Romancing the Rhubarb

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I have to confess I’ve never been interested in, let alone understood, Valentine’s Day.  The way I see it, if I need to have a special day set aside to remember to tell someone I loved them, I might have bigger issues to deal with than gift giving 😉  But that’s just me.

I’ve never been romantic in a shower me with all the chocolates and flowers kind of way.  Then again, the thought of buying chocolate for me probably strikes fear in the hearts of most men … 😉

Yup, I’m just not that type of romantic.

But for all those who look forward to the big V Day and love to plan special dinners and desserts, I salute you.  Especially if you are shamelessly looking for another excuse to have a great dessert 🙂

In the south-east corner of Australia, we’ve been having more than our fair share of heatwaves lately.  A rich and gooey dessert just seems wrong in this weather and chocolate dipped strawberries are so last century and just boring.   I would much rather serve a light and luscious Sicilian style gelato as a perfect finale to that romantic dinner.  Pretend you’re on the Isle of Capri on a warm summer evening … that’s pretty special, isn’t it?  Scoop your gelato into some beautiful cups or chocolate dipped waffle cones and go for a passeggiata under the stars.

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It all starts with choosing a perfect bunch of fresh rhubarb.  Look for brightly coloured and tender, but firm, stems.  If you grow your own, so much the better.  Rhubarb has a rich ruby colour and beautiful tart flavour that makes for a stunning compote.  Many rhubarb compote recipes call for the addition of apples or orange to add sweetness to counter the tartness of the rhubarb.  Others add red berries, in order to ensure a rich red colour and tone down the tartness.  These are all brilliant variations on a theme and utterly delicious.  I love the tartness of rhubarb in a compote so I prefer to let it shine in all its summer glory, sweetened with a little coconut sugar and tempered with a little vanilla.  It is so versatile and makes a refreshing addition to a summer gelato.


Rhubarb Vanilla Compote

Yield: 500 grams

This compote is wonderful on its own or used in all manner of desserts.

Layer it with creme patissier, whipped sweetened cream, mascarpone spiked with Grand Marnier or anything you like for a stunning parfait. Add it to the filling of a tart, serve it on waffles or pancakes for a decadent breakfast or brunch, or serve it with Greek yoghurt or ice cream and sprinkle with pistachios or roasted almonds.

So many possibilities.

Oh, it is also amazing in a gelato 🙂

If you cannot find coconut sugar, substitute with your favourite brown sugar. The coconut sugar imparts a lovely toffee accent to the compote.


440 grams fresh rhubarb, cut into even 2cm lengths (one average bunch, trimmed)

150 grams coconut sugar

2 grams organic vanilla powder OR 1 vanilla bean


Place the rhubarb and coconut sugar into a heavy based saucepan (stainless steel is ideal). Mix well and let it sit for ten to fifteen minutes. The rhubarb will start to let out some of its juice.

Add the vanilla powder to the rhubarb.

If using a whole vanilla bean, split the bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds.

Add the seeds and the bean to the rhubarb mixture.

Place over a low heat to dissolve the sugar and extract more juice from the rhubarb.

Mix well and cook down just until the compote is starting to thicken and is a rich ruby colour.

Remove the vanilla pod, if using.

Place into an airtight jar and let cool.

Store refrigerated until ready to use.

The compote will keep for two weeks, if stored airtight in the refrigerator.

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You could stop right there.  But, why would you?

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Vanilla Almond Gelato alla Siciliana (and Rhubarb Version)

You can make this as a simple Vanilla Almond gelato and it will be sensational. But add the rhubarb compote and it becomes a refreshing, sublime experience.

You can add as much or as little of the rhubarb compote as you like to achieve the intensity you desire. If you love rhubarb, as I do, add the whole amount to the gelato. If you want to create a textural dessert experience, add about half or two thirds of the compote to the gelato and reserve the rest to serve alongside it as a plated dessert.

This recipe is gluten, egg, and dairy free. It is also free of refined sugar and is suitable on a low FODMAP diet.


Vanilla Almond Gelato

750 millilitres almond milk (I used Almond Breeze Unsweetened Vanilla)

100 grams coconut sugar

2 grams vanilla powder or 1 vanilla bean

32 grams pure corn starch

Rhubarb Vanilla Gelato

1 recipe Rhubarb Vanilla Compote (recipe above)


Place 500 millilitres of almond milk in a saucepan with the coconut sugar and the vanilla powder. If using the vanilla bean, split the bean in half and scrape the seeds into the almond milk. Add the bean as well.

Place over a medium heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a simmer.

Whisk together the reserved 250 millilitres of almond milk with the cornstarch, making sure there are no lumps.

When the almond milk has reached simmering point, add the corn starch and milk mixture.

Lower the heat and stir until the mixture starts to thicken.

Remove from the heat and remove the vanilla bean.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl and let it cool.

Cover tightly with cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Vanilla Almond Gelato

Churn the vanilla almond custard according to the instructions for your gelato machine.

The mixture can also be churned by hand. Place in a shallow container, cover, and freeze until ice crystals form. Churn the mixture with a whisk to distribute the ice crystals evenly and it becomes smooth again. Repeat the process until you reach the desired consistency.

Rhubarb Vanilla Gelato

Churn the vanilla almond mixture according to the instructions for your gelato machine.

Add the chilled rhubarb compote half way through the churning process and continue churning until the desired consistency is achieved.

If churning by hand, add the chilled rhubarb compote at the end of the process.

Chill the gelato in the freezer. It will keep for a few days but is best eaten on the day it is made or within the next 24 hours.

Remove from the freezer and allow to soften a little before scooping to serve.

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