The first weeks of spring are not the most exciting time in the garden. Crisp spring vegetables and summer berries are yet to appear, and the apple season is behind us. Thank goodness, then, for rhubarb. Technically a vegetable, though frequently masquerading as a fruit, rhubarb’s sharp sourness works well in both sweet and savoury recipes.
It’s glorious cooked down to a compote in a saucepan and spooned over eggy bread or porridge for breakfast, but I like to roast it (with seasonal blood oranges) so that the batons hold their shape.
Sunday evening preparation
- 400g forced rhubarb
- 40g golden caster sugar
- zest and juice of a blood orange
Step 1: Preheat your oven to 180C. Chop the rhubarb stalks into 10cm batons. Toss the rhubarb with the sugar, zest and juice, and then arrange them into a single layer. Roast for 15 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft, but still holding its shape.
Step 2: Store the rhubarb (and the juices that have escaped from it) in an airtight container in the fridge.
I adore mackerel. It’s full of flavour, pairs well with so many different ingredients, and is a breeze to cook. This recipe is great as a quick supper for two, or for one, with leftovers for lunch the next day.
Mackerel, rhubarb, parsley and horseradish
- 100g flat leaf parsley
- 1 tsp cider vinegar
- 2 tsp olive oil
- plenty of black pepper
- flaky sea salt
- 4 mackerel fillets
- leaves from 6 sprigs of thyme
- 1 blood orange
- 100g roasted rhubarb
- creamed horseradish
Step 1: Pull the parsley leaves from their stems. Combine the vinegar and 1 tsp of the olive oil with the pepper and salt.
Step 2: Score the skin of the mackerel fillets. Season with 1 tsp of the olive oil, the thyme, blood orange zest, and some pepper and salt. Warm a non-stick pan over a medium heat and fry the mackerel, skin-side down, for two minutes. Flip it over and cook for another couple of minutes, until cooked through. Squeeze the juice of the blood orange over the fish.
Step 3: Dress the parsley with the dressing, and serve a small handful of it with the mackerel fillets, the rhubarb, and a spoonful of horseradish. Pour the warm juices from the pan over the fish just before serving.
The perfect Dutch pancake
Saturday morning breakfast
I travelled to Holland last year, and went out in search of a perfect Dutch pancake. A friend directed me to a café in the outskirts of Utrecht, in the first sunny days of spring. This pancake is a tribute to the ones I found there: fluffy, rich and sweet, the perfect partner for sharp rhubarb, and ideal for a spring weekend.
Rhubarb Dutch baby
- 100g plain flour
- pinch of salt
- 3 eggs
- 200ml whole milk
- 30g butter
- 10 pieces roasted rhubarb
- 1 tbsp icing sugar
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 210C. Put the flour and salt into the bowl and crack the eggs in. Whisk slowly at first, incorporating the flour gradually, and then beat vigorously until smooth. Add the milk, a little at a time, and whisk until smooth.
Step 2: In an ovenproof frying pan or dish, melt the butter until frothy. Add the rhubarb and then pour the pancake batter into the dish. Transfer to the oven for 20 minutes, until brown and crisp at the edges. Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately.
Dinner party dessert
The classic combination of rhubarb and custard is hard to beat. This ice cream is a slightly more grown-up take on the classic nursery dessert, and is lovely for a dinner party – especially as you can make it in advance.
Rhubarb and custard ice cream
- 200ml whole milk
- 200ml double cream
- vanilla pod
- 4 egg yolks
- 60g golden caster sugar
- 150g roasted rhubarb, blitzed to a pulp
Step 1: Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan and add the split vanilla pod. Bring almost to the boil over a low heat.
Step 2: Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and smooth. Pour the hot milk over them, whisking constantly so they don’t scramble. Pull the vanilla pod out, return the mixture to the pan, and put back over a low heat.
Step 3: Stir constantly for around ten minutes until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour into a bowl, cover with cling film (pushed right down to the custard to prevent it forming a skin) and place in the fridge to cool.
Step 4: Once cool, stir the rhubarb through the custard. Place in an ice-cream maker or, alternatively, a container with a lid in the freezer. If in the container, whisk the ice cream vigorously every hour as it freezes, for the first four hours or so, to break up any ice crystals.
Step 5: Serve with shortbread biscuits or meringues, and a spoonful of the rhubarb juice from the bottom of the roasting dish.