When I cook with rhubarb I’m struck by the color–that ballerina-pink to magenta ombré effect married with salmon and the faintest hint of green. Then there’s the scent, the almost citrus, grassy notes smelling like the essence of a spring garden in the moments after the rain.
I wonder if there are many foods more associative of spring in our childhood memories than this unusual plant. The thought of it conjures up sunny days in my grandparents’ backyard garden, where the rhubarb–at least as I remember it–seemed as large as a prehistoric turtle. Guarding the steps down to the raspberry patch, the plant silently waited as we passed by to comb through rows of bushes for berries at the peak of perfection.
These days I take every opportunity like to cook with rhubarb. Roasted with vanilla bean and wine. Cooked and strained for a syrup to add to tequila. Simmered until its fibrous stalks soften and become a delicately-textured base for rabarbrafromasj, rhubarb fromage.
The desserts made with rhubarb are some of the best that come out of my kitchen. The latest one–rabarbrasuppe, rhubarb soup–is no exception. Simmered with vanilla bean, the rhubarb releases all of its flavor and vivid color into the water, which, when strained, becomes a clear pink soup. Scattered pieces of baked rhubarb and a scoop of homemade yogurt ice cream complete the simple yet elegant dessert.
Rhubarb Soup (Rabarbrasuppe) with Yogurt Ice Cream
Despite the various steps, this recipe–adapted from The Nordic Diet by Trina Hahnemann–is rather simple. Since it is to be served cold, each step can be prepared in advanced, leaving only assembly for serving time.
For the soup:
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 vanilla bean
1/4 cup sugar
For the baked rhubarb:
2 rhubarb stalks
1/4 cup sugar
For the ice cream:
1 3/4 cups low-fat yogurt
3/4 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Several hours before serving, prepare the soup by placing the 1 1/2 pounds of rhubarb pieces in a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean down the middle with the tip of a knife and scrape out the seeds, adding both the seeds and the pod to the saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes, resisting the urge to stir (you don’t want to break up the rhubarb, which you’ll soon strain out and discard).
Pour the soup through a sieve and return to a clean saucepan, adding sugar and bringing back to a boil just to dissolve the sugar. Allow to cool, then transfer to a bowl and place in the refrigerator until completely chilled.
While the soup is chilling, prepare the baked rhubarb and the ice cream. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and toss the rhubarb with sugar in an baking dish and placing it in the oven until it’s tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Make the ice cream while the rest of the dessert cools. Beat the yogurt and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks, then gently fold it into the yogurt. Transfer to an ice cream machine and freeze according to manufacturer instructions; depending on the machine, this should take about 20 minutes. If needed, transfer to the freezer for a little while to firm it up further.
To serve, divide the chilled soup between four wide, shallow bowls. Scatter the roasted rhubarb pieces around and place a scoop of ice cream in the center.