Red on Red, Joseph Keiffer, 2013
Recipe: Long Radishes with Anchovy Butter and Chervil
Radishes are in season. Doesn’t that get you fired up? No? I never used to think much about radishes either, or what their season might be. They were just something to knock around my salad plate, pretending they didn’t exist. That was until I discovered the French custom of smearing radishes with softened butter and a sprinkling of sea salt. Now, that is something special. The sweetness of the butter along with the salt and the hot bitter of the radishes blend together to produce a truly voluptuous flavor. So simple. I’ve been serving it for years now. But I knew my culinary head would eventually feel the need to Southern Italianize this already perfect appetizer. That usually means working either a little anchovy or pancetta into the mix. I chose anchovy to replace the sea salt, and the results, I think, are excellent.
The varieties of radishes I find at my Greenmarket always take me by surprise. They start to show up right about now. Along with the common round red type, there are Easter egg radishes, bunches of pink, purple, and white ones that grow together. Those are stunning. I find the long red, white-tipped French breakfast radishes. (The French don’t really eat radishes for breakfast, and I haven’t been able to find an explanation for the name, although I’m sure they’d be a good wake-up stomach cleanse after an evening of pâté and cognac.) I’ve seen a really long, skinny white variety called icicle. I’ve brought home big, round light green ones that, once cut, reveal a striped pink interior. They look like candy.
The red breakfast variety have gentler heat than most of the others, plus there’s more cut surface space to spread my anchovy butter on, so they are my radish of choice for this preparation (I can’t really call it a recipe). Try it as an antipasto, along with black olives, sliced raw fennel, and a glass of dry rosato wine.
Long Radishes with Anchovy Butter and Chervil
(Serves 4 as an antipasto)
2 bunches French breakfast radishes
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
10 oil-packed anchovies
A handful of chervil sprigs
Slice the radishes lengthwise.
Put the soft butter in a good-size mortar, add the anchovies, and grind with a pestle until well blended (you can also do this in a mini food processor).
When you’re ready to serve, simply spread a generous layer of anchovy butter down the length of each cut radish. Place them on a plate, and decorate with the chervil sprigs.