Rhubarb made it to the Netherlands in the early 1700's - not the stalks, but the root of the rheum rhabarbarum was popular at the time: it had laxative properties for those in need of such medicine and was much desired by merchants and apothecaries alike. Het Nederlands Magazijn, a popular publication in the 1900th century, discusses both Chinese and Russian rhubarb, and mentions several other varieties. In the Netherlands, once rhubarb was introduced, through the English, who already mention recipes with rhubarb stalks in the mid to late 1800's.
However, the Dutch did not embrace this plant until the late, late 1900s. Although recipes are still limited to sweet concoctions such as rabarbermoes, rabarbersiroop, rabarbercake and rabarbervlaai, the country is slowly but surely tapping into the many possibilities of this versatile tangy, oxalic-acid rich vegetable. The people at the famous Historische Groentenhof, the historical vegetable courtyard, are returning Dutch heirloom rhubarb varieties from elsewhere, with names as Donkere Bloedrode, Scheemdermeer, Amersfoorter Roem and Zwolse Rode.
Restaurants in the country are getting ready to celebrate their second annual Dutch Rhubarb Week, from the 18th through the 28th of June. And these chefs are not just cooking pastries and pies with it, but branch out into every aspect of their culinary experience: rubs, marinades, soups and even a rhubarb liqueur is on the menu!
As for us here at The Dutch Table, we're making one of our most favorite summer desserts: rabarbervla, or rhubarb pudding. It's a tangy, sweet, creamy type of pudding that is easy to make, and is very refreshing! We don't add sugar to the rhubarb until after the warm sauce is made and cooled off: this way it takes less sugar to sweeten it.
1 lb rhubarb, washed and diced (approx. 4 cups)
1/2 cup water
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
Put the diced rhubarb on the stove with the 1/2 cup of water, and simmer slowly, for about fifteen minutes, or until the pieces are soft and falling apart. Mash them with a fork until all the lumps are gone. In a separate bowl, stir the two egg yolks with the corn starch. Add a tablespoon of hot rhubarb sauce to the eggs and stir until the rhubarb is incorporated. Do this two or three more times: you are tempering the eggs to the temperature of the rhubarb, so that when you stir in the egg yolks you don't end up with scrambled eggs! Now, stir the egg yolk mixture into the remaining sauce in the pan and stir, on medium heat, for a minute or two until the mixture thickens. When you are able to trace a line on the bottom of the pan and the sauce does not immediately fill in the void, it's done. Set aside and cool.
When the sauce is sufficiently cooled, stir in the 1/4 cup of sugar. Taste. If it's too tangy, add a little bit more, but not too much, as the whipped cream is also sweetened.
Whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form, adding two tablespoons of sugar** at the end. Save about half a cup, and fold the rest into the cold rhubarb. Sometimes, the acidity of the rhubarb will cause the whipped cream to curdle: you'll see small dots of white in the sauce. If this happens, don't panic: take a stick blender to the sauce and the lumps will disappear.
Pour the vla in four chilled cups, add a dollop of whipped cream on top and garnish with a strawberry or a lange vinger.
** You are welcome to add up to half a cup of chopped strawberries to the sauce: it will make it sweeter and more red.
*You can also use sweetener or vanilla sugar, if you'd like.