Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Seasons Treasons

Fichi, Rabarbaro e Fragole al Forno con Pasta Sfoglia
Baked Figs, Rhubarb & Strawberries with a Pastry Trim

Strawberries, rhubarb and figs in January? What madness is this!?!? I know... and I agree... but I hope you will not judge me too harshly when I offer you my feeble explanation... you see, these  admittedly rather beautiful fruits were left over from a photo shoot that I did the art direction and food styling for. So of course they are most definitely not in season here... but it would have been a crying shame to not have made good use of them... so I did just that!

The best way to treat all three of these delicious fruits is... very gently! I find the tanginess of the rhubarb to be a great contrast to the sweetness of the figs and strawberries. but I wanted to make sure that the flavors or each were able to stand alone and be well balanced. So I added only a little honey, some cinnamon and a little vanilla, to gently emphasize the natural flavors and not overpower them... and wouldn't you know it- it worked! I added the pastry, just around the edge, for a bit of texture and a neutral flavor to offset the fruitiness, but why only a trim? Read on and you will find out!

I began by cutting the rhubarb to length of around 4" and peeling away the beautiful outer skin- which is always a bit of a sad task as it means sacrificing so much wonderful color... But it has to be done! Not too worry though- the strawberries will see to that for us- just a little bit later. But next, I turned on my oven to maximum heat to get nice and hot and in the mean time, laid out the rhubarb sticks in a baking dish and drizzled them with honey. I then popped it into the oven for 10 minutes and then turned the heat off! Yep- that's right! All I had to do was be patient and wait until the oven was cool again- and by that time the rhubarb was tender and juicy- but not damaged from stirring in any way... and you all know what a fibrous and goopy mess it can become if you do that!

Did I just mention juices? Because you will not believe how much juice the rhubarb will give off and how thick and syrupy it is! Too good to waste- but also way to much for any pastry base to cope with- it would just get soaked and not bake at all- which is why I simply added the puff pastry to the outside edges of the dish. There will still be plenty there- but it wont go all squishy on you!

The juices from the rhubarb were of course a little sour, but that would soon change. I added a couple of pieces of vanilla  to perfume the syrup and added slices of strawberry in between the sticks of rhubarb- these would add sweetness, color and flavor to the whole affair! I then cut a few figs into 8ths and spread the slices decoratively around the outer edge of the dish. Next came a generous drizzle of honey over everything, a splash of Cointreau (optional) and a dusting of cinnamon- and the whole thing went back into the oven for 15-20 minutes until the pastry was golden and brown, the strawberries were hot, steamy and lightly browned but still intact, and the syrupy juices had reduced now nicely to a thick and yummy sauce... mmm!

A treat whether served hot or cold, as-is or with a scoop of ice cream, a blob of yogurt, a little custard or a spoonful of whipped cream... 

I think I did a good thing- how could I possibly have let good food got to waste?!? When I could also do THIS with it! And I hope you will approve!

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