A zingy fruit salad for the New Year

January 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’m sitting down with a well-earned cup of coffee (the last of the Züri Kafi blend from H.Schwarzenbach Kolonialwaren in Zürich’s Aldstadt) having just about recovered after a Swiss food marathon over Christmas and New Year. We ate extremely well in Klosters over Christmas, then stocked up with yet more Swiss goodies for an alpine-themed New Year celebration at home. I’ll be writing more about these later in the month…

The crystal glasses and decanters are polished and put away in readiness for the now traditional alcohol-free January. The deep-fat fryer suffered rather when the deep-fried battered gruyère sticks exploded – it’s now drained, scrubbed and refilled with fresh oil ready for a cheeky steak, frites, salade or whatever. The matching pair of fondue sets are similarly decheesed and packed away. And I’m finally going to accept defeat and put our super-sized chocolate fountain on eBay. It’s five years old and we’ve used it…twice. It takes 2kg chocolate to fill most of which sets solid in the mechanism and takes and age to chip off and discard.

Right now, after all that cheese and chocolate, I find I’m craving clean sharp flavours and bright colours to beat the winter blues. The arrival of the first celebratory tender pink stems of forced rhubarb prompted me to try out an unusual pairing of ingredients – rhubarb and mango – in an oriental perfumed fruit salad that I’d read about in a Josceline Dimbleby cookbook. She in turn credits the inspiration for this dish to a sublime fruit soup tasted Vong, the French-Thai restaurant in London, now defunct.

With only two components to prepare, this is not a labour-intensive fruit salad to prepare. Just assembling the ingredients with the vibrant colours and perfumes lifts the spirit:

It doesn’t take long to slice up the rhubarb and ginger:

In fact the only faintly tricky part of the recipe is making sure the rhubarb is poached just so (rather than cooked to a pink pulp):

Once the rhubarb is poached, all that’s left to do is to slice the mango then assemble:

Recipe for rhubarb and mango fruit salad

Adapted from a Josceline Dimbleby’s recipe for Rhubarb and Mango à la Vong in her “Complete Cookbook”.

Serves 6

500g forced rhubarb (don’t substitute later field-grown rhubarb as the rhubarb needs to be tender and the colour needs to be the gorgeous bright pink to achieve the startling colour contrast with the golden-yellow mango).

1.5cm length chunk of fresh ginger root
3 star anise
150 ml water
75g golden caster sugar, maybe more to taste
two 4cm long pieces of peel from a lime, removed using a vegetable peeler
1 medium perfectly ripe mango
a little lime juice
a few fresh mint leaves

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C.

Wash the rhubarb, trim off and discard the ends and slice the stalks into pieces 4 to 5 cm long, cutting prettily at an angle to form little rhombus shapes if you feel so inclined.

Peel the piece of root ginger, cut into slices then into the finest matchstick slivers you can manage. Put the rhubarb and ginger into a shallow lidded casserole dish, tip in the sugar and water and finally add the star anise and pieces of lime peel to the pan.

Put the pan on to the hob and bring to the boil. Cover, remove from the heat and place in the preheated oven to bake very slowly until the rhubarb is tender but still holding its shape. Mine took just 30 minutes in the Aga lowere oven which is only 140-150 degrees C so I suggest checking after just 20 minutes in an ordinary fan oven.

Once the rhubarb is cooked, remove from the oven, remove the lid and leave to cool, then chill in the fridge until you are ready to complete the salad.

Meanwhile, slice your mango into pretty strips using your preferred mango prep method – having tried various ways I still think the hedgehog method works best for me, modifying the criss-cross knife cuts to produce strips rather than cubes. Put the mango pieces into a bowl and squeeze over a little lime juice, enough to toss and coat the mango pieces. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the fruit salad.

Once the fruit is chilled you can complete the salad. Spoon the rhubarb and its cooking syrup carefully into a pretty serving bowl – I think plain white or glass shows off the colours best. Dot in the mango pieces here and there, being careful not to break up the rhubarb. Make sure the star anise are artfully arranged on top, then finish by scattering over a few fresh mint leaves.

If I were pulling out all the stops, I might accompany the salad with a dainty plateful of green-tea flavoured langues de chat to keep the French-Thai vibe going.

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Visit to the heart of Yorkshire’s Rhubarb Triangle

March 12, 2010 § 2 Comments

I finally made a visit in mid February to what I suppose must be the spiritual home of The Rhubarb Fool, Oldroyd’s rhubarb farm in the village of Carlton near Leeds, home to the world’s largest rhubarb forcing shed.

Dutch rhubarb has been inveigling its way into our shops for a couple of months now.  Thanks to the “High Priestess of Rhubarb” Janet Oldroyd’s interesting talk I know know how and why that is and why it’s best to wait for the proper stuff from Yorkshire.  Whereas Oldroyds and the other 10 remaining Yorkshire rhubarb producers wait patiently for frost to break the dormancy of the rhubarb crowns growing in the fields, the Dutch cheat by spraying their crowns with an active plant hormone, the nasty sounding gibberellic acid.

Rhubarb, or to give it its evocative and alliterative full name Rheum Rhabarbarum is an ancient plant originally from China and Russia.  It’s literally the plant of the barbarians and there is some speculation that the Rha in the Latin name might refer to the River Volga in Russia.

On the morning of our visit Janet was dressed appropriately in a vibrant chartreuse  outfit the exact acid yellow of forced rhubarb leaves.  As she cradled some of the precious rhubarb stalks in her arms I saw the perfect photo opportunity but was just too polite to thrust my camera in her direction.  I had to content myself with pictures of the Oldroyd establishment instead.

From 1877 onwards, Yorkshire did indeed lead the way in forced rhubarb production.  It had the natural advantages of heavy water retaining soil, cold frosty conditions in winter, high rainfall and plentiful supplies of wool by-product “shoddy” to provide a nitrogen rich fertiliser.  The Yorkshire coalfields provided fuel for heating the sheds and the newly built railway lines provided a ready route to market.  The Victorian heyday of rhubarb is reflected in the names of the different varieties – Victoria and Albert are both popular but I must say my own palate is not yet sufficiently attuned to detect the difference.

Janet’s talk was interesting but after 30 minutes or so we were all itching to get into the sheds themselves.  Finally our time came and we filed solemnly through the plastic curtain into the darkened shed itself lit only by flickering candlelight.

The warm, humid atmosphere and pungent vegetal smell hit us at once.  There was a palpable sense of pent-up energy in the shed.  As our eyes became accustomed to the soft light we saw row upon row of ruby red crowns largely devoid of soil packed tightly together.  The stems were thrusting upwards striving vainly to find the light.  The steamy atmosphere of fertility and growth was all too much for one lady in our party – she declared herself a little faint and made a hasty exit!

Our visit ended with an opportunity to buy some of the stuff.  Some of the more contrived products (rhubarb wine and rhubarb salad dressing?) didn’t appeal but the gorgeous satin-ribbon pink stalks did.  I was sorely tempted by a whole box of the premium grade rhubarb – 20 or so sticks as thick as a baby’s arm presented in a blue presentation box.  What a fantastic Valentine’s Day or Mothering Sunday gift that would be!  I remained sensible and chose a pound or so of spanking fresh class 1 stalks (or petioles as Janet Oldroyd botanically correctly calls them).

Back home, I cut them up into chunks and baked them in the oven for 20 minutes or so with a generous quantity of golden caster sugar, and the grated zest and juice of an orange.  Absolutely gorgeous chilled with a dollop of Greek yoghurt.  Since then, I’ve not been able to get enough of the stuff – more rhubarb recipes to follow soon.

If you are tempted to buy some rhubarb, have a look at the producer name on the packet – chances are it will say Oldroyd.

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