Offer something small to eat as soon as anyone enters your house. It needn’t be sophisticated. Serve little halved radishes, chilled in the refrigerator, a dish of salt, and another filled with softened sweet butter. Let everyone spread the radishes with a smear of butter and sprinkle them with salt. – Tamar Adler, An Everlasting Meal (2011).
God bless Tamar Adler, not only for her throw back to Elizabeth David, MFK Fisher and Richard Olney cookery writing, nor only, for that matter, her dead-on hospitality advice*, but especially because in the passage cited above she actually tells her gentle readers how to pull off the old radish, butter and salt trick. I have been doing an ad hoc version for years, inspired by a mention of the dish in a passage from David’s Summer Cooking (1955), but I was never quite convinced I was doing it right. Turns out I more or less was, and there is something deeply satisfying about the summertime treat of radishes, butter and salt. The pepper in the radish is so beautifully balanced by the mellowness of the butter fat and mineral zing of the salt.
I’ve played around with the concept a bit lately, and the classic presentation is the best, although using salted butter is perfectly fine, if that’s all that’s around. Olive oil is a good substitute too. Or, if you’re ambitious, aioli. And company is not required – I have taken to having my radishes as a late afternoon snack.
Serve with Lillet on the rocks, with a wedge of orange.
And… if you buy your radishes at the farmers’ market or a shop that has the good sense to keep the greens on the top of the radishes by all means keep them to throw in the salad bowl, or sauté with (new) garlic in olive oil as a base for a simple pasta, or use them as you would any dark leafy green – they have their own lovely peppery flavour.
*Adler is not our only contemporary and articulate voice on this sort of thing, of course. In Canada, we’re lucky to have Laura Calder fighting the good fight, among others.