Valerie O’Connor enthuses about the versatility of the fruity vegetable which is a welcome arrival for the cook during the garden’s ‘Hungry Gap’.
The excitement that the first flushes of rhubarb brings are many for the passionate cook. From the first things that spring to mind like a simple tart loaded with sugar to balance out the tarty shock, to a baked rhubarb with honey and lavender, there are so many things you can do with this fruity vegetable.
I love to preserve things and have made rhubarb cordial which brings an amazing depth to any drink you add it to, or you can pour it over ice cream or just generally get it into you, even mixed with water, it’s just too tasty.
A year ago, at around about this time, I made the simple recipe here to turn some cheap vodka into a fiery schnapps. Inspired by a visit to a tiny bistro in Biarritz which had its shelves stocked with giant mason jars filled with brandy and schnapps, flavoured with seasonal fruits and spices.
It was a delicious and heady way to get a little bit tipsy as the enthusiasm to try all the flavours was naturally overtaken by the inability to taste anymore. Brandy is brandy after all.
Many years ago I saw this recipe for rhubarb schnapps in Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess. I’m always keen to share my sources and Nigella is one instinctive cook whose books I love. If you don’t get around to making this recipe while rhubarb is in season, you can buy it frozen and even chopped up in the supermarket. Makes 1 litre jar
500g rhubarb, washed and chopped or frozen
1. Simply pile the rhubarb into the jar and pour on the sugar. Close the lid and give it a good shake.
2. Pour in the vodka until it almost reaches the top and close the lid and turn the jar upside down and let it all mingle around.
3. Keep turning the jar over for a good shake until the sugar is all dissolved.
4. Leave the jar in a cool, dark place and give it the odd shake until it is ready to drink. This should take six months to one year. So try and keep your paws off it until then.
If you’re not one for making pastry, roasting rhubarb is an easy way to make a delicious and warming dessert. You can switch the sugar for honey and add herbs like rosemary or lavender. I love the pairing of rhubarb and ginger so that’s what I go for.
Heat the oven 200C/fan 180C
500g rhubarb washed and cut into chunks
80g caster sugar or honey
1/2 tsp powdered ginger or 1tblsp stem ginger chopped finely
1. Pop the rhubarb chunks into a roasting tray and drizzle over the sugar or honey and toss it around to coat well. Make sure it’s in a single layer.
2. Cover with foil and cook for 15 minutes, remove foil and give everything a shake, test to see if it’s cooked and return it to the oven for a further five minutes or so if needed. A knife should easily insert into the rhubarb. This is great hot or cold and served with vanilla ice cream or greek yogurt and some extra honey or even some granola on top.
* Meanwhile, when it comes to new food products in Ireland, the place that’s out in front of us all in terms of foodie hipsterism is the land of Galway. It’s fitting then that a cool event called Galway Start Up Weekend/ Foodtech Edition should being in the City of the Tribes to help those with new business ideas for food, to get from the blender to market during this special weekend.
Food producers make food, it’s an engaging and quiet thing. The producer must be all things to all people. However, as we live in an era of the face being the brand, so the producer must come up with the idea, find the money to develop the idea, turn their kitchen into a factory and then get their product to the marketplace.
It’s no wonder that prospective new producers might feel intimidated about jumping on the foodie wagon, or food truck as it’s now called. A producer must also be gifted at photography, witty with words, a social media butterfly and a busy bee all over the internet and food festivals. Phew.
As someone who tiptoes around the idea of being a food producer, this Galway start-up seminar sounds like an ideal opportunity. You get to take your idea, pitch it, trash it out, be mentored and then know at the end of the weekend that you might go ahead with your dreams of development, or ditch them and move on to another idea, it’s hard to get this kind of mentoring and objectivity all in one place and for little investment. I might even pitch my rhubarb schnapps.
* The first ever Food and Technology Startup Weekend in Ireland is looking for those with business, developer and designer backgrounds, all foodies welcome. April 8-10. https://startupweekend.org/
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