Rhubarb and orange roulade

I generally think of roulade as either a dessert for deepest winter or brightest summer. It appears at Christmas in its chocolate incarnation, the yule log. In my family it's an integral part of the Christmas dinner: Christmas pudding is far too heavy to follow the excesses of December the twenty-fifth, and is usually saved for Boxing Day, but my mum's chocolate and chestnut yule log is just the thing to counteract all that rich fare. The summer version usually involves some sort of red berry, along with softly whipped cream. I decided it was time to bring the roulade into springtime, using one of my favourite ingredients: early, shocking pink, tart-sweet rhubarb.

Rhubarb is too often buried underneath a mound of crumble or smothered in a pastry case. While rhubarb pie and crumble are both superb feats of culinary engineering in their own right, when rhubarb is this beautiful I think it deserves more of a starring role in a dessert. The colours of this roulade are just wonderful: soft, golden sponge; bright white cream with flecks of orange zest, and the teenage-girl pink of the rhubarb stalks.

It's a simple dessert to make. You start off by making a fatless sponge with eggs, sugar and flour, along with a drop of vanilla (this goes very well with rhubarb, as I discovered when making my rhubarb French toast). It goes in the oven for about ten minutes, spread onto a shallow baking tray, and then you turn it out onto a sheet of greaseproof (for ease of assembly) and leave to cool.

For the filling, I just roasted rhubarb as I always do - with the juice of an orange and a sprinkling of sugar, at 170C for about 20 minutes. I left it to cool, then spread the roulade with ricotta mixed with icing sugar and orange zest: healthier than mascarpone or cream, and with a delightful graininess to it that goes very well with the sponge and the tangy rhubarb.

The only tricky part is the assembly. The sponge will inevitably crack as you try and roll it up - I'm sure there are tricks to avoid this, but mine was having none of it. Lorraine Pascale suggests adding a little warm water to the mix before baking, but this didn't help. To be honest, I don't think it matters. I guess the key is to try and roll it as tightly as possible, but the outer layer normally looks quite smooth so it doesn't matter that much. Dust it with icing sugar and no one will even notice. Anyway, you're going to slice it and serve it as soon as possible, and it tastes delicious, so who cares about a few cracks?

Rhubarb and orange roulade (serves 4-5):

3 eggs
80g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp warm water
80g plain flour

180g ricotta cheese
5 tbsp icing sugar
Zest of an orange
Juice of an orange
4 stalks rhubarb
Sugar for the rhubarb

First, slice the rhubarb into short lengths and toss with the orange juice and about 5 tbsp caster sugar in a baking dish. Bake at 170C until the rhubarb is tender but still holds its shape. Remove and leave to cool. Leave the oven on for the sponge.

For the sponge, beat the eggs and sugar with the vanilla in a large bowl until pale and foamy. Fold in the warm water, then fold in the flour (sift it first). You want to incorporate the flour but not agitate the mixture too much to keep all the air in.

Grease and line a shallow swiss roll tin or baking tray (mine was about 20x30cm) with greaseproof paper. Spread the mixture onto it and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden. Dust a separate sheet of greaseproof with sugar, then turn the sponge out onto it and leave to cool.

When cool, mix the ricotta with the orange zest and icing sugar. Spread over the sponge and top with the pieces of rhubarb. If there's any ricotta left, serve it on the side.

Now, using the greaseproof to help you, roll up the roulade as tightly as possible. It may crack, but this doesn't matter too much. Sprinkle with icing sugar and decorate with mint sprigs, then slice with a sharp serrated knife to serve.