Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Radishes Made Better By - GASP!! - Bacon...


The vegetable garden has been planted for almost three weeks now. There's been plenty of watering and weeding, from the arugula to the zucchini, and things look promising for a summer full of amazing food. It's just that most of the vegetables won't be ready to eat until at least July. And as I've said before in this blog, I'm not the most patient person in the world. So, as Tom Petty sings, "the waiting is the hardest part." Luckily for me, there's a teaser. The radishes that I planted from seed just a few weeks ago are ready to be pulled from the ground.

I didn't always love radishes. I thought of them as a pretty but vacuous addition to salads. Sure, they've got crunch and, if you're lucky, some bite, but they always seemed a little lackluster--as if something were missing. A few years ago, I found out what that missing ingredient was. Not surprisingly, it was pork fat.


I learned this fact one cool spring night as I sat in a cabin deep in Germany's Black Forest, where chefs from all around the world had gathered to devour a wild boar that had been hunted just for the dinner. The first course to hit the table was a plate of radishes and a bowl of whipped rendered pig fat that had been seasoned with shallots, caraway, and a little lemon.

It was a Bavarian riff on the classic French breakfast radishes served with softened butter and sea salt. The chefs grabbed handfuls of radishes and dragged them through the fat. Someone said "schmalz" and the rest of us just nodded and crunched away with pork fat filling our mouths.


As it happens, I don't always have rendered wild boar fat lying around, but I do usually have bacon. And for the next couple of weeks, I'll have enough radishes to eat some at every meal. First up is breakfast, where you'll find a plate of the spheroids and a bowl of what I've come to call bacon butter. I cook some bacon in a skillet, then let it cool to room temperature. Inspired by my meal in Germany, I whip it with some butter, caraway, shallot, and a little lemon. Then I drag the radishes through the spread and wonder why it took me so long to discover the perfect way to eat the garden's first gift of the season.


Radishes with Bacon Butter

8 servings

1/4 lb. bacon
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 small shallot, finely chopped
4 bunches radishes (about 2 lb.), trimmed, leaving 1" of stem
Kosher salt and black pepper

Pulse raw bacon in a food processor until it is finely chopped, or finely chop by hand. Cook bacon in a 10" cast-iron skillet or other heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it is browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in caraway seeds and cook, stirring, until caraway is fragrant. This will take another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove skillet from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Using an electric mixer , beat bacon, caraway, and any fat from the skillet with butter, lemon juice, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until bacon butter is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Fold in parsley and shallot, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve radishes with bacon butter.

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