Friday, May 16, 2008

Recipe: Radish Risotto

I bought a lovely bunch of these ruby-red bulbs at the Greenmarket last weekend with no real plan in mind. A few of them got sliced up for salads, but I'd have had to eat a whole lot of salad to use the entire bunch that way. So I started researching ways to use a lot of radishes in one go, and I discovered that you can cook them. Really! Cooked radishes! The idea had never occurred to me before - radishes are one of the few foods I'd only eaten raw. Thing is, as vegetables go, radishes are horribly under-utilized. Other than an occasional appearance in salads, they're usually relegated to garnish status. And it's a shame, because according to Wikipedia, a full cup of sliced radish bulbs is only 20 calories. Twenty calories! That's the same number of calories in an equivalent serving of cucumbers. In other words, basically nothing. You can also cook the green tops, which have a little bit of a kick to them that's reminiscent of mustard greens. A bunch of radishes really gets you two vegetables for the price of one.

If you're considering cooking radishes, you should know that a cooked radish is an entirely different beast than a raw one. The bulbs lose their bite, growing milder and sweeter, with a taste similar to parsnips. The color also bleeds and fades. Someone who finds raw radishes too strong might like cooked radishes, but if you like that bitter, peppery, crisp taste, you might be disappointed by the cooked version. I had no idea what to expect when I cooked radishes for the first time, but I figured that just about anything can be turned into a tasty risotto, so I used the bulbs and the greens together for this dish. It turned out really well, and I'm seeing other attempts at cooked radishes in my future.

I'm sending this to Gay of A Scientist in the Kitchen, this week's host of Weekend Herb Blogging. I hope I'm doing this right, since it's my first time trying to submit an entry anywhere, and only my second entry ever!

Radish Risotto
serves 2-3 as a main course

4 cups chicken stock
1 tbs + 2 tsp butter
1 tbs olive oil
2 small shallots (or 1 large one)
1 cup risotto rice (Arborio, Vialone Nano, or Carnaroli)
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 bunch radishes with tops (my bunch weighed ~10 oz)
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 tbs fresh mint
1 tsp grated lemon zest
salt and pepper

2 saucepans (a small one for the stock and a larger, shallower one for the rice)
wooden spoon
knife and cutting board

Heat stock in small saucepan. When it starts to boil, lower the heat to the lowest simmer so it will stay hot throughout the cooking process.

To prepare the radishes, first break off the bulbs. Rinse them well and scrub any parts that look dirty. (Well, you should probably scrub all the bulbs, but it can get fiddly, so... your call.) Cut small radishes in half, medium-sized radishes in quarters, and jumbo radishes in eighths so all pieces are similarly sized. Rinse the radish greens in a few changes of cold water, then cut off any long or thick stems. The greens can be really dirty and gritty so make sure they are clean before you trim them.

Put the radishes aside, then peel and chop the shallots. Heat 1 tbs butter and 1 tbs olive oil over medium-high heat in the larger sauce pan. When butter melts, add shallots and cook for 2 minutes until they turn translucent. Add rice and stir so rice gets coated in oil.

Add wine to the pan and stir until the alcohol burns off and the rice absorbs the remaining liquid. When the liquid is almost all gone, add a ladle-full of hot stock to the rice and stir. Watch the risotto closely; as soon as the stock is absorbed, add another ladle-full and stir again. Continue adding stock a little at a time and stirring until the rice is cooked through and creamy, with just a little firmness in the center when you bite into a grain. It should take about 20 minutes.

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to stir risotto constantly. You need to keep an eye on it so it never dries out and starts to burn, but I think that one or two good stirs after every bit of added stock is just fine. Plus that gives you some free time to prepare the rest of your ingredients.

After the rice has been cooking for 10 minutes, melt the remaining 2 tsp butter in a skillet over medium heat. As soon as it melts, add the chopped radish bulbs and a pinch of salt. Saute the radishes for about 5 minutes. The bright red color of the skin will start to leech into the white center, turning the whole thing a translucent, pale shade of pink. When this happens, add the radish greens and a little bit of hot stock, then cover and cook for another 2 minutes. At this point the greens should have wilted. Remove pan from heat.

When the rice is finished, remove it from heat. Add the cheese, radish bulbs with radish greens, mint, lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste. If the addition of the cheese thickens up the risotto too much, add a little more stock to thin it out.

Scoop risotto into bowls and serve immediately.

Recipe: Mint Vinaigrette

I had a bit of a revelation last week: Mint is an herb.

Did you know that? You probably did. You're probably thinking that I'm crazy, that I might as well jump up and down proclaiming, "The sky is blue! The sky is blue! Seriously, have you guys seen it? The SKY is BLUE!!!!" Which might be a valid comment after 32802384 days of rain, but at any other time... just a bit obvious.

So I guess I should clarify my revelation: mint is an herb that can be used without sugar.

I've always thought of mint as a dessert flavoring. Mint chocolate chip ice cream, Andes mints, Thin Mint cookies -- all are minty, all are deeeelicious, and all are sweet. The only times I've bought fresh mint in the past have been when I wanted to make mojitos, which are also sweet. Toothpaste, mint gum, and Tic-tacs prove the point even farther.

Mint has long been one of my favorite flavors. I remember walking around grocery stores as a child, and my mom would direct me to the mint bunches. We'd each pull off a leaf and rub it between our thumb and forefinger, and then our hands would smell like mint for the rest of the shopping trip. And yet... until last week, I never thought of using mint in a savory dish, using it alongside or instead of basil or parsley or sage. I bought a bunch of fresh mint yesterday for just this purpose: I want to experiment, to test the versatility of this herb. (Because that's what mint is: an herb. For reals!)

Experiment #1 came in the form of a salad dressing. Deb of Smitten Kitchen posted a green bean and cherry tomato salad recently that really called out to me, what with the freshness and the bright colors and all. The basic salad dressing in that recipe (olive oil, red wine vinegar, shallot, salt, and pepper) seemed like a good place to start minting it up. I prepped my green beans and tomatoes as described in the recipe, except that I halved the quantities, and here's the dressing I made to go along with it.

Mint Vinaigrette
makes enough to dress 2 salads

2 tbs seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tbs olive oil
1 small shallot
1/2 tbs fresh mint leaves
salt and pepper

Tools and Equipment:
small bowl

Pour vinegar into bowl, then slowly drizzle the olive oil in, whisking to emulsify.

Finely chop shallot and mint, then add to bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. [Note that seasoned rice wine vinegar contains salt, so you probably won't need to add much more.]

Let dressing sit for a few minutes while you prep the salad.


The results? Well, I'd say this experiment was a resounding success. The vinegar I used contains some sugar, so I didn't completely break away from the minty+sweet=tasty formula, but then again, this is a salad dressing and not a dessert... so I think that's progress. Either way, the dressing was great, the mint was subtle yet noticeable, and it really highlighted the fresh veggies in the salad. I served it with a piece of Scottish trout, rubbed with olive oil, salt and pepper, a dill-y spice mix, and a squish of lemon juice, then broiled for 10 minutes. Together, they made my favorite kind of meal - quick, easy, and delicious!