Michelle Darmody: sweet, intricate rhubarb

Michelle Darmody: sweet, intricate rhubarb

Early in the season rhubarb is forced by covering the plants to prevent light from reaching them. There are beautiful purpose-made terracotta pots available to do this — they are dome-shaped and cover the crown of the plant. However, you do not need one of these to force your rhubarb — a wooden box or an upside-down bin will do. Blocking the light encourages the plants to make early growth. The stalks can be harvested when they reach about 20cm in length.

Forced rhubarb stalks are a subtle rosy pink and often long and thin. Their flavour is more delicate than rhubarb harvested later in the year and they generally do not need too much sweetening.

As the stalks have a more subtle, less bitter flavour, they pair perfectly with bright floral flavours like elderflower, rosewater or orange zest. The texture of this early rhubarb is also less fibrous than the thicker, later stems. All it needs is a gentle simmer to allow it to soften.

You can be as intricate as you like decorating the rhubarb and mascarpone tart, or if you are in a rush it will taste just as good with a less careful assemblage. The forced rhubarb may be quite sweet, but it is still good to taste it after you have simmered it in the sugar or honey. Plant varieties differ quite a lot and you may need a little extra sweetness to create the perfect balance.

Michelle Darmody: sweet, intricate rhubarb

Rhubarb and mascarpone tart

For the pastry

225g flour

1 tsp of ground ginger

140g cold butter, cubed

55g caster sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

For the rhubarb topping

650g of forced rhubarb stems of a similar thickness, end and stalks removed

50g of light muscovado sugar

Juice of half an orange and the zest of 2

For the filling

500g of mascarpone

The zest of 2 oranges 1 tsp of juice

2 tsp of vanilla

1 tbsp of honey

Mix the flour and ginger. Quickly rub in butter until it looks like rough breadcrumbs, do not over-mix.

Stir the sugar into the eggs, mix it lightly and add to the flour mixture. I usually incorporate it with a fork first, then work it in completely with my hands.

Rest the pastry for at least an hour in the fridge, or you can leave it overnight.

Heat the oven to 180C and line the base of an eight-inch round tart case with parchment. Grease and flour the edges of the case.

Roll the pastry into a circular shape a bit larger than the case. Sit it gently in and nudge it into place, pinch the edges so it fits in neatly. Lay a circle of parchment onto the pastry and cover it with dried beans or coins to weigh the paper down and allow the pastry to bake blind.

Bake for about 25 minutes carefully removing the parchment and weights for the last 10 minutes of baking.

The pastry case should be lightly golden when it is ready. Set aside to cool.

Cut the rhubarb stalks into batons of roughly the same size. Place the sugar, orange juice and zest into a large shallow saucepan. Allow to come to a simmer over a low heat. Add the rhubarb and simmer for five minutes then set aside to cool completely.

Whisk the mascarpone until it is light and fluffy and towards the end add the zest, juice, vanilla and honey.

Spread the mascarpone onto the cold pastry case and then remove the rhubarb batons from their syrup,laying them on top of the filling. Serve quite soon after assembling.

Rhubarb and elderflower fool

450g of forced rhubarb, ends and stalks removed and roughly chopped

40g of golden caster sugar

2 tbsp of elderflower cordial

300ml of cream, whipped to stiff peaks

100ml of thick natural yogurt

A small handful of edible rose petals

Place the rhubarb, sugar and elderflower into a heavy- based saucepan and bring toa simmering boil. Allow to gently simmer without a lid for 10 minutes. Taste it to make sure it is sweet enough. Strain the liquid from the rhubarb and set aside. Allow the juice and rhubarb to cool completely.

Fold the yogurt into the whipped cream. Stir the cooled rhubarb into the cream.

Scoop into glasses or small bowls and place in the fridge until serving.

Pour the juice over the fools and sprinkle with some edible rose petals.

Michelle Darmody: sweet, intricate rhubarb

Rhubarb, rosewater and cardamom meringues

For the meringues

4 egg whites

115g of caster sugar

110g of icing sugar

For the rhubarb topping

500g of forced rhubarb, ends and stalks removed and roughly chopped

30g of light muscovado sugar

1 tbsp of orange juice

6 cardamom pods, lightly crushed

4 tsp of rosewater

To decorate

8 tbs of whipped cream

A handful of shelled, unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 110 degrees and line two flat baking trays with parchment.

Clean your mixing bowl and whisk with some clear vinegar to remove any possible oily residue. Also make sure there is no egg yolk in the whites. If there is you will never quite get them fluffy enough.

Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Add the caster sugar a tablespoon at a time, making sure the sugar is combined before adding the next spoonful. Do this with the mixer on a high speed.

Once all of the caster sugar is added turn off the mixer. Sieve in the icing sugar a third at a time and fold in each addition.

Spoon eight circular blobs of the mixture onto the prepared trays, flatten the meringues slightly with the back of a spoon. Bake for about an hour-and-a-half, until they are crisp and pale cream in colour. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

To make the stewed rhubarb, place the rhubarb, sugar, orange juice and cardamom pods into a large shallow saucepan. Allow to come to a simmer over a low heat for about eight minutes then stir in the rosewater. Set aside the cool.

Spoon some whipped cream onto the meringue just before serving. Remove the cardamom pods from the rhubarb and spoon it on top of the cream. Sprinkle with some chopped pistachio nuts.

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