There are one or two paths down which even the most curious cook is probably unwise to go. I had always assumed cooking a radish to be one of them. Yet I saw a recipe this week, in Riverford's new cookery book, where classic salad radishes are halved and cooked with muscovado sugar and dark, rich vinegar. How could I resist?
Of course, we do cook members of the radish family, such as the fat, white Japanese daikon. Chinese cooks are happy to make this mildly flavoured radish into a flat, golden- crusted, fried cake. With its passing breath of bitterness, it is one of my favourite things on the menu, but never before have I been tempted to pop a summer radish in the pot.
The long, white-tipped red radish is an essential part of an English-style summer salad, offering bitterness and heat to contrast with the sweet, mild lettuce and cool cucumber. At their freshest, with their faintly hairy leaves intact, they are good enough to eat as they are, just held under the cold tap to wash away the garden soil; but better, I think, for being properly chilled and put on the table with a pat of cold, pale butter and a dish of sea salt.
It had never occurred to me that the small summer radish, such as "French Breakfast" or "Rudolph", might be worth cooking. I braced myself for disappointment in the way you might if someone told you they were cooking a strawberry. The result, eaten alongside a trio of lamb cutlets, made me think about planting more radishes in any spot of spare ground I can find.
But there have been other pleasant surprises this week, too. I once met an Irish cook who made an unlikely sounding but perfectly poised salad of raw lemons and cauliflower. The bite of the fruit was balanced with a dressing made from cream and mild, white-wine vinegar. I was immediately taken with the sour hit of the raw lemon flesh, but have never managed to find another use for it.
Scrupulously peeled to remove any bitter peel and pith, then cut into small dice and tossed with shredded basil leaves, cooling mint and tomatoes the size of marbles, raw lemons made a welcome return to my kitchen this week. Initially intending to toss them into a tabbouleh with cracked wheat and double its volume of finely hashed parsley, I stopped half way through to taste and thought better of it. So fresh and bright was the marriage of herbs and sharp citrus that I scrapped the cracked wheat idea and spooned it over steamed asparagus, though it could just as easily have been fish of some sort.
But back briefly to those radishes. Being a member of the brassica family, the leaves of the radishes would be worth a trip in the pot, too, I fathomed. Rather than steam them, I decided on a brief tumble in the wok with mushrooms, garlic and ginger. Less interesting than I had hoped, but it's another idea worth working on.
ASPARAGUS WITH LEMON AND TOMATO SAUCE
A fresh way with the season's green spears.
olive oil 60ml
lemon juice 1 tbsp
cherry tomatoes 8
chives 6 thin stems
basil 8 leaves
tarragon 1 tbsp
Slice the skin from the lemon then remove all the white pith that lies underneath. Remove the sections of flesh and cut them into tiny pieces. Put the lemon in a mixing bowl and pour in the olive oil and lemon juice.
Cut the tomatoes in half then add them to the lemon. Finely chop the chives, shred the basil and chop the tarragon, then add to the bowl. Season gently. Set aside in a cool place for the flavours to marry.
Trim the asparagus, removing any tough ends, then steam or cook in boiling water. When tender, after 8 or 9 minutes, drain and divide between two plates. Spoon over the lemon dressing and serve.
RIVERFORD'S GLAZED RADISHES
Jane Baxter's intriguing recipe for cooked radishes. Other good things worth looking out for in Everyday and Sunday Recipes from Riverford Farm by Guy Watson and Jane Baxter (Fourth Estate, £18.99) are the beetroot with aromatic spices, artichoke gratin and salt cod and peppers.
Serves 2–3 as a side dish
radishes 20, trimmed
brown sugar 1 tbsp
balsamic vinegar 1 tbsp
mint chopped, to serve
Mix the radishes in a pan with all the other ingredients except the mint. Add 100ml water and bring to a simmer. Boil over a high heat for 5 minutes, stirring continuously.
Reduce the heat and cook for another 5 minutes, until the radishes are tender. Season and sprinkle with the mint.
A SALAD OF CARROT THINNINGS
This is the time of year to pinch out broad- bean tops and they are much better in the pot than on the compost. Steam them briefly then toss in olive oil and lemon juice. Carrot thinnings can be used in a spring salad, like this one.
carrot thinnings 6 handfuls, no thicker than your little finger, or 2 bunches of baby carrots
beetroots 6 young ones
red-wine vinegar 1 tbsp
clove of garlic 1, chopped
lemon juice 1 tbsp
olive oil 4 tbsp
coriander leaves a good handful
Wipe the carrots and remove their stems. Remove any thick stems or tails from the beetroot. Put a shallow layer of water in a large pan. Add the beetroot, cover and steam for 10 minutes, then add the carrots.
Remove the beets when they are tender. Peel and cut into strips. Make the dressing by dissolving a pinch of sea salt in the vinegar, then whisking in the chopped garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Add black pepper and mix with the beetroot and carrots. Add the coriander and toss gently. Serve warm or at room temperature.