food & drink: RHUBARB SHOWS IT IS A FORCE.
RHUBARB that's in shops at the moment really goes against everything I normal bang on about. I'm against most things that are farmed, and forcing strawberries or asparagus to grow as early as possible in this country is to me quite absurd.
However the forced rhubarb that's been on my menu since early January is a completely different matter. The long, spindly and slightly limp sticks of bright pink rhubarb makes a welcome addition to the choice of fruits that work well with desserts.
Simply poached and neatly arranged around a wobbly pannacotta, as a fool, in crumbles, as a sorbet or just plain good old rhubarb and custard.
The late Bob, our gardener for many years, was always appalled that I would never use the rhubarb that grew at the bottom of the garden in the early summer, which was coarse and bitter - I did once use it and the fool looked more like a brown Windsor soup than a dessert.
Forced rhubarb is traditionally grown within the Yorkshire Rhubarb triangle, but these days it has been difficult to get hold of. However the enterprising Dutch grow a thicker variety of the same quality, which is easier to get hold of.
It grows in the same way in the absence of day light as Belgian endive and the German white asparagus, which are both a ghostly white as they grow.
This blackout procedure gives the spooky rhubarb its pink glow, early tenderness and intense flavour, while also rendering its triffid-like crinkly leaves a sickly yellow.
Make sure you only use the stalk - the leaves are reckoned to be hideously poisonous.
Bryan Webb is owner/chef of Tyddyn Llan, Llandrillo, near Corwen
juice of a 1/4 lemon grated zest of 1 large orange
1 teaspoon chopped ginger (optional)
150ml double cream
150ml natural yoghurt
Put the rhubarb, sugar, ginger and lemon juice into a stainless steel saucepan. Place on a low heat with the lid on, and allow to stew in its own natural juices that will appear
When soft, place a colander over a bowl and drain. Allow to cool, then puree in a food processor
Keep back a few spoons of puree. Whisk cream until it starts to form a slightly thick ribbon, then gently fold into the rhubarb together with the yoghurt. Mix until its slightly thick
Spoon into glass dishes with a little puree in the centre and on top. Serve with shortbread biscuit or honey Madeleine
RHUBARB AND ALMOND CRUMBLE
100g plain flour
75g castor sugar
125g ground almonds
1 teaspoon of ground ginger pinch of salt
120g butter cut into small dice
Put flour, sugar, salt, almonds and ginger into bowl of a food processor. Gently blend and add the butter. Mix as if making pastry but don't work it too much - it should look like bread crumbs
Pre-heat oven to 180degC. Cut rhubarb into 3cm pieces and spread onto a baking dish, sprinkle with sugar, then pile crumble mix on top
Bake for about 35 minutes until the surface is golden and slightly blistered in parts. Serve with some homemade custard
500g rhubarb chopped; 250g sugar; juice of half a lemon
Put lemon juice, sugar and 300ml of water into a stainless steel pan and bring to the boil. Add rhubarb and cook for about 10 minutes until soft. Blend in a liquidizer until smooth, pass through a sieve. When cold, churn into an ice cream machine or put in freezer and stir every 30 minutes until frozen and is a smooth texture
Picture: STACEY ROBERTS