It's challenging to create a recipe when you're faced with both ingredient and time restrictions. I knew that if I had any hope of eating still-fresh radishes, I had to incorporate them into dinner immediately. And because we couldn't resist the fresh greens and carrots at Saturday's market, returning home with bags that gave the appearance we have a family of 5, I still had a few other fresh ingredients sitting in the refrigerator.
In thinking about how to make these radishes shine, I batted around several different ideas, none of which made me that excited for dinner. Inspiration struck when I reframed the situation. Instead of attempting to make the radishes the main component of the meal, I shifted directions to incorporate the other leftover market ingredient in our fridge, collard raab from Deep Roots Farm. Deep Roots sells gorgeous greens at this time of year; their booth overflows with raabs of every kind, from arugula, to broccoli, to collard.
I decided to turn the collard raab into a pesto, planning to use all of the traditional pesto ingredients, with only raab substituted for the basil. Because pesto is perfect on top of a pasta, I finally had a recipe idea, except I still had no plan for the radishes. I initially considered braising them, but Justin and I feared that method would yield soggy vegetables. Instead, we decided to poach them in butter, just long enough for the radishes to absorb flavor and soften up, and then toss them with the pesto pasta. And just like that, a satisfying mid-Spring recipe was born.
Well, nearly born. We switched directions one more time when we couldn't find pine nuts from the United States. The only pine nuts available right now are from China (at least near us), which can leave me with 'pine mouth' (yes, it's a thing!). Pine mouth leaves you with a constant metallic taste and even worse, it makes all bottles of wine taste rancid. I learned this the hard way two years ago, when we poured two completely acceptable bottles of wine down the drain, thinking they'd gone bad.
Instead, we created our pesto with hazelnuts, specifically Freddy Guys (the best hazelnuts around, in my opinion). The hazelnuts gave the pesto a fuller, nuttier taste than if we had used pine nuts.
We had fun with our pasta choice, choosing cannolicchi, a pasta that looks like a cross between rotini and fusilli. The pesto clung heavily to the pasta's various nooks and crannies, while the poached radishes's earthiness helped to soften the pesto's sharpness.
Collard Raab Pesto Pasta with Poached Spring Radishes
1 pound cannolicchi (or other tubular ridged pasta)
1/3 cup butter (slightly more than half a stick)
250g collard raab (1 bunch), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (50g) hazelnuts, whole
1 clove garlic, diced
3 2/3 tbs olive oil
1/2 cup pecorino romano, grated
salt and pepper to taste
1) Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
2) Wash the radishes and wipe dry to get the dirt off (if you're using farmers' market radishes). Cut off any scraggly ends and any tops that still have greens connected. Now slice your radishes in half lengthwise. Try to keep all of your radishes roughly equal to the size of the pasta you're using.
3) Bring a pot with a decent amount of surface area to medium-low heat. We used a 4qt pot, but use whatever will allow you to keep your radishes covered in butter. Add the butter to the pot and let it melt. When it's melted, add the radishes. Make sure to toss the radishes in the pot so that they're all well covered in butter. You'll be cooking the radishes for about 5 minutes; your goal is to cook the radishes through and infuse that butter flavor, but you want to pull them before they get limp. Around the 4 minute mark, start picking out radish pieces with a fork to test for doneness. When the radishes start to lose their snappiness, use a slotted spoon to put them on a papertowel-lined plate, and dry off any remaining butter with another papertowel.
4) Add the pasta to the now boiling water. Cook according to instructions.
5) While the pasta's cooking, make the pesto: add the prepared dried ingredients to a food processor, then add two tablespoons of the oil and pulse. Keep adding oil gradually and pulsing until you get the consistency you want. Feel free to add another clove of garlic, but keep in mind that a raab's flavor is much more delicate than your traditional basil pesto, and the garlic can very quickly get out of hand. You also shouldn't need much salt in this pesto, since a good pecorino romano brings much of that flavor out.
6) Drain the pasta, reserving some water. Put the pasta in a bowl, add the radishes and pesto, and add pasta water to loosen everything up (being careful not to liquify your pesto). Toss together and plate. Enjoy!