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July 22, 2011

Grazing: Radishes, Fire, Butter and Flowers

Roasted_radishesThe first time I grew radishes, I was flooded with so many that I ran out of ways to prepare them. I sliced and grated, buttered and salted, and ate them whole. Radishes don't lend themselves to culinary flexibility, I thought, but they sure like to grow. 

Not once did I think of bringing them into contact with heat. 

Too bad Coppa wasn't around back then. This enoteca in Boston's South End — with its nose-to-tail, Italian snacks, pizzas and charcuterie — has garnered intense devotion since it opened 18 months ago. I finally visited Coppa two weeks ago, where my friend Dana and I ploughed through a flotilla of small plates, including house-cured anchovies, fresh spaghetti smothered in cream, smoked bacon and sea urchin, and delicate pink slices of duck prosciutto. At one point, Dana actually clapped her hands with glee.

The simple yet innovative approach was best embodied, I thought, in 'Ravanelli Crostini' — a jumble of roasted radishes (and even crispier radish greens) on toast with nasturtium butter melted across the top. The fuschia heads were like umami garden candy, and became etched into my memory.

Since I live three hours from Coppa, I've been carting home bunches of radishes to recreate the dish at home, summer heat be damned. Why? As the months pass, radishes will grow spicier and woody, as Coppa's sous chef J.C. DeBrie can attest. 

The process is simple enough, he says: leave the radish greens attached to their fuschia heads, which you can halve and quarter to render same-ish in size. Then coat them in olive oil, salt and pepper, load them into a hot oven, and watch until they're "singed with a little crunch." (I've actually been separating the greens and putting them in the oven just as the roots start to look charred). Scoop them onto crostini and melt a pat of butter across the top, because radishes love butter — and butter loves everything.

Making nasturtium butter is not as hard as you think, either: At Coppa, they spoon a pound of room-temperature butter into a blender with 50-100 nasturtium petals and leaves, and a tablespoon of white miso paste for sweetness. Oh...

If roasting radishes is not tops on your list when the kitchen is sticky-hot, carry your baking sheet out to the grill and start playing with fire. Do it soon, though, before the raphinus sativus get too sinewy.

Corin Hirsch compulsively seeks out (and tries to recreate) exceptional dishes and drinks that reflect the season. Each week, Grazing highlights some of those adventures.

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