Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

The Virtues of Radishes & Butter


Let me preface what I'm about to say with "I love creative, adventurous food. Cooking and dining, give it to me."

But after a marathon of 5-page recipes and multiple mini courses of culinary-combination genius, I dare you to find anyone who would say no to a simple roast chicken or a heavy bowl of lentil lamb soup.

Simply put, we underestimate the power of simplicity.

I've often been in kitchens of friends and friends of friends who slather on their impressive skill and relish in a 3-day orgy to create a good cassoulet. I've been asked for recipes for a "complete" dinner. When I hand over a first course of nothing but good charcuterie (awesome cured meats), I get a disappointed frown as if I had let them and every other home cook down. Poser, their looks seem to say.

It is not my job to stress over what I cook for myself and friends. Yet, we've all become rather pros at it. Nevermind the orchestration of technically-challenged and awe-inspiring dishes for your book club. I'm talking even getting a meal on the table to foster conversation flowing around it.

So we "do" take-out. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy my pastrami burger and gyro as much as the next person. But, the stuff is not the sustenance of a life. We think it's easier to commute, order, pick up, and serve. We think if we have to cook, we have to sweat considerably.

My delcaration to you all now:  THAT. IS. SOOOOOOO WRONG.

The best cooks I know are the relaxed sort. They aren't harried when you come over. They take their time in the kitchen and dig it when you join them there as they prepare cheese and dried fruit plate for the sliced baguettes. Voila. An appetizer.

They don't tarry about finding toothpicks to secure neatly rolled bacon dates. They're aren't half-assed in listening to you bitch and moan about the latest batch of middle-class troubles.

They are fully invested in the moment of having you around. Fully invested in their glass of wine and still mindful of the cauliflower roasting alongside an untrussed chicken.

They believe that a good meal can be nothing more than a piece of fruit with all the ripeness nature can truly muster, a hunk of good bread, and perhaps some cheese or prosciutto.

To them and those who have inspired me in my lazy eating, therefore lazy cooking, I owe every dinner party and self-indulgent meal.

I cannot even begin to tell you about the bliss of radishes, fresh from my friend's garden and their greens still rugged and wrinkled, simply washed and piled onto a plate. Serve them with another small plate of room temperature, cloud soft butter, the best you can get your hands on, and a mound of coarse salt. Dip, sprinkle and crunch. If this is the bulk of your meal it's nice to have a baguette around. My friend, the pastry goddess known as Amber, likes to thinly slice hers and shingle them daintily atop a sliced baguette already slathered with butter. Sometimes there is herbage involved. Sometimes not. But always, the sandwich is enjoyed.

If you insist on some sort of gussying, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt before going into a hot oven revealed a treat I have only recently known -- roasted radishes.

Radishes and butter are the most unusual and satisfying pairing, the herald of a season characterized by lazy cooking. Assembly is more like it when you have the bosomy vine-ripened tomatoes, just snapped beans and ears of corn that should really be categorized with candy. When we proceed to eat these things there should not be a trace of shame for not having done a step 1, 2, or 3 in order to enjoy it.

Some things are so simple, so pure and too good to embellish with flair and ego. Food tastes better without anxiety, even if it is nothing but a meal of fresh radishes and amazing Italian butter.

A few other such virtuous recipes ...

LENTIL LAMB SOUP * simple summer joys * PANDORO FRENCH TOAST * german pancake * SOFT BOILED EGG & BUTTERED TOAST * spicy anchovy greens * corn on the cob slathered with feta and many things * CREME FRAICHE * feta biscuits * ROASTED APRICOTS WITH BRIE * ajvar cracker * CHOCOLATE CROSTINI