance to cool just slightly, taking care not to break the rhubarb up too much.
This is really just a blueprint, too. You could chop some ginger into discs and throw those in; tuck in large strips of orange or grapefruit peel; crush a few cardamom pods, a portion of star anise, and/or a cinnamon stick; swap out a little of the sugar with turbinado for a smokier flavor; tear a small handful of basil or mint leaves in half, or a sprig of rosemary, and throw them in the pan once it comes out of the oven; or even mix in some hulled strawberries (if you must). Had I thought of it at the time, I would have given it a shot of Rhubarb Tea liqueur, made by Art in the Age, which I’ve got handy in the bar. Next time.
As I said, to go through a spring without rhubarb is something I can’t even consider. Frankly, to trudge through late summer until early winter without it is more than I can bear—so why put myself through that? This freezes beautifully so go ahead a make a huge batch. You wont regret it.
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