Cut one hot pink stalk. Dip the fresh-cut end into a bowl of sugar and take a bite. There’s an initial damp, crunch sensation, similar to celery, with a bit more heft. Then it starts: the eyes begin to wince automatically, cheeks sucking in, slight head tilt to absorb it all. There’s a little joyful, granular shock of sweet sugar before the tongue returns to the roof of the month, trying to minimize the impact once more before it’s over. Sour. Delightfully, face-suckingly sour. The crunch, the unmistakable colour, the flavour unlike anything else in the plant world: an immediate fresh fruit impression with a thick, and heady sourness that stands up to all kinds of sweet. It refuses to go quietly; not under an enthusiastic dip in sugar, a thick blanket of oat crumble, buttery pastry, or eggy custard warm with tropical vanilla. Rhubarb remains with its strong character intact. It is such a unique, natural treasure to behold in springtime when deep pink crowns of it emerge in backyards, as if overnight.
A fruit fool is a rustically pretty, non-fussy, super English dessert (it dates back to the 16th century!). It very simply consists of sweetened and stewed/cooked and pureed fruit with whipped 35% cream and usually a little crunchy/biscuit-y something for textural contrast. The first time I saw one was years ago in this beautiful book by Jamie Oliver. Just the sheer name of it was calling to me. A speedy rhubarb fool. Pull it out of the garden, throw it together, chopped rhubarb and vanilla bean in the pot, whip the cream, delicately fold fold fold; all on a lark. Homey, charmingly clumsy, gorgeous pink and comforting.
I went a fairly non-traditional route with the cream component, subbing chilled and whipped coconut milk (favourite thing right now) with honey and vanilla bean. Since I went a bit crazy in that regard, I thought I would work some cardamom, ginger and orange into the rhubarb itself. A magical sprinkling of pistachios on top brings this exotic treat full circle. The rhubarb never hides under it all. A gaze at the shocking pink contrast, little sour pinch on your tongue to say hello. It’s perfect for grey spring days, something to savour now and keep as a reminder of the treasures to come while you sink your feet into the green grass and suck your cheeks together.
a rhubarb fool with vanilla coconut cream
notes: When you’re extracting the top “cream” layer from the can of coconut milk, be extra careful to not grab any of the coconut water with your spoon. Some chopped strawberries would be a lovely addition to the compote if they’re available in your area. Crumbled ginger snaps would be a fantastic topping/garnish option instead of pistachios.
1 lb rhubarb, pink and light pink parts chopped
juice of 1 orange
1/4 cup agave nectar or raw honey, maple syrup etc. (or more if you like, I went kind of tart here)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
vanilla coconut cream:
2 cans full fat coconut milk, chilled overnight
3 tbsp maple syrup or powdered sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds removed–or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
handful of roasted pistachios, shelled and chopped (optional)
Combine the chopped rhubarb, orange juice, agave nectar, cardamom and ginger in a large saute pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Simmer the mixture until the rhubarb starts breaking down and the consistency is slightly jammy and compote-like, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.
Make the cream: Remove the top layer of solid cream from the cans of coconut milk, carefully avoiding the water at the bottom of the can (reserve this for smoothies). Place the cream into a small bowl. Add the maple syrup/powdered sugar and vanilla bean seeds. Mix with a hand mixer on medium-high speed, stopping and scraping down here and there. Mix until a lightly stiff, whipped cream-like consistency is achieved. Wrap and set aside in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
To serve: Place about half a cup of the cooled rhubarb compote in each serving dish. Top each rhubarb fool with a dollop of the vanilla coconut cream and a sprinkle of pistachios.