Monday, May 24, 2010

Roasted Radishes - A Transformation of a Misunderstood Vegetable.

Radish season has arrived! Taking only a month from seed to harvest they are a rewarding early crop and can be reseeded and enjoyed throughout the summer. Farmer's markets in London have been boasting radishes of increasing size as the weeks go by and now that the season is in full swing, it's time to eat these magnificent vegetables!

You might have heard that radishes are quite nutritious vegetables. Related to broccoli and cabbage and all other cruciferous vegetables, it is indeed a nutritional powerhouse with ample amounts of Vitamin C, Potassium and Magnesium. Now I can imagine that some people are wincing at the thought of eating radishes and I must say that I used to feel the same way! That is, until I tasted my first whole roasted radish.

The technique and recipe was featured in Saveur Magazine and was so intriguing that it had to be tried!

So first of all, get the freshest radishes you can find. They will be firm and have leaves that have not wilted. This is a good thing because you can eat the ENTIRE plant - the leaves are edible! Sure they are rough to the touch, but plunge them into some boiling salted water with perhaps some kale or chard or spinach, cook until tender, and you've got yourself some delicious Greek-style greens. Drain them and dress well with olive oil, juice of half a lemon and salt and pepper.

After you've trimmed off the greens and given the radishes a good scrub, they will look like this:

Keep the roots and the short stems on - they too are edible. Dry the radishes and put them in a pyrex or on a baking tray and toss with a few glugs of olive oil (or duck fat or butter that has been melted in the oven for a few minutes in the tray), salt and pepper. The Saveur recipe adds thyme as well and I say if you've got it, go for it, and if you don't, you won't miss it!

Roast at 350 - 425 degrees. The temperature is flexible which is helpful when you are using the oven to cook the main part of your dish. The recipe calls for a 425 degree oven, but I made fantastic roasted French Breakfast radishes last night as my duck legs were braising at 350 degrees.

Turn the radishes a couple of times and roast for 40-60 minutes. You will know they are done when they are caramelized and browned and a little shrunken. The roots and the stems will be crisp. Cut a radish in half to confirm doneness - it should be tender and translucent inside.

It's hard for me to convey with these few words how delicious these radishes are. Through roasting they are literally transformed from strong, crisp, crunchy, slightly-offensive salad staples into juicy, tender, mild, addictive, tasty, roasted vegetables. Even the roots and stems become a part of the radish I WANT to eat - they crisp up and taste almost like french fries! I could easily eat 5 radishes at one sitting, perhaps even 10! They are that good...

Serve with roasted chicken, duck legs, fish, or as a snack!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Eating ramps (wild garlic) in England!

Greetings from England! I arrived earlier this month starved for spring crops - the garden at home in the USA was just starting to produce and it was torture leaving it behind for a month and missing out on all the spinach, cilantro, radishes, greens and peas that were nearly ripe for the picking. England has been cold and grey and the growing season has barely started, especially in the northernmost county, Northumberland, which is where I was last weekend for a lovely visit with my boyfriend's family.

Imagine my shock when it was discovered that their entire front yard was filled with ramps! There are even whole forests carpeted with ramps, and more shocking indeed was that no one was eating them!

Now, ramps in the USA and Canada are a hot commodity in early spring at the farmer's markets. It's the first crop of the new growing season and is hotly anticipated, but that wasn't always the case and it's really a recent phenomenon that chefs have been preparing them and people have been devouring them! In the USA and Canada, ramps are known as wild leeks - they are the size of scallion with a small bulb at the end. The stem is a pinkish-purple and it gives way to broad flat leaves. The whole thing is edible - ramps can be sauteed, roasted, pickled, put into soups, you name it! The bulb can be used in any way you would use garlic, leeks and onions and the leaves can be used like any cooked green like spinach or chard.

Interestingly enough, ramps in England are not known as wild leeks, but as wild garlic. Initially this didn't strike me as much of a big deal as the leaves are identical, but the stems of English ramps are white, and there is a very small bulb. These were differences too big to ignore. A little botanical sleuthing by my boyfriend's Mum gave the answer - American ramps are Allium tricoccum while British ramps are Allium ursinum (literally bear's garlic!), a different species entirely.

So the ramps were different... but did these differences translate to the kitchen? Are British ramps, wild garlic, edible?

Of course! Dig them up out of your backyard or where wild foraging is allowed. If you are not so lucky as to have them in your yard, some London markets are also offering them for sale. I just saw some yesterday at Broadway Market in Hackney.

Ramp Fritatta

Trim the roots off the ramps and give the ramps a good wash.

Slice the stem into 1 cm long segments. If your ramps have a nice bulb to them, thinly slice this part like a scallion. Cut the leaves into 1-inch segments. Heat up a large frying pan and throw in a nice hunk of butter. Get the stems and bulb parts of the ramp sautéing first. Once tender, add the leaves and let them cook down and wilt like spinach. Season the ramps up with a pinch of salt and a crack or two of black pepper.

In a bowl, whisk up the best eggs you can get your hands on (ideally from backyard hens or pastured eggs from a local, organic farm) with a little pour of milk, some more salt and pepper.

Pour the eggs over the cooked ramps and cook until the bottom is set and the top is still pretty runny.

Finish the fritatta by putting it under the broiler or in a hot oven. This won't take long - once the top is set, it is done. Give the pan a shake to test this. Turn the fritatta out on to a plate and present it to your guests:

Serve with a salad, some crusty homemade bread and even a slice or two of prosciutto or salami and perhaps even a few shavings of parmesan! The ramps are almost sweet with the delicate flavors of onions, garlic and leeks all in one. It's a true joy of spring and a wild crop I hope Britons will dig up and eat with the same enthusiasm and anticipation as those of us lucky enough to have them in North America!