Forced rhubarb, mascarpone and ginger semifreddo

Forced Rhubarb:  available January – Feb/March

I really like rhubarb but hadn’t ever tried the ‘forced’ variety before, so I eagerly bought a big bagful when I spotted it in my local fruit and veg shop.

Forced rhubarb, as the name suggests, it is literally forced to grow. The plants are grown in long sheds where they are subjected to heat and darkness so that the young shoots grow quickly in a desperate search for light. Apparently, it was originally cultivated to fill a gap in the vegetable calendar when there wasn’t much else available.

I wanted to try something a bit different from the usual rhubarb crumble (yawn), so decided to have a go at making a semifreddo. I was really pleased with how it turned out.

The ginger is the first of the flavours to come through, followed by the rhubarb – it’s almost like they politely take it in turns to tickle your taste buds.

The rhubarb flavour is a lot stronger in the sauce and balances the richness of the mascarpone cheese well.

PS: fellow Brightonians, I got my rhubarb from Taj in Western Road.

You will need
For stewing the rhubarb
200g forced rhubarb
Juice and zest of 1 large orange 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g caster sugar
2 pieces of stem ginger (about the size and thickness of a 2p piece), finely chopped

For the semifreddo:
4 eggs, separated
500g mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt

1.) Roughly chop your rhubarb and place in a saucepan with the orange juice, orange zest, 100g caster sugar and chopped ginger. Then add enough water to the pan to just about cover your rhubarb.
2.) Bring to the boil and simmer for about 7 minutes until the rhubarb is soft.
3.) Sieve the rhubarb over a clean bowl.  Set the juice aside and pop it in the fridge when it’s cooled.
4.) Next, whip the egg whites into soft peaks with a pinch of salt.
5.) In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla for a few minutes and then add the mascarpone cheese.
6.) Whisk the cheese and egg yolk mixture for a couple of minutes until smooth, then stir in your stewed rhubarb (not the juice).  Add one tablespoon of the egg whites and stir in with a metal spoon.
7.) Carefully add the cheese and rhubarb mixture to the egg whites and stir gently. Take care not to knock the air from the beaten egg whites.
8.) Line a freezer-proof container with cling film and pour in the mixture. Freeze for around 4 hours (or overnight).
9.) Remove the semifreddo from the freezer and leave to stand for around 5 mins while you make the sauce.
10.) For the sauce, pour the chilled rhubarb juice into a small saucepan, bring to the boil and cook down until it thickens.
11.) Carefully lift out the semifreddo using the cling film, place it upside down on a serving plate and remove the cling film.
12.) To serve, cut even portions of the semifreddo and drizzle each the sauce. To finish, sprinkle with crushed amaretto biscuits (optional).

All images © Heather Wilkinson 2014

Seville Orange Marmalade

Seville oranges: Now in season – January/February.

Bringing a blast of colour to the bleakness of winter are Seville oranges. Aromatic, with a bumpy thick skin, Seville oranges are notable for their intense bitter taste – perfect for cooking, especially marmalade. Happiness in a jar.The process of making marmalade with Seville oranges is incredibly pleasurable. It’s also slightly magical because the oranges contain high levels of pectin, a natural gelling agent which, when combined with sugar and cooled, sets to form a firm amber-coloured jelly.

If you Google how to make marmalade you will find loads of different recipes, and so it’s just a case of picking whichever one takes your fancy and having a go. And whether you like your marmalade with thick or thin-cut peel, with no peel at all, or with a glug of booze, the beauty of making your own is that you’re free to adapt it to your own exact preference.

A word of warning: you’ll need to make marmalade in two stages, so I’d advise making it when you’ve got a free weekend.

After a bit of trial and error, I found Nigel Slater’s recipe to be the best, especially as his method of scoring the oranges meant I didn’t lose any juice, the peel was easy to remove, and could easily be cut up into neat little strips. I’ve used his recipe in part with my own adaptations.

You will need
12 Seville oranges
1 lemon
1.25kg unrefined golden caster sugar 
1 or 2 muslin cooking bags.
Large cooking or preserving pan

1.) Using a small sharp kitchen knife, score four lines down each fruit from top to bottom, as if you were cutting the fruit into quarters. Let the knife cut through the peel but without piercing the fruit.
Cut each quarter of peel into fine shreds. On my first attempt I thought I’d managed to cut the shreds pretty fine but on reflection they were still a bit too chunky. It’s personal preference, of course, but I’d advise aiming to get your slices thinner than a matchstick if you can.

2.) Squeeze each of the peeled oranges and lemons into a jug, removing and reserving all the pulp and pips.

3.) Make the juice up to 4 litres with cold water, pouring it into the bowl with the shredded peel. Use more than one bowl if you need to. Tie the reserved pith, squeezed-out orange and lemon pulp and the pips in muslin bag and push into the peel and juice. Set aside in a cold place and leave overnight.

4.) The next day, tip the juice and shredded peel into a large stainless steel or enamelled pan and push the muslin bag down under the juice. Bring to the boil then lower the heat so that the liquid continues to simmer. It is ready when the peel is totally soft and translucent. One my first attempt, with really chunky peel, this took about an hour and 10.

5.) Place a small plate or saucer into the fridge to cool. Sounds strange but you’ll need it later.

5.) Once the fruit is ready, lift out the muslin bag and leave it in a bowl until it is cool enough to handle. Add the sugar to the peel and juice and turn up the heat, bringing the marmalade to a rolling boil. Squeeze as much juice as you can from the reserved muslin bag into the pan. As you squeeze you should feel that the juice coming out of the muslin is thicker than when you started. Leave at a fast boil for 15 minutes.

6.) Remove the chilled plate from the fridge,  add tablespoon of the preserve and then put it back in the fridge for a few mins. Your marmalade has reached setting point if a crinkly skin has formed on the top. Test it by dragging your finger across the surface. Test every 10 – 15 mins (some mixtures can take up to 50 mins so be patient!)

7.) Skim off any scum from the surface and then switch the pan off and leave it to settle for 15/20 mins (if you don’t then you the peel will rise to the top of your marmalade).

8.) Ladle into the sterilised pots, seal immediately and leave alone until the jars have cooled completely.