I have often wondered why I can remember almost nothing about all the trigonometry, chemistry and geometry that I learnt in high school, but yet I can give you a word-perfect rendition of all the lyrics on ELO’s classic Time concept album from 1981. One explanation is that teachers were remiss in their failure to set the less appetising school subjects to a catchy tune in an attempt to cement them more firmly in our teenage brains. Another, more plausible, explanation is that my brain has simply never found science-based subjects engaging enough to devote mental real estate to them for more than the short period required to pass high school exams. In fact, my brain has always been astonishingly good at remembering useless trivia rather than useful stuff like where I left my car keys. It’s a pretty nifty skill when you are taking part in pub quizzes or Trivial Pursuit tournaments but less so when you need to access your car in a hurry!
One of the classic trivia questions, and one that is sure to generate debate, is this: “is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?”. Some will argue passionately that it is a vegetable: it’s not sweet and we find it in the vegetable aisle in the supermarket with the other vegetables (the functional argument). Others will argue passionately that it is a fruit because… erm… well it is the fruit of the tomato plant, in other words what the flower turns into once it is fertilised (the structural argument). But as a lawyer I can tell you that the only answer is “it depends”; because, in essence, it depends on how you where you want to draw the dividing line between fruit and vegetables. It you want to say that all vegetables are savoury and all fruit are sweet, then I can see that the tomato will fall on the vegetable side of the line. But if you want to confine the fruit group to the actual, physical fruit of plants, then yes – everything else we eat (roots, tubers, leaves, shoots, and unripe seeds) should fall on the vegetable side of the line.
And just when you think you have it all figured out, along come more awkward foods. The entire pumpkin and squash family, for example, are the fruit of a type of vine – but nobody has ever contemplated putting them where they technically belong, beside the melons in the fruit aisle. And then there is the rhubarb. So it’s definitely not a fruit. And it’s not a root, tuber, shoot or seed – and its leaves are in fact poisonous to people and pets as they contain corrosive oxalic acid. The edible part, those glorious pink to ruby red sheaves that are currently gracing markets all over the northern hemisphere, are in fact the leaf stalks of the rhubarb. So it’s not technically a fruit, and if you’ve ever had a little nibble on a raw stalk, you will know that it is not what you’d call sweet either. And yet we persist in calling it a fruit.
I used to think that this ridiculous idea this was simply a sad reflection on the English climate and the populace’s desperate desire to have some kind of fresh fruit on the table at the end of winter that they would tout this strange stem as a fruit. And yet… it’s hard not to be seduced by that unlikely colour; and once roasted, rhubarb mellows into an appealing tartness and has a very particular, ephemeral aroma that reminds me of the smell of a hot summer’s day. Unburdened by childhood memories of forced rhubarb consumption, I slowly became an ardent fan. The tart rhubarb is beautifully complemented by another English summer pleasure: strawberries. When cooked, rhubarb loses much of its colour but the strawberries make up for it with theirs, and impart a sweetness that the rhubarb lacks – a perfect match.
I am not much of a baker (in fact when I instagrammed the uncooked image of these galettes, one of my friends responded “you?? baking???”) and I have neither the patience nor the eye for detail to do any sort of baking that requires meticulous measurements or fiddly decoration. If you share my views on baking then galettes are for you. Less fussy than a pie or tart which needs blind baking and the like, these galettes are simply rolled out dough roughly folded around a fruity filling – no stress at all. The pastry in this recipe can be made in advance and kept in the fridge for a couple of days wrapped in clingfilm – or even frozen for longer. I erred in adding a little too much of the delicious syrup from the fruit and as you can see it ended up spilling out over the edge of the crust – next time I’d limit the syrup or add some ground almonds or similar under the fruit to retain the syrup a but better. You can make one large galette from this recipe but I chose to make two smaller ones – both of which got the seal of approval from Mr Cooksister Nick who grew the rhubarb himself. And when it tastes this good, who cares if it is a fruit or a vegetable?!
If you love rhubarb as much as I do, here are some more recipe inspirations for you:
- My simple rhubarb, cranberry and ginger fool
- My delicious rhubarb and white chocolate cheesecake
- My spectacular rhubarb & strawberry upside-down cake
- Meeta’s rhubarb, mango & passion fruit brioche galette
- Sahra’s rhubarb and raspberry mini cheesecake pots
- Urvashi’s rhubarb, watercress & feta salad
- Camilla’s rhubarb & strawberry jam
- FOR THE PASTRY:
- 250g plain flour
- 150g butter, cubed
- 3 tbsp caster sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 1-3 Tbsp iced water (added one at a time – stop when dough forms a ball)
- FOR THE FILLING:
- 1½ cups sliced strawberries
- 1½ cups sliced rhubarb (about 1cm wide slices)
- ½ cup caster sugar
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- Zest from 1 lemon
- Juice from half a lemon
- 2-3 Tbsp milk
- 1 Tbsp muscovado sugar
- To make the pastry, either blitz together the flour, butter and sugar in a food processor or rub the butter into the flour and sugar mixture in a large bowl, until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Mix the yolk with the water and add that to the mixing bowl. Mix again with the food processor or by hand until the dough comes together in a ball. Scrape out of the bowl, wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge to rest for a couple of hours.
- Chop the fruit and in a large bowl, mix it together with the caster sugar, corn starch, lemon zest and lemon juice.
- When you are ready to make the galette, remove the dough from the fridge about 20-30 minutes before you want to roll it. Pre-heat the oven to 190C.
- Roll the pastry into a circle about 24cm across and 2.5mm thick (or in my case, 2 circles about 12cm across). Place the pastry circle/circles on a rimmed metal baking sheet covered with baking paper. Pile the fruit in the centre of the pastry, leaving about a 4cm gap all round – no need to be tidy about this! Pull up the rim of the pastry and fold it over the edge of the fruit all the way round so that it seals in the filling (you may have to pinch bits together to secure). Brush the folded pastry with milk and sprinkle with the muscovado sugar
- Bake in the pre-heated oven for 45 minutes, until the pastry is turning golden and the fruit slightly caramelised. Allow to cool a bit before serving: the filling will firm up as it cools – hot out of the oven, it will be a messy affair! Serve with vanilla creme fraiche.
And if you are admiring the gorgeous blue plate in the final pictures, it’s by iconic English ceramics company Spode who have been creating beautiful crockery since 1770 when Josiah Spode opened his first factory in Stoke-on-Trent. Inspired by the popularity of blue and white dinnerware from China, Spode developed England’s first commercially viable method of blue and white printed earthenware. In 1816 they launched a pattern called Blue Italian – a floral Chinoiserie border surrounding an Italian rural scene in shades of cobalt blue. It was to become one of the most popular and iconic English ceramic designs of all time and this year it celebrates its 200th year in production. It’s still made at the Portmeirion factory in Stoke-on-Trent, just 500 yards from Josiah’s original factory. There are also plenty of other gorgeous designs on the Spode website – do have a look.
DISCLOSURE: I received the crockery pictured as a gift from Spode but received no further remuneration to write this post. I was not expected to write a positive review – all views are my own and I retain full editorial control.
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