I have a baking sheet of radishes in the oven, hopefully transmogrifying from little red-ringed slices of a vegetable I don’t particularly love into rich, crispy, salty little chips, which I hope I will at least like. Heat, oil, and salt-the same magic that makes almost every other vegetable delicious. But a preparation that’s a little more finicky this time. And it’s one of the last evenings it’ll be cool enough for baking all summer.
I have never been a big fan of a radish-it’s at once flavorless and too peppery, as pretty as it might be-but something, one of those internet somethings that slips through your mind-sieve and leaves just an untraceable residue behind, reminded me recently of my first year or two shopping at the farmers market. I reached into bins of strange vegetables with enamored abandon. I took them home like adopted pets or science projects, to try to love and to see what would happen. Also the radishes were a dollar a bunch. So I would figure out something to do with them.
I’ve been back at the market for weeks now (though I never really left), eager for the first spring produce and then before the asparagus was even gone-and when it finally was, I failed to notice its final showing-anxious for summer bounty. The anticipation feels greedy without the old naïve mystery of what each trip to the greenmarket would yield. In a few weeks there will be raspberries. Next time the strawberries might taste better and be a little cheaper. Where are the string beans? I want to cook eggplant. (Never mind the beautiful kale and lambsquarter in the bag over my shoulder that I’ve already bought and whose delicious ends I could be planning.) I didn’t get around to that asparagus pesto recipe. I never figured out what to do with rhubarb, so now I’ll have to wait another year.
I’ve been seeing abundant stinging nettles for weeks but it’s too Harry Potter, too Plants vs. Zombies. Too much work, and I don’t even know if they taste good. I’m just not gonna buy food I’d have to wear protective gloves to be able to handle.
Three summers ago I borrowed a big, green book from the library, with the sort of un-hip, momish cover design that comes from either the 70s or the early 90s. It cataloged vegetables simply and alphabetically, explaining how to choose them, how to store them, and basic preparations. Armed with that (and the internet), every Saturday I took home whatever vegetables were cheap and lush. Our caveman brains still know what’s good to eat, like the very pretty onions this past weekend, smooth and hard, golden and the size of my fist.
But radishes, I don’t like radishes, so of course this weekend I bought them. Because otherwise I can buy the same things I bought this time a year ago, and continue on like that until all that’s left are the apples and winter squash I faced wearily in February. (The apples are still at the market, but so are the strawberries, and even if the berries a few weeks away from their heart-stoppingly delicious peak, they are strawberries, and so we buy them.)
If you slice your radishes even and thin (this and shredding cabbage make a mandolin very worth it) and toss them in a little olive oil and sprinkle them with salt, you can lay them on a baking sheet in a 300-degree oven to bake and crisp for an hour or so. (This is a time to use parchment paper.) It’s a stupid thing to do in the summer, to run your oven that long, but before the radishes are out of season there will be a few more cold nights-they are a late spring vegetable, really, all gaudy magenta and, did I mention, just one dollar for a hefty bunch.
In the oven the radishy bite melts and mellows into something almost sweet. They are unattractively shriveled, and some make it to the burned side of golden, but even those are delicious and just see if you can stop yourself eating them all plucked from the hot baking sheet while you stand in the kitchen in pajamas. It’s not really a meal, and you should probably go to bed. But you figured out something new to do with a vegetable, and you are young enough that you should keep doing things like that.
Jaime Green knows how fast summer passes.