2 cups fresh rhubarb stalks, diced
2 ½ tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean
¼ cup water (for rhubarb)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar (for Italian meringue)
1 tablespoon of water (for Italian meringue)
2 egg whites
1 cup heavy cream whipped to soft peaks
4 tablespoons chocolate syrup
Special equipment: candy thermometer, pastry brush
I like to serve this dessert in early spring when rhubarb is first in season. When buying rhubarb, choose stalks that are fresh and crisp, and peel off any stringy covering before using. Be absolutely sure to remove the leaves and discard because they are toxic. Rhubarb is a wonderful vegetable to work with, and combining it with Italian meringue creates a light, refreshing dessert.
1. Cut the vanilla bean: If the vanilla bean is hard, soak it in water until soft. Lay the soft vanilla bean on a cutting surface. Holding one end of the bean to the surface, with a paring knife, carefully slice the top outer layer of the bean in half lengthwise, being careful not to slice through to the bottom layer. Open the bean to reveal many little black seeds inside. Using a spoon or the blade of a knife, scrape the tiny seeds out of the bean.
2. Over medium heat, cook the rhubarb, sugar, vanilla bean seeds and empty vanilla pod, lemon juice and water in a medium sized pot until the mixture thickens, about 30 minutes. Let the mixture cool and set it aside.
3. Prepare the syrup for the Italian meringue: In a small pot over low heat, combine the sugar and water and let the sugar dissolve completely. Increase the heat and boil until the mixture reaches 235-240 degrees. This is called the “soft-ball” stage of cooking sugar – it is named “soft-ball” because at this temperature, when it cools, the sugar will be soft and pliable, like a chewy caramel. To prevent sugar crystals from forming around the sides, gently brush down the inside wall of the pot with a wet pastry brush.
4. Prepare the meringue: Using an electric mixer, whip the egg whites on low until you see foam. Increase the speed to medium and beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. While mixing, pour the hot syrup in a thin steam over the egg whites, and beat until the egg whites are stiff, cold and glossy.
5. Remove the vanilla bean pod from the rhubarb, then fold the rhubarb mixture into the Italian meringue until the rhubarb is incorporated.
6. Make the parfaits: Put the Italian meringue and the whipped cream into a separate pastry bags. Alternate layers of meringue and whipped cream so the layers are pink and white. When you reach the middle of the glass, drizzle some chocolate syrup, then continue with the layers until you reach the top of the glass. Chill the parfaits for about an hour.
7. Garnish: Top each parfait with a raspberry before serving.