So, The Lad wants us to plant a vegetable garden. On paper, this is a great idea: it would be an educational and rewarding experiment for our family; it hits all my nouveau-homemaker hot buttons, such as eating local, eating organic, teaching my kids to love fruits and vegetables, knowing the joy of tomatoes still warm from the sunshine; we already have a berry patch, and its products only reinforce the warm-fuzzy feeling that this concept of home gardening evokes in me. Heck, this bucolic dream has even, at times, inspired me to announce that we’ll be getting chickens or that we should start keeping bees (leveler heads have prevailed – so far.)
“The Homestead” is an attractive conceit, even in miniature.
But I also need to be honest with – and about – myself: we lost a few crops of our berries last year to birds, berries, slugs and laziness (and berries are about the lowest-maintenance thing I could come up with.) What’s more, my rule for what thrives under my care is simple: If you can ask for food and water, I’ll likely give it to you. Kids and cats do well; plants and goldfish do not. This does not bode well for seeds hiding beneath a layer of dirt. I worry about embarking on a gardening project where the overarching lesson to my impressionable children is that “Mommy has a black thumb.”
Yet I find it hard to resist the remarkably cogent and enthusiastic arguments of The Lad, so when I saw some seed packets on sale last weekend, I grabbed a few – watermelons, carrots … and radishes, which the packets said were good “starter” veggies: not too much digging, quick to germinate and mature, hard to get wrong.
The packets continue to sit on the counter while The Lad tells me we need wood to “build our garden,” but their very presence set me down a forgotten culinary path. As it happens, I kind of love radishes. It’s a strange vegetable to have a strong opinion about, but I really like their peppery crispness (strange, since I do not enjoy most other plants in the mustard family.) They’re also ridiculously healthy for you – a ton of Vitamin C and potassium, and they’re a great source of iron. Of course, I usually negate all their goodness by pairing them with rich things, like avocado (though avocado is also remarkably good for you, despite the calories.) I like to braise them and serve them as a side dish, and I love the traditional French snack that smears some rich butter on a radish and then dips it in course salt – it’s a piquant, refreshing treat.
This little snack is a riff on that – I shredded some radishes, mixed them with good butter, and have proceeded to spread the crunchy, earthy, satisfyingly rich results on everything from a baguette to crackers to celery sticks to whole grain toast. Something about it makes me think of summertime cucumber sandwiches, only spiced up and stripped of their daintiness. It’s delicious alongside a Pimm’s Cup.*** In any combination, this little concoction takes the radish far from it’s shaved adornment of iceberg-lettuce salads and lets its unique and wonderful texture and flavor show itself off.
Baguette, whole grain toasts, celery sticks, endive spears, water crackers, etc. for serving
Shred the radishes using a the large holes of a box grater or the shredder on your food processor. In a medium bowl, combine well with the softened butter, and season to taste with salt (if using) and black pepper.
Spread on bread, toast, or crackers and serve at room temperature. This can be refrigerated for a few days, but bring it to room temperature before serving.
* Radish leaves are great additions to salads. Rinse well.
** This is one case where I think that using a good salted butter is perfectly great. The big problem with using salted butter in most recipes is that it doesn’t let you control the salt levels in the final product as easily. However, in this recipe, the salt is a major flavor profile, and I like the mild saltiness that the Kerrygold or the Plugra with Fleur de Sel provides. If you do use salted butter, there will be no need to add extra salt. If you want to get actual bites of salt flakes, use the unsalted butter and flavor to taste with a good coarse salt.
*** This Pimm’s Cup is Martha’s version … and kind of over the top. I make a simpler version, and will share that with you soon.