Sunday, 29 March 2009

Les Radis

Both my heating bill and the new lines on my face are testament to the fact that it’s been a long, hard winter. But spring is beginning to make its annual appearance, as evidenced by the weather—which can shift from warm sun to cold rain to hail and back again several times a day—and the market, where spring greens, rhubarb and radishes have claimed places alongside the remaining root vegetables.

My favourite are the radishes, whose candy like colours bely their sharp, peppery bite. The French traditionally eat them on thin slices of buttered bread, sprinkled with a few grains of fleur de sel. Not being much of a butter eater myself, I prefer them plain, piled up in a bowl to munch alongside a pre-dinner sherry or white wine, occasionally with a bit of good mayonnaise.

I’ve only ever tried one way of cooking them—a quick braise with a bit of butter, sugar and water—but it’s good enough that I’ve felt no need to search further. The basic idea came from Molly Steven’s All About Braising, but variants—swapping white wine for water, throwing in some sorrel at the end, or adding bacon and balsamic vinegar for a sweet-savoury twist—seem to abound.

As they cook, the radishes leach out some colour and lose their aggressive edge, ending up a softer, gentler version of their raw selves. Just like, one can only hope, spring.

Butter-Braised Radishes with Mint
Serves 2
Total time 30 minutes; Active time 5 minutes

1 bunch small round or elongated radishes
1 tbsp unsalted butter
50 ml water or chicken stock
small pinch of sugar
salt and pepper
small handful mint

Top and tail the raishes, cutting any which are more than 1 cm in diameter in half. Place them in a skillet or lidded frying pan able to hold them in a single layer. Add the butter, water or stock, sugar, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Cover, reduce the heat and braise at a low simmer until a fork easily pierces the radish, between 20 and 25 minutes.

Remove the lid, shake the pan to coat the radishes in the liquid, and keep simmering until the liquid reduces to a slightly sticky glaze. Adjust seasoning, scatter with mint and serve.

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