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Kitchen Witch - Fooling Rhubarb

I've got a newcomer in my culinary bag of tricks, and it's so clever I feel like a genius. I can't take credit for such brilliance, however; the concept dates to Elizabethan times, and in spite of morphing numerous times over the centuries, it remains a certifiable oldie-but-goodie.

I'm talking about the fool, and no, I'm not fooling around. This thing is seriously scrumptious, and dare I say it — sexy. But I'm getting ahead of myself in excitement. Let's define.

Derived from the French word "fouler," which means "to mash," a fool is a dessert of old English origins, consisting of mashed or pureed fruit layered with whipped cream. I know, the idea of mashed fruit rings of early bird specials or cafeteria vittles, but the opposite is true with a rhubarb fool.

Think instead of a metro-fabulous dinner party: you all frocked up in something funky, the Prosecco a-pourin', the tunes a-blowin'. Life is grand, and then it's time for dessert.

You, über-party host, unveil your creation, all dolled up in shades of cherry-blossom mauve in a wine glass. It's the stewed rhubarb showing off, deservedly so. Layered with pillows of whipped cream (and please, refrain from Cool Whip this time and pull out those beaters), the color contrast is breathtaking.

Then your guests tuck their spoons in, and the whole party is flying to the moon. A whipped cream fan I am not — it's vapid and gratuitous on its own — but here, working with the acidity of the rhubarb, the cream fat earns its keep, and the combination is one of the most luscious I've swooned, I mean, spooned into.

Hurry. Rhubarb is a springtime experience, and life is too short to be without a fool.

Rhubarb fool

Adapted from June 2005 issue of Food & Wine magazine

1 1/4 pounds (~ 4 medium stalks) rhubarb, trimmed of leaves, chopped crosswise into 1⁄2-inch pieces

1/2 cup sugar

1/8 cup water

1/8 cup rose syrup (optional; see note)

1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup confectioner's sugar

1/2 pound strawberries, thinly sliced (about 1 1/4 cups)

In a large saucepan, combine the rhubarb, sugar and water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb breaks down, about 10 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring often, until the liquid has evaporated and the rhubarb is thick and jammy, about 10 minutes longer.

Put rhubarb in a bowl. Refrigerate until chilled.

Stir the rose syrup (if using) and lemon juice into the cooled rhubarb.

In a medium bowl, beat the heavy cream with confectioner's sugar until soft peaks form.

Spoon half of the rhubarb into 5 wine or parfait glasses and top with half of the sliced strawberries and half of the whipped cream. Repeat with the remaining rhubarb, strawberries and cream.

Serve immediately. Recipe may be doubled.

The stewed rhubarb can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight.

Note: Rose syrup is a sweetened aromatic syrup found in Middle Eastern groceries. A splash of unsweetened rose water is also nice for dessert aromatherapy.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.



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