Whatever else is happening in the weather or the world, forced rhubarb is reliably, happily hot pink. Grown in warm barns, rather than facing the elements as field rhubarb does, forced rhubarb is tricked into an early harvest, which is why we get its pink fluorescence in the first three months of the year. The season ends around the end of March, when it hands over to its outdoor-grown cousin, so make the most of its sweetness and slender, bright pink stalks while you can.
Rhubarb, chipotle and lime jam (in a cheese toastie; pictured top)
This smoky, tangy jam goes wonderfully with roast duck or pork, and would make a welcome, if unexpected addition to a cheeseboard. Here, I put it in a cheese toastie and, as with all things that involve melted cheese, it’s delicious. The jam will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Prep 10 min
Cook 35 min
Makes 1 x 300g jar
For the jam
400g forced rhubarb, cut into 4cm lengths (if the stalks are really thick, cut them in half lengthways first)
1 hibiscus tea bag (optional)
1½ tsp chipotle flakes
100g caster sugar
3 tbsp lime juice
For the toasties (to make 2)
4 slices sourdough
2 tbsp mayonnaise
140g gruyere, roughly grated
Olive oil, for frying
Put all the ingredients for the jam and 60ml water in a medium saucepan, place on a medium-high heat and cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes, until the rhubarb breaks down to a jammy consistency. Leave to cool, discard the tea bag, then spoon into a sterilised jar and store in the fridge.
For the toasties, set a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Slather both sides of each slice of sourdough with a medium-thin layer of mayonnaise, spread a generous amount of the rhubarb jam on one side of each slice, top that with the cheese and cover with a second slice of bread.
Brush a little olive oil over the surface of the hot pan, then lay in the toasties and press down on them with a spatula, so they colour evenly. Cook for about three minutes, then turn and cook for another three minutes on the other side, until the outside of the bread is golden brown and crisp and the cheese has melted (if the bread starts to catch, turn down the heat a little). Serve immediately, but be careful with the hot melted cheese.
Chilled rhubarb and hibiscus with vanilla cream and mint sugar
A sweet, but not too filling refreshing treat to serve after a decadent dinner. If you like, make the soup the day before, so you have only the mint sugar and vanilla cream to do before serving.
Prep 10 min
Cook 25 min
1kg forced rhubarb, trimmed and chopped into 2cm lengths
2 hibiscus tea bags
105g caster sugar
250g frozen strawberries
1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
2 tbsp cold double cream
For the mint sugar
2¾ tbsp (5g) fresh mint leaves, torn in half
2 tbsp caster sugar
Put the rhubarb, tea bags and 250ml water in a large saute pan for which you have a lid. Set the pan over a medium-high heat and cook, stirring very gently a couple of times, until it comes up to a simmer. Turn down the heat to medium, cover and leave to cook for three minutes, until the rhubarb is soft but still retains its shape. Some of the pieces nearer the top will be more intact than those at the bottom, which is fine. Remove the lid and set aside to cool.
Once the rhubarb is cold, use a spoon to pick out 150g of the most intact pieces and set them to one side. Remove and discard the tea bags, then strain the rest through a fine sieve set over a bowl and tip the strained rhubarb into a blender.
Pour the liquid back into the saute pan, add 35g sugar, bring up to a simmer and cook, stirring regularly, for nine to 10 minutes, until you have a thick, jammy syrup. Remove from the heat, tip in the reserved 150g rhubarb (this will loosen the syrup a little, but add a splash of water if it does not) and leave to cool.
Put the frozen strawberries, remaining 70g sugar and two and three-quarter teaspoons of the vanilla in the blender jug with the rhubarb, blitz smooth, then transfer the soup to a large bowl or container, cover and refrigerate.
Just before serving, mix the remaining quarter-teaspoon of vanilla into the cold cream. Next, make the mint sugar.Put the mint and sugar in a mortar and pound gently until the mint has broken up and the sugar is a deep green.
To serve, divide the soup between four small bowls, top with rhubarb syrup, drizzle with the cream and finish with a scattering of mint sugar.