There’s something jokey about rhubarb, the way it passes for a fruit when it’s really a vegetable, the sexy red exterior seducing the unwary into a tart encounter, the way it can be fully ripe and–in the case of field rhubarb–fully green. Even the alternative uses of the word itself have a kind of prankish mystery to them. People used to speak of getting into a rhubarb the way my mother-in-law talks about a kerfuffle or something provoking a brouhaha. Etymologists disagree about the origin of the association. And who was the dramatist who decided that stage extras reciting deliberately unintelligible dialogue should simply repeat the phrase rhubarb rhubarb?
We had pounds of rhubarb in our kitchen after we completed the Rhubarb Chicken and couldn’t bear not to use it.
The result is this week’s Rhubarb Fool, an almost (forgive me) foolproof killer dessert.
Last week’s rhubarb was all red; this week, some red, some green, some a little of both. Although color seems to have no effect on rhubarb’s flavor, green rhubarb seems a bit sturdier. Perhaps this is because so much green rhubarb comes from fields where it is exposed to direct sunlight rather than the more protected environment of hot houses. We cooked a batch green rhubarb just for comparison’s sake and although it only took an extra minute for it to get soft, for it to break down completely took twice as long as the red. It helps to peel the strings off the stalks since they break down slowest of all, an extra step easily worth the final result. I’m not typically a dessert guy, but this was right up my alley. If you’re using green, just be patient. No need to make a rhubarb about it.
Makes 6 5-ounce servings
- 1 pound rhubarb
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 star anise
- 1 cup cold heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
Hot house rhubarb maybe prettier than green rhubarb, but not necessarily tastier. If you’re using green rhubarb, peel the string off the stalks. Don’t bother with a vegetable peeler. Use the blade edge of a sharp paring knife to catch the strings at the end of a stalk and pull them off, much like you would with celery.
Once the strings are removed, trim the ends and cut the rhubarb stalks into ½-inch dice. You should have about 4 cups.
Put the rhubarb in a non-reactive saucepan. Add the sugar and star anise. Set the pan over medium-low heat, cover and simmer until the juices start to come out of the rhubarb, 3 – 5 minutes*. Remove the cover, stir and continue to simmer 3 minutes or until the rhubarb is just tender. Using a slotted spoon so the juices drain back into the pan, scoop out half the rhubarb and spread on a plate to cool. Set about 18 pieces aside for garnish.
Return the pan to the stove, increase the heat to medium and cook uncovered* until the remaining rhubarb is falling apart and forms a thick sauce, about 4 or 5 minutes. Remove the star anise. Allow to cool completely then combine the sauce with the chunky rhubarb.
Put the cream in a stainless steel bowl and put the bowl in the freezer for 5 minutes to get everything really cold. Whip the cream until it holds stiff peaks.
Put the yogurt into a bowl large enough to hold all of the recipe ingredients and whip it with a wire whisk until it’s smooth.
Gently stir a third of the cream into the yogurt to form a light base.
Spoon the rhubarb and the remaining cream onto the base and then give the fool a few gentle folds, just enough to create big coarse swirls of ingredients.
Spoon the mixture into glasses, top with the reserved rhubarb dice and chill until ready to serve.
It’s really hard to screw this up. If you over-whip the cream, which I almost did because I was busy making recipe notes, the rhubarb sauce will loosen it up. The messier you are at folding the better – streaks are good.
Several stray bay leaves slipped into the photographs because our original recipe included them. I love the flavor of bay leaves in poached peaches and my first instinct was to try the same thing here, but their flavor with rhubarb was underwhelming, whereas the star anise was great. Goodbye bay leaves.
Be careful when you make this–it’s addictive and rich. If you’re not paying attention you can rip through an 8-ounce portion in about a minute. (Not that we had that problem.) We decided to give everyone a set of brakes by dividing it into 5-ounce servings. Eat one and then just walk away.