Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fooling Around

There’s something about eating a few cubic feet of salad greens that makes me feel like I’m entitled to a bit of dessert. It’s still early for local fruits to make yummy pies and shortcakes, but rhubarb is here. I know rhubarb is not really a fruit, but its tartness is so fruity in character, that I can’t help thinking of it that way. I hope it will forgive me for my mischaracterization.

I’ve been munching rhubarb on and off for years. When I was little, we had a rhubarb plant at the end of the old garden in the back yard. I have a vivid memory of dipping a stalk (the leaves are poisonous) in a little plastic container (probably a re-purposed margarine tub) full of sugar and crunching away, wincing a little at the sourness the sugar couldn’t quite cover. I thought that rhubarb plant had died of old age, but my mom just told me this weekend that she has rhubarb again for the first time in years!

To me, rhubarb goes best with strawberries, and the strawberries that have traveled here from other states are finally tasting pretty good (although not as good as the ones that will be arriving soon from only a few miles away). I considered making a fruit crisp, but, though I had the ingredients, I never got around to making enough room in the freezer for the essential homemade ice cream accompaniment. A recipe I had collected for a rhubarb fool came to my rescue, and I thought I could easily add strawberries to it.

A fool is an old fashioned English dessert, classically made with gooseberries. While the originals were made with custard, it seems to have become standard these days to make fools with whipped cream. Stewed fruit is folded into the whipped cream, and, ta-da!, you have a decadent dessert. I may have made mine a little too decadent, at least in the serving-size department, but, hey, I’d eaten a lot of salad…

To make my fool, I started with a thick sauce or compote of strawberries and rhubarb. I added the lemon juice, not to make the fruit more sour (the rhubarb brings plenty of that) but to decrease the pH of the mixture (that is, make it more acidic), which allows the anthocyanin in the rhubarb to maintain its red color. Without the lemon juice, the rhubarb would dull in color, and the strawberries would have to do all the aesthetic work.

Once the sauce has cooled, it can be folded into well-whipped cream. I also added a bit of Grand Marnier (orange liqueur), which contributed a bit of sophistication to the dessert. You could certainly leave it out if you don’t have any on hand. To fold in the fruit, simply pour it into the top of the whipped cream. Take a rubber spatula and use it to cut through the fruit into the cream. Turn the spatula to sort of scoop up some of the cream and bring it up from the bottom and over the top. Turn the bowl a little and do it again until there are only a few faint streaks of fruit running through the well-mixed fool. The idea is to incorporate the fruit sauce without deflating the cream.

You could also spoon the sauce, which should last several days in the refrigerator, over ice cream, or mix it into plain yogurt. You can make the sauce ahead of time and just whip the cream and fold in the sauce when you are ready to serve dessert. I made two servings at a time (although they could have easily been split into three or four servings).

I was also thinking that this fool mixture might be really good frozen. I hope to try this later this week, although it’s been cool enough here to appreciate a warm dessert instead. Anyway, I guess I’ll be fooling around with this yummy concoction for a while.

Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce

8 ounces rhubarb, chopped
8 ounces strawberries, hulled and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup sugar

1. Mix all the ingredients together in a medium saucepan. Heat, stirring gently until the sugar has dissolved and the fruit begins to give off liquid. Cover and bring to a boil.

2. Remove the lid from the pan and allow the mixture to simmer until the liquid has reduced and thickened somewhat, about 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Cool, then chill until ready to use.

Strawberry Rhubarb Fool
This recipe is for two large servings. Follow this formula to multiply or reduce as desired.

2/3 cup cold heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier (optional), or other orange liqueur
½ cup Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce, chilled

1. Whip the cream until soft peaks form. I used a heavy-duty stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Add the sugar and orange liqueur. Continue whipping until the cream forms firm peaks when the whisk is lifted from the mixture. Do not overwhip or you will have butter.

2. Pour the Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce on top of the whipped cream. Fold the sauce into the cream, avoiding deflating the cream. Spoon into attractive serving dishes.

Serves 2-4, depending on how much room you left for dessert.

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