I tend to think of radishes – sweet and peppery with a watery crunch – as being particularly English. But having said that, some of the nicest ways to eat them are in the style of the French: simply washed and dragged through aioli and served with other young vegetables such as carrots, cucumber and small ripe tomatoes.
I don't know whether there is any truth to this, but whenever I bite into a radish, I can't help but remember what my father used to say about these delicious little veg: if you were healthy, he'd tell me, they would taste sweet; if not, they would taste overpoweringly peppery.
My favourite variety are breakfast radishes, possibly because they are the prettiest, with a slightly oval shape and clean white tip. Like many summer-root vegetables, they are best when eaten almost straight from the ground.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 7605 3627, petershamnurseries.com
Although it may seem an odd idea, radishes are also very good when they are cooked – their outer layer dissolves into the palest pink and their flavour becomes subtle. It is a very good accompaniment alongside fish or, as pictured here, simply grilled rabbit. Sometimes I poach a chicken in a light stock, adding herbs and radishes a few minutes before the end, slicing the chicken before ladling it in to warm soup bowls with the vegetables alongside.
500g/1lb radishes, well washed
2 sprigs of thyme
1 fresh bay leaves
40g/11/2oz unsalted butter
Enough chicken stock or water to just cover the vegetables
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Wash the radishes well under cool running water and put in a fairly small, heavy-based saucepan. Add the thyme, bay and butter and cover with the stock, but do not season at this point. Place over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat slightly and cook the radishes for 10 minutes. Now remove the radishes using a slotted spoon and set aside. Turn the heat to high and reduce the liquid by two-thirds. Return the radishes to the pan to warm through. Finish with plenty of freshly ground black pepper and enough salt to satisfy.
Carpaccio of wild sea trout with radishes and bronze fennel
The slightly fatty texture of the trout is very nicely balanced by the cool watery crunch of fresh radishes. Bronze fennel is not essential, but it is growing in abundance in my garden right now.
600g/11/4lb very fresh fillet of sea trout, skin still on
4 tbsp fruity extra-virgin olive oil
The juice of half a lemon
A few sprigs of bronze fennel leaves
2 tsp sea salt
Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
Slice the fish in the direction of the grain – you will need a very sharp, fine knife in order to cut the fish as finely as possible. As you cut, lean against the skin, which will allow you to slice fine translucent pieces – and as you slice each piece, arrange it on to cool plates (the fish should cover the surface of each plate without overlapping). It is important to slice the fish just before serving. Drizzle with the olive oil and lemon. Wash the radishes and slice them also as finely as you can, then scatter over the surface of the fish along with the fronds of fennel. Lastly, season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
Radishes with butter and sea salt
I like to place this on the middle of the table at the start of a meal for all to take as they please; the recipe below is for individual portions – just multiply according to your number of guests. It is very important that the butter itself be cold and unsalted; the salt should instead be a crystally garnish on the top. Accompany with thick slices of warm, preferably soda, bread.
A little pool of coarse sea salt
Allow the butter to sit at room temperature until soft, then spoon into a small ramekin and smooth the top with a warm knife. Chill in the fridge. Wash the radishes well and pat dry. Leave the stalks on, but remove any that are torn or bruised. Arrange on a plate, place the butter alongside and finish with a little pile of salt.