Like many children, I grew radishes in a tiny plot at the far end of our family garden. The plot was shaded by two spindly lilac trees - one white, one purple and its dry soil, interlaced by stubborn tree roots, was not much good for growing anything. But while I watched the radishes struggle to sprout and grow, the scent of the lilacs infused my childhood mind with romantic notions of billowing dresses and ballet. I have loved lilac ever since.
But, once picked and on a plate, I lost interest in those same radishes. The irony being that the crop most suited to being grown by children in terms of speed, is least suitable in terms of taste, a crunchy-peppery freshness in general more readily appreciated by adults. Since then, I'm the first to admit, I've been known to buy a bunch and eat only one or two before leaving them to shrivel at the back of the fridge, only to consign them to the compost a week or so later.
But what a waste! In the spirit of a joyous appreciation for all things vegetable I have rediscovered the radish. Their colour and shape is so wonderful. Tiny globes or fingers of scarlet pink, sometimes tipped with pale cream, sometimes unified in one glorious smack of colour. The purist way is to savour them with a glass of something cold and pale, dipping them alternately into crunchy sea salt and anchovy mayonnaise. This is a dish best taken with fading warm sunshine.
Or combine them with rhubarb in a salad. This sounds stranger than it is in actuality. In a miraculous way, the salt diminishes the tartness of the rhubarb and confirms its eligibility as a stunning salad ingredient. Put a sizzling, sea-fresh, grilled mackerel alongside.
They are extraordinarily good braised or roasted with other vegetables, the peppery crunch adding a bite somewhat akin to a turnip, but less earthy and way more delicate. Use them braised or roasted to combine with many early summer vegetables: asparagus and all members of the pea and bean tribe. Or muddle some through shredded charred and braised lettuce with a sherry vinegar and olive oil dressing. I have also added them, very successfully, along with asparagus and peas to the final stages of a simmered duck or chicken, their jewelled pinkness bobbing around in the steamy broth.
And this is before even adventuring on a journey with fresh green radish tops. You can to add these to a salad, or use with the bulbs in a minty yoghurt-y soup.
In these, and every day more ways, my relationship with radishes is now fully restored.
French Breakfast radishes with anchovy aioli
Late Spring or early Summer for new radishes.
Eat crunchy, new season French Breakfast radishes dipped alternately in flaky sea salt and anchovy aioli with a drink whilst waiting for supper.
Wash 16-20 radishes, if the tops are wilt-y cut off the tops leaving around 2cm of stem, or leave a magnificent spray of leaves.
Put 1 egg yolk in a bowl together with a pinch of sea salt and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Start whisking the egg either by hand or with an electric whisk. Then gradually add the olive oil, drop by scarce drop. Keep going ensuring your mixture is thickening well. Once this is happening you can increase the flow of the oil. When you have a smooth firm mayonnaise, add 1 teaspoon more of lemon juice; 2-3 mashed anchovies; 1 crushed garlic clove; and finally stir in 1 tablespoon crme fraiche. Season with sea salt and black pepper.
Serve the radishes on a plate with a pile of flaky sea salt and a small pot of mayonnaise for dipping.
Raw rhubarb, cucumber and radish salad
April-June for field rhubarb
250g cucumber (half a big one or 2 mini ones), sliced into curls with a peeler
200g slender, pink rhubarb stems (around 2 stems), trimmed and sliced into curls with a peeler
1 teaspoons fine sea salt
200g red radishes without their tops (8-10), sliced into fine rounds
1 tablespoons lemon juice
leaves from 4 sprigs of mint
Serves 4 as a small plate
Place the sliced cucumber and rhubarb in a colander and sprinkle with the salt. Toss gently to distribute the salt and balance over a bowl to drip for 20-30 minutes.
Rinse the cucumber and rhubarb swiftly under a running tap, then drain and dry with kitchen paper. Place in a wide bowl along with the fine wedges of radish. Sprinkle over the lemon juice and let it sit while you prepare the mint.
Stack the mint leaves in two neat piles. Take one and roll it up into a fat cigar. Using a very sharp knife cut across the cigar to create fine ribbons. Repeat with the other pile of mint leaves and add all the mint to the salad. Gently lift and mix everything together and serve without too much delay.