Spring has definitely arrived. The sun has been shining and our garden is flourishing with shoots in our vegetable patch, herbs that are waking up from the harsh winter and blossom covering our fruit trees. What could be better! So this weekend the menu for our dinner party for ten friends was inspired by what could be used from our garden - rhubarb. We have lots of the stuff. Probably down to the fact that my husband (our resident Farmer Giles) has been diligently looking after the rhubarb and feeding it lots of natural chicken fertiliser.
So I worked my menu in reverse. Pudding would be made with our deliciously acidic tangy rhubarb. I decided that I would make a Rhubarb Crème Brulee, served with baked rhubarb, orange tuile and garnished with crispy rhubarb sticks towering on the plate. Oven baked fruit is simple to make, striking to look at and tastes delicious. It can also be made days in advance, with most types of fruit, and kept in an airtight container. In fact all of the components for this course can be made in advance, which makes the preparation somewhat easier. The pudding worked a treat, but I would hasten caution over the use of the old kitchen hand held blow torch to caramelise the Brulee. I managed to singe and slightly burn my arms and I narrowly escaped having burnt eyebrows as I had over zealously filled the hand held device with lighter fuel, inadvertently covering most of the gadget with the liquid which produced the largest and most ferocious flame my daughters and I had ever seen - at which my younger daughter giggled and my elder daughter frowned. No one was seriously hurt.
I then moved onto my main course, 'Tenderloins of Pork stuffed with Spinach, Parmesan, Porcini Mushrooms and Pine Nuts, cooked in Marsala and Stock'. Cooking pork with Marsala is a classic Italian dish. There a few types of Marsala available to buy. If possible it is best to use one that is medium to dry (you can use the sweet variety if this is all you can get hold of). The pork was served with dauphinoise potatoes and green beans. Again much of the preparation can be done in advance. The dauphinoise can be made up to 24 hours before. When making the potatoes in advance, cook them for 40 minutes in the oven. Once cool put them in the fridge over night leaving only another 30 -40 minutes of cooking time in the evening before the food is served.
For the starter I was inspired by a jar of our home grown pickled beetroot and served 'Beetroot and Goat's Cheese Salad with Caramelised Walnuts'. Pre-cooked and vacuumed packed beetroot is just as good and is readily available from supermarkets all year round. This starter is quick to make and colourful. The caramel coated walnuts are ready in minutes. I always make double the amount of walnuts in the recipe, as my children love to eat them separately as a treat.
And so, with my eyebrows intact, we sat with our friends and ate our dishes in the correct order, each consuming a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc with the Beetroot and Goat’s Cheese Salad, followed by a fruity glass of Rioja with the Tenderloin of Pork. Happy Days!