Monday, June 11, 2012

Polenta with Root to Stalk Radishes

Cooking with all of the parts of a vegetable - from the root to the stalk - isn't a new concept, but I think it's one that many people still don't embrace because they're not quite sure what to do with parts of vegetables that aren't included at the supermarket.  Just last weekend at the Carroll Gardens Greenmarket, I was given a gentle lecture on how to use the greens on the bunch of golden beets I had purchased.

I patiently listened but then told the purveyor that I always cook beet greens, sometimes roasting them like kale and sometimes sauteeing them like swiss chard - which he was surprised by, because apparently many people he talks to at the market ask him to cut off the greens and that many others ask him what to do with the greens aside from throwing them out.  Hearing this made me remember how underused (and wasted) so much of our food is, some of which is driven by simply not knowing what to do with it.

Radish greens, as you'd imagine from the taste of their root vegetable, are more bitter and acerbic than kale or beet greens, but you can cook them the same way.  The leaves are a little more delicate than the former two, so they don't need to be cooked as long.   But how to tame that bitterness?

Acid.  A little lemon juice or red wine vinegar goes a long way in perking up and balancing the earthy, assertive flavor of radish greens.  The radishes, on the other hand, become sweeter and less pungent when roasted, making them a natural complement to their greens.

When I'm not in the mood to think too much, I just put vegetables on top of polenta.  It provides a hearty base and pairs well with nearly anything you can think to put on top.

Which is precisely what I did with this bunch of radishes from the first week of my CSA share.  The solution for my remaining radishes and greens and a lazy Saturday (it's hard to get anything done when this guy wants to play with you) was to roast the radishes and greens, possibly one of the easiest ways to cook vegetables, throw them on top of polenta, and add a few easy seasonings at the end.  Simple, tasty, and, moreover, not a bit of waste.


Polenta with Root to Stalk Radishes
serves 2
vegan if not using cheese; gluten-free

1/2 cup polenta
1 cup low-fat milk (use water to make this vegan)
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch radishes (including the greens)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated pecorino cheese (omit to make this vegan)
1/4 teaspoon flaky salt, such as Maldon (optional)


Heat oven to 400 F and set the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

Add the polenta, milk (if using), water, and salt and pepper to a small sauce pan.  Cover, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium-low.  Cook partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the polenta is thick and cooked through, about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, cut the greens off the radishes.  Wash and dry the greens, then coarsely chop the stems and leaves.  Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt and pepper.

Wash the radishes and cut them into 1" pieces (if using large radishes) - you can leave small ones whole.  Toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and a few pinches of salt.

Spread the radishes on one baking sheet and spread the greens on another.  Roast the greens until the leaves are crisp and the stems are tender, 5-7 minutes.  Roast the radishes until they are slightly blistered and golden in spots, 10-12 minutes.

Divide the polenta between two bowls.  Top each one with half of the radishes and greens.  Sprinkle each serving with half of the lemon juice and finish with half of the cheese and a sprinkle of salt.

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