I am frequently overcome with waves of guilt for the amount of food I throw away. I recipe test; it’s an ever present reality. Not every recipe turns out the first, second or even third time so these are often destined for the trash. Other days, it’s things I’ve forgotten about, found again in a sorry state in the back of the refrigerator or a crisper drawer – often vegetables bought with good intentions but crazy schedules. And other times it’s parts of vegetables – greens, tops, slightly wilted bits – that I cut off and throw away wishing the city had a composting program or that I kept city chickens. I know I need to do better and sometimes I do. Last year I made a sort of meatless meatball with carrot tops that were good in an earthy, grassy kind of way and I genuinely love sautéed beet greens, enough that I frequently come home with free bunches from the farmstand. People tear these things off and toss them. Can you believe that?
But now, it was radishes. My little community garden plot is taking off and I’ve harvested big bunches of fat, pink, French breakfast radishes several times in the last two weeks. Usually I’ll eat these by the dozen smeared with good butter and dipped in sea salt. It really is one of my favorite things. This time I was busy; they’d have to wait. So I shoved them in a tall jar with cool water and made room in the fridge.
Later, I discovered something wonderful. Storing them this way – root and greens intact in a jar of water – keeps the greens nice and vibrant for a good week at least. I often buy fat bunches of radishes at the market and always regret that the green tops too quickly become limp, floppy and sad. I tear them off regretfully and toss them in the trash. Surely, if I got my act together, these could be used to make delicious things?
My mind started working. What could I do? My thrifty French friends make a soup, though I never have. They were a bit too assertive to throw in a salad. The idea of a pesto was appealing. The peppery, spicy greens would make a lovely pesto and they did. Whirled in a food processor with a little garlic, almonds (my pine nuts had gone rancid and the almonds were pleasantly neutral), some lemon juice and olive oil until smooth, the pesto was a brilliant green with an unusual, vibrant flavor. It’s not basil pesto but it is interesting.
With the pesto complete, I looked down at the big pile of radishes. Radish greens are attached to radishes, you know, and they also needed to be dealt with. Looking at my bright green pesto and my pink pile of radishes, I felt they should go together. “Like with like” as the rule goes. A raw radish, how I would normally eat them, seemed strange with the pesto. So I started thinking about a sautéed radish.
There are certain vegetables that one doesn’t typically think of cooking. Radishes are one; it just seems odd. But I recently had a delicious side dish of sautéed rainbow carrots and … radishes. They were wonderful; a little spicy and dense and a nice change to the typical side vegetables. Though the idea seemed strange to me, I went with it.
I trimmed the radishes, leaving a bit of the green on each end because it was pretty and sautéed them in butter, garlic, a little water to deglaze the pan and steam-cook them a bit. When they were crisp-tender, I tossed in a few spoonfuls of the bright green pesto. What a surprise! Sautéed radishes have a wonderful texture; tender yet with a toothsome bite, a slight peppery flavor and a lovely light pink hue. The pesto echoes the flavor, compliments them perfectly and adds a bright touch of color.
It’s an unusual dish, certainly, something different and interesting. If you find yourself flush with radishes, give it a shot. Since the radish tops wilt quickly, deal with them as soon as possible. Either place the radishes, tops and all, stem down in a jar of water in the fridge or pull out the food processor and make the pesto right away. It will keep for at least a week. Add dollops to sautéed radishes as I recommend, or toss it with pasta as with a traditional pesto, or smear it on a slice of bread with broiled cheese. That’s quite nice.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: NIFTY THRIFTY. There is something so immensely pleasing about being smart, taking something destined for the trash and making something delicious instead. Sautéed radishes are something to add to the mix; a wonderful way to add something new to the repertoire. Every time you have beautiful radish greens, make the pesto. It’s great to have on hand and incredibly versatile. Use the nuts you have and whatever hard cheese is lurking in your fridge. It would be delightful on roasted tomatoes, a summery pasta salad or simply swirled into a bowl of vegetable soup. Then admire how immensely clever you are.
other garden thrifty recipes: Carrot Green & Parmesan Bites, Sautéed Beet Greens, Iced Herb Tisanes
Other things to do with Radishes: Radish Butter, Radishes, Butter, Sea Salt
Seven years ago: Chino Farms Strawberries
Six years ago: Peterson Garden Project – the Sophie’s Choice of Seedlings
Five years ago: Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie; Lard Crust
Four years ago: Fresh Ricotta
Three years ago: Greek Meatballs, Roasted Strawberry Sorbet
Two years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise
Last year: Eton Mess
For the radish green pesto:
2 large handfuls of good-looking radish leaves, stems removed
6 Tablespoons grated parmesan (or pecorino romano)
6 Tablespoons sliced almonds or pinenuts
2 small garlic cloves, finely minced
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 Tablespoons olive oil, maybe more
kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
For the sautéed radishes:
1 pound trimmed radishes (cut in half if large and fat), the long breakfast radishes if possible
pinch of kosher salt
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
2 Tablespoons water (or stock or white wine)
- For the radish green pesto: Cut green tops from radishes and wash thoroughly, removing and discarding the stems.
- Run the leaves through a salad spinner to dry thoroughly. (Alternatively, I hear if you put them in a clean pillow case and whirl it around vigorously, it is an effective salad green dryer.)
- In a food processor, pulse the greens, parmesan, nuts of choice, garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and the olive oil, with short pulses until smooth. Scrape the bowl once or twice.
- Add salt and pepper to taste. If the pesto is too thick, add a bit more olive oil. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate until needed.
- For the sautéed radishes: Trim the root and stem ends off the radishes and wash thoroughly. Leave a bit of the green stems for a pretty presentation.
- Heat 1 Tablespoon butter in a 12” heavy skillet over medium-high heat until foam subsides.
- Reduce the heat to medium, add the radishes and sauté with the salt, stirring, for about 5 minutes until beginning to soften.
- Add the water and stir occasionally to deglaze the pan and continue cooking the radishes until crisp-tender, about 7 minutes more. Take care not to overcook.
- Add the remaining Tablespoon of butter and the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add a few spoonfuls of the radish top pesto and toss to coat.
- Transfer to a serving platter and serve warm or room temperature.