Radish-Leaf Vinaigrette

A couple of years ago I discovered garlic scapes, made pesto out of the green curlicues and got a little crazy with it. I bought all the scapes I could get my hands on – which wasn’t a lot and wasn’t for long, since their season is short – made pesto like mad and packed my stash in the freezer, ready for that proverbial rainy day. This spring, I just might be doing the same thing with radish leaves! Whodda thunk?

As soon as I came back from the organic market on Boulevard Raspail with fat white asparagus and mild sweet radishes, I came across a recipe for White Asparagus with Radish-Leaf Vinaigrette. Serendipity of the delicious variety.

Maybe some of you have been using radish leaves for years. Me, I’ve been profligate. I usually snip them off and leave just an inch or so of stem, so the radishes are easy to pick up and dip into salt. But the leaves … into the compost bin they’d go.

Of course, often radish leaves look they’ve already had a spin in the bin before you get them. If you want to use the leaves to make something delicious, you’ve got to get really fresh radishes with leaves that are so bright and lovely that you’d want to toss them into a salad (which is another good thing you can do with them).

The vinaigrette is fun and is good with lots more than white asparagus (a vegetable that is elusive at best and downright impossible to find when you want them at worst). Try it over hard-boiled eggs or plain chicken breasts, cauliflower, grilled zucchini or artichokes.

Now here’s the funniest part of the radish-leaf experience. The day after I made the vinaigrette, I was flipping through a French food magazine and found a recipe for green puff pastry! And what made it green and savory – radish leaves. Think they could be trending?

This recipe is really just a list of ingredients and really only kind of a recipe.  As with so many spur-of-the-moment things, this is a recipe you taste your way through.

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Radish-Leaf Vinaigrette

Makes about 1/2 cup
  • Fresh bright green leaves from 1 bunch radishes, rinsed
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard, preferably grainy French mustard (or to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (or to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon walnut oil (or to taste)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil, drop in the radish leaves and cook for a minute. Turn the leaves into a strainer. shake off the excess water and, when the leaves are just cool enough for you to handle, squeeze them between your palms to rid of them of as much water as possible. Give them a quick, rough chop and toss them into a blender or food processor (a mini is good for this job) while they’re still warm.  (Confession: I often skip this step – I just thoroughly wash and dry the leaves and carry on.)

Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and process until you have a puree. Now add the rest of the ingredients, tasting as you go so that you get just the balance you’d like. Season with salt and pepper. The vinaigrette is ready to use.

If you get your hands on white asparagus, here’s one way to cook them:

Using a vegetable peeler (I like a ceramic Y-shaped peeler for asparagus – or a peeler made especially, and only, for asparagus), and starting from about an inch down from where the petalish tips end, remove the peel. I think white asparagus are best when they’re thick, but no matter their girth, they have a tendency to be woody (especially the fat ones), so feel around the bottom of the stalk and snap the asparagus at the spot where the tough part turns tender – it’s a pretty natural breaking point.

Choose a large skillet with high sides and fill it with a few inches of salted water. Bring to a boil and then drop in the asparagus and boil for 4 minutes, or until a small knife can easily pierce the stalks. You don’t want the spears to go limp, but white asparagus are not meant to be crunchy.

Drain the asparagus on a few layers of paper towels or roll them up in a clean kitchen towel.