Two things made my heart beat faster this weekend: The first was seeing Tim Gunn in his natural habitat, wandering around the American Wing at the Met, wearing a suit, on a Sunday afternoon. The second was finding the rhubarb in the supermarket.
“Really?” said Jon. “Seeing Tim Gunn at the Met is a lot more interesting than rhubarb, and I’m not all that interested in seeing Tim Gunn, to be honest.” This is because (1) Jon’s not into Project Runway, and (2) he grew up in an old farmhouse with a family that forced the pale pink stems under barrels in the garden. “Even so, rhubarb is a weed. Tim Gunn is a rare orchid,” said Jon. An apposite metaphor, as we had spent the previous day wandering around the botanical gardens with Jon’s visiting parents.
“Well, I’m excited!” I said. I do love Project Runway, and I did not grow up in an old farmhouse, so rhubarb was always a treat.
So I chopped up the rhubarb and stewed it in the oven with a handful of sugar, and turned it into a pavlova to give to my in-laws for tea. A thing of great Barbie-esque beauty, we tucked into it happily, our eyes full of culture, Tiffany glass, flowers, and celebrity.
For the Rhubarb
2 lb rhubarb
1 1/4 cups sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Wash and slice the rhubarb, sprinkle over the sugar, cover with foil, and bake for 40 minutes until very soft.
Drain the rhubarb (keep the juice), and purée the fruit if you like (I generally don’t bother). Boil down the juice into a syrup (you just want a couple of tablespoons). Chill.
For the Meringue
3 egg whites
6 oz caster sugar
Turn the oven down to 270°F, and make the meringue:
In a very clean bowl (wipe around with a cut lemon to make sure there’s no grease, or the eggs won’t whip up), whisk 3 egg whites with 6 oz sugar until they form stiff peaks. Add the sugar, 1 tbsp at a time, whisking to incorporate.
Draw a 7 inch circle on parchment, then flip the paper over (so the lead is on the bottom, not touching the meringue). Pile the meringue mixture onto the disk and smooth with a spatula. Bake for an hour. It should be crisp on the outside, but it’s amazing how much ovens vary. Leave it in if it’s not all cooked yet. If it browns, turn the heat down. And take notes so you learn your oven’s quirks.
Once it’s cooked, cool, then flip over, so the bottom (which is flat and squidgy) is now the top.
500 mL whipping cream
Whip 500 mL of cream, swirl in the rhubarb, and top the meringue. Drizzle over the syrup to serve.