I believe January rhubarb is nature's way of cheering us up. Christmas is over; consequently, we're all in debt, and far too fat. The skies are grey, the nights draw in early, and it's cold. I believe the best form of medication for such a state is admitted via the mouth, and nature seems to agree with me. She has provided us with this delightful ingredient (technically a vegetable, but treated like a fruit), guaranteed to awaken you both orally and visually from your January torpor. Those almost neon-pink stems can't help but cheer one up.
Even more so when paired with another lively ingredient: the orange. These pancakes combine the two in a marriage that is both comforting and invigorating. The pancakes are seared and smooth on the outside, but fluffy and almost creamy in the middle, lifted with the addition of grated orange zest. The batter is made by combining ricotta cheese, sugar, egg yolks, flour, and the zest. The whites of the eggs are beaten to stiff peaks and folded into the mixture in order to raise the pancakes. Some of the pancakes cook through in the frying pan; others, accidentally left on for not enough time, are still creamy in the middle - delicious. The recipe is an adaptation of a Nigel Slater favourite of mine: click here and scroll down.
For the poached rhubarb, just slice some rhubarb stems, sprinkle over the juice of an orange, some sugar, and some ground ginger, and bake at 170C for about 20 minutes, depending on how thin the stems are. The beauty of early forced (or 'champagne') rhubarb is that it is much sweeter than the tough, green specimens you'll find later in the year; I used a mixture of both because I had some in the freezer.
Just cook the pancake mixture in dollops in a frying pan containing a little melted butter. They're quite soft and fragile, so flip them recklessly - if you faff about, they'll probably break up and splatter all over the pan. It doesn't matter if they're not particularly evenly shaped, anyway. You can have the oven on a low heat to keep the pancakes warm while you make them all.
Drizzle the piled pancakes with some of the rhubarb's cooking juices, place a little pile of poached rhubarb alongside, and devour greedily.