I could have spoken about rhubarb two months ago, when it first appeared at the market as the very welcome distraction from the last winter apples and pears; rhubarb makes those last few weeks before the first berries of summer bearable.
But it’s already the first week of summer, berries abound everywhere, and while I’ve eaten pounds of strawberries — plain, in tartes, or churned into ice cream — as well as raspberries and blueberries even, I am still craving — and eating — rhubarb.
Rhubarb is one of those vegetable that I cannot resist buying so it often ends up as compote (recipe below) because I’ve usually purchased it without a plan and compote only takes a few minutes to prepare. However the other day I felt an irresistible urge to make rhubarb ice cream. It was good beyond all expectations, and barely more work than a simple compote.
Rhubarb is technically a vegetable, though in our part of the world it is often used as a fruit, in crumbles and tarts. Wild rhubarb originated in Asia and its root has been used medicinally in China, Asia, and eventually Europe for thousands of years. But it was not until the nineteenth century that the stalks of rheum rhabarbarum were cultivated and used as a food, particularly in England and the United States, where rhubarb became known as “pie-plant.”
Rhubarb can be any shade of red or green, and while the red variety looks pretty, apparently there is no significant difference in taste. The stalks should be neither too big nor too small, always firm and crisp, not soft and flabby. Rhubarb is available from mid-spring through the summer. It thrives in cooler climates where the soil freezes in winter, which is another reason to love it — a delicious vegetable/fruit that grows best in my part of the world!
The quantities are an indication. The weight ratio of 1 part sugar for 4 parts rhubarb makes a compote that is not too sweet with a clear tart rhubarb taste. It can be adapted as desired. Serve with yogurt or crème fraîche, or with busy-day cupcakes.
3 1/2 cups (400 g) rhubarb cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
Cut off the ends of the rhubarb stalks as well as any parts that are bruised or blemished. Wash the stalks before cutting them into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces. (Now is a good time to measure the amount of rhubarb to calculate the amount of sugar needed.)
Place the cut rhubarb into a medium saucepan. Add 3 tablespoons of water, then the sugar. Bring to a boil and cook until all the pieces of rhubarb have become soft, about 12 to 15 minutes.