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David Lissner
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Eat this! Radishes, a spring vegetable with bite

The Signature Room’s spring vegetable bruschetta.

The Signature Room’s spring vegetable bruschetta.

What it is: A small root vegetable in the mustard family, the radish (Raphanus sativus) offers a piquant, peppery flavor and crunchy texture. Different varieties are harvested throughout the growing season, but radishes are most often a spring and early summer vegetable.

They come in all kinds of colors, shapes and sizes. The most common variety has a round shape about an inch in diameter with a tapered root end, a scarlet skin and a white flesh. Larger forms include black radishes, popular in Europe, and daikon, a long, thick, white Asian style.

Where it comes from: No one is sure when and where the radish was first cultivated, but it is a venerable food, already well established in historic Roman times. The ancient Greeks valued radishes so highly, they made gold replicas. Some historians believe radishes originated in Asia, at least as long ago as 3000 B.C.

They were among the earliest crops cultivated in the American colonies, grown in Massachusetts by 1629. Today, most states grow radishes, although the largest producers are California and Florida.

Patrick Sheerin

Patrick Sheerin

What to do with it: Radishes are typically sliced and served raw,, often in salads, but they also respond well to braising and roasting. Some people enjoy them raw with butter and salt.

Their fuzzy greens are also edible. At The Signature Room at the 95th in Streeterville, Chef Patrick Sheerin uses both radishes and their greens to make his spring vegetable bruschetta.. “We focus (at times) on using the whole vegetable,” he says. “Getting beautiful radishes from Werp and a couple other farms, and they’ve been coming in with great tops. By blanching the tops, it helps to tame some of the heat, and now you’ve got top to tail vegetable cookery.”

The Signature Room’s spring vegetable bruschetta
Chef Patrick Sheerin

“I wanted to look at a more obscure spring vegetable, one people wouldn’t necessarily think of as ubiquitous spring veggies,” Sheerin says.

Radish green pistou:
1 bunch red radishes, with tops, well washed
1 cup spinach leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon truffle oil or to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Whipped goat cheese
1/2 cup fresh chevre (goat cheese)
1/4 cup goat’s milk
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

Pumpernickel croutons:
4 slices pumpernickel
2 tablespoons toasted caraway and juniper oil

Lemon vinaigrette:
Juice and finely grated zest of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Salt to taste
Radish micro greens

Make the pistou: Saute the spinach in olive oil until wilted then lay out on a tray and chill. Save the spinach juice.

Remove the radish tops, setting the radishes aside until you’re ready to assemble the bruschetta. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the radish greens and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Drain and place in a bowl of ice water until chilled. Drain well and pat dry.

Chop the spinach and radish greens and puree in a food processor. Heat the spinach juice in a saucepan with the cornstarch until it thickens. Add to the puree followed by truffle oil. Season with salt and pepper and pass through a fine mesh strainer.

Mix the cheese: Mix all of the ingredients in a food processor.

Make the croutons: Take the pumpernickel and roll thin with a rolling pin. Brush with caraway oil and lightly season with salt. Cut the pumpernickel into 2-by-1-inch rectangles and bake in a 350-degree oven until crisp.

Make the vinaigrette: Place all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together.

Assemble: Finely shave the reserved radishes and toss with the vinaigrette and salt.

Using a small offset spatula, swipe the pistou across the plate. Pipe the goat cheese onto the pumpernickel croutons and layer on the seasoned radishes. Top with micro radish greens. 4 servings.

Toasted caraway and juniper oil

10 juniper berries
2 tablespoons caraway seeds, toasted
1 cup canola oil

Grind the juniper berries and toasted caraway seeds. Add this to the canola oil in a blender and mix. Let sit in the refrigerator for 48 hours. Makes 1 cup; this is hard to make in batches smaller than this.

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