Oh my! It’s that Valentine's time of year again! It really couldn’t be colder or more miserable weather-wise if you’re feeling single and sad and your love life is lacking, and the gentle whisper of red envelope as it alights on the doormat on that special morning doesn’t materialise.
But it’s permanently sunny in my heart while Yorkshire rhubarb is around: fluorescent pink stems with a lovely, delicate flavour and an 80s shade of yellow/green leaf. Forced rhubarb is only available at this time of year, for a short time.
Exclusively produced in the Yorkshire triangle between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield, it’s grown in completely darkened, heated forcing sheds and harvested by candlelight to keep its vibrant colours. It’s a national culinary treasure, geographically and culturally unique and it even has European PDO status, which was awarded a couple of years ago.
How to cook rhubarb
But like that special person in your life, treat it gently and with love. The best way to cook it is to roast it: choose stems of a similar size so they cook at the same time, cut them at an angle (it’s a chef thing) and put in a deep tray in one layer, don’t overcrowd them or they will stew and loose their shape.
Sprinkle lovingly with sugar and add the zest and juice of a large orange; if you can find a blood orange, so much the better as it adds to the colour.
Cover with foil and bake in the oven at 180oC for about 15-20 minutes. Check towards the end of cooking and if some pieces are more cooked than others, take them out. When they are ready, rather like the ideal partner, they should be just soft to the touch whilst keeping their shape. Leave them to cool and strain off the liquid which you can reduce to a shocking pink syrup.
Rhubarb cooked in this way, when cooled, is a great bed-fellow for a sweet, creamy, wobbly panna cotta – since we are talking sex and love, aren’t we? Also delicious with porridge for the morning after.