Zesty, Zippy, Zingy Radishes

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Radishes surely must a gardener?s delight; I know they?re one of mine. Gently tugging a bunch of bright red bulbs loose from the soft, warm earth, the feast of color is almost as pleasing on the eyes as their distinctive flavor is on the palate. Radishes grow quickly and can be harvested early, which means the crop can be renewed to provide several crops in one season. And they don?t require a ton of room, which leaves lots of garden space for luscious late season tomatoes.

Recently, the boyfriend and I were dining at a dependable Italian restaurant in NE Portland and spied breakfast radishes on the dinner menu. Intrigued and pleased by the offering of seasonal cuisine, of course we ordered them. When the order arrived at our table, it was a simple plate of raw, whole radishes with a particularly untruffley truffle butter on the side for dipping. Frankly, it was a bit of a let down. But at the same time, it was also an inspiration. For at the top of our minds and the forefront of our lips was the discussion about what the chef could have actually done with those beautiful fingerling radishes to make them more exciting for the diner. The man and I see very much eye-to-eye on these sorts of things.

Radishes were actually one of the first European crops introduced in the Americas, but their roots seem to lie in Southeast Asia (the first recipe below is a nod to this heritage). They?re one of those easy vegetables, adding color, crunch and a peppery spice to a summer salad or you can just pop them into your mouth for a healthy and delicious snack all on their own. But there?s so much more one can do with radishes; following are four?ideas that don?t include just putting them on a plate.

Cucumber and Radish Salad
One English cucumber sliced in very thin rounds
One dozen radishes, sliced as thin as you can get them
? red onion, sliced in half, then thinly sliced
3 T Fresh mint leaf ribbons
? cup rice wine vinegar
1 t mirin
1 T lime juice
2 T olive oil
? t sea salt

1. Mix all ingredients, let sit for one hour before serving (can be chilled or left room temperature).

Crostini with Pesto and Radish
Sea-salted crostini
? lb. of pesto
6 shaved radishes

1. Spread pesto on crostini, top with shaved radish, and voila! Beauty, flavor and interest all in one tasty little bite.

Radishes with Burrata
Burrata is one of those cheeses that makes me long for the days when I could still eat dairy. And watermelon radishes might just be one of the most beautiful vegetables around with their kaleidoscope of color inside. This recipe is the perfect combination of creamy/crunchy and savory/spicy.

? lb. burrata
4 watermelon radishes thinly sliced
2 T olive oil
2 t fresh squeezed lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
2 chives, chopped for garnish
Zest of one lemon, for garnish

1. Spread burrata on a serving plate.
2. Toss radishes with oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and arrange over cheese (include all the dressing).
3. Top with chives and lemon zest.

It’s all About the Basil

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Pesto is one of those dishes that just screams summer to me. Walk through the basil garden and smell the sweet aromas, mint and hints of licorice waft up to your nose. With more fragrant basil coming out of the garden than I ever know what to do with, I love mixing up batches of tasty pesto to give away to happy friends and to freeze in serving size bags to see how long I can make it last. Finding a bag of this green treasure in my freezer in the fall is like?winning the lottery. Thawed quickly under running warm water and served over a bit of pasta, it?s like a summer do-over.

Pesto was created in the northern Italian seaside village of Liguria in Genoa. Diets in this region focused on the use of abundant herbs, nuts, fish, olive oils and pasta. And since basil flourished here, Pesto was a natural part of that culinary evolution.?However, as with most recipes, variations have been found all over the world, and determining which came first is likely?the root of many an argument. Provence, France has a variation called pistou. Pistou recipes call for parsley instead of basil, and no nuts (though the cheese is optional but probably not traditional). Locally, I?ve seen many modern creative substitutions for basil, such as mint, arugula and even stinging nettle leaves (fascinating). And when pine nuts are not to be found on my pantry shelves (a rare event), I have been known to use walnuts as a stand in.

The word pesto comes from ?pesta?, which in Genoan means to pound or to crush. This makes sense considering how this recipe is prepared. Like most traditional European dishes (take a look at my aioli recipe), preparation often calls for a classic mortar and pestle, but don?t feel guilty taking advantage of modern conveniences to save yourself both time and energy while producing a fresh sauce you can feel good about serving. The following recipe is merely a guideline. Play with the proportions to control strength and sweetness to your liking.

The options for use are endless. Spread on pizza in place of red sauce, serve as a dip for grilled salmon or chicken cutlets or click here to try this exciting pesto and radish appetizer.

Pesto Recipe:

4 large handfuls of fresh basil leaves ? about 5 cups
4 small cloves of garlic ? cup pine nuts (pignoli)
? cup fruity olive oil ? cup Pecorino cheese (or mix with half Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1 t coarse sea salt ? t pepper
Optional: ? t red pepper flakes (not at all traditional, but I prefer a little heat to lift this dish to new heights)

1. Place garlic, salt and pine nuts in a small food processor and process until nuts begin to break down, about 20 seconds.
2. Add basil leaves and pulse several times.
3. With food processor still running, add oil in thin stream and continue to process until pureed.
4. Add cheese and red pepper (if using) and blend for another minute.

Use fresh or store in freezer. Recommendations are typically to store for two weeks, though I have enjoyed bags of summer pesto long into the next season. The trick is to try and remove as much air from the packaging as possible as the air will oxidize the green leaves turning them brown.