We’ve been in London this week. Kristoph has been super busy finish up various pieces of urgent work, and buzzing around our apartment in a whirlwind. I enrolled in five days of intensive French classes. It’s my latest effort to bring my dream of nattering easily with my French neighbours, in French, closer to reality.
I understand quite a lot of French, but I stumble (and that quite frankly, is a generous interpretation) along in shops and restaurants. I do a lot of nodding, “d’accord” etc. And I’m great on the non-verbal forms of communication. But I can’t converse freely, let alone express myself.
So here I am in London, enrolled in five days of French. It’s intense, just four students, myself included, and a jovial Guadeloupe national named Karine. Karine is passionate about the French language, teaching us French, and hearing us speak to her in French. Her energy is contagious and carries us easily though the four hours each day.
One of Karine’s homework tasks was to listen to as much French material as possible. Obligingly, I tuned our DAB kitchen radio to France Radio London before and after classes each day. Having French on in the background, subtly and gently entering my subconscious, is actually quite lovely. I barely notice it on, until I hear a word that is in my (limited) vocabulary. Then I feel very pleased.
Food has this week been playing second fiddle to my linguistics pursuits. Our dinners have been quick, simple, with few ingredients and little thought. After four straight hours of attempting to move my mind around the nuances of French grammar, I’ve had little motivation to construct complicated dishes.
And so today’s recipe is an abridged version of a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall rhubarb and custard tart, included in last week’s Observer. Loving the combination of rhubarb and custard, but without the time to make a sweet pastry case, nor to blind bake it, I dropped the tart. Instead I baked the rhubarb and custard in individual ramekins.
The result is fabulous. The slightly tart rhubarb is complemented beautifully by the citrus tang of the orange juice and rind, and enriched by the vanilla infusion. The finished product – served chilled, is a lovely winter treat.
Here’s the recipe, it makes four individual portions. Hugh’s original tart is available here:
500 grams rhubarb (cut into 5cm lengths)
Zest of ½ orange
Juice of half an orange
6 tbsp caster sugar
250ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, split (cut it in half, you’ll need half for the rhubarb and half of the custard)
5 egg yolks (save the whites for an egg-omlette)
Step One: Preheat the oven to 200C. Mix the rhubarb, half of the caster sugar, half of the vanilla, the orange rind and the orange juice together in a bowl. Make sure the rhubarb is coated.
Step Two: Transfer to a roasting tin. Roast for 25-30mins, until the rhubarb is soft. Remove from oven. Then turn the oven down to 130C (you'll need the oven again for the custard).
Step Three: Make the custard. Heat the cream and the remaining vanilla in a pan until the cream is scalded. Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar, then pour into the cream. Remove the vanilla bean, scraping any remaining seeds into the custard.
Step Four: Place the rhubarb into ramekins, dividing it evenly among the four. Pour over the custard. Bake for 40 minutes, until the custard is set. Pop it in the fridge and serve cold.
Please note that vanilla beans are expensive – so don’t immediately discard them. The spent bean casing will have retained quite a bit of its flavour post use, so dry the two halves out and drop them in some caster sugar to infuse for a vanilla sugar.
Also if you have any rhubarb left over, don’t discard it. Swirl it and it’s juices into yoghurt for an excellent breakfast!