I grew up in a household of musical-lovers. My sisters and mother and I spent hours snuggled up under blankets on the couch, watching Singing in the Rain and Brigadoon and other classics. One of our favorites was a 1935 piece of sparkling fluff called Naughty Marietta, with Jeanette MacDonald as a French princess who flees an loathsome marriage — all the way to the New World, where she meets the handsome Nelson Eddy, a militia captain who of course falls for her bubble-headed charm.
Where is this going, and what does it have to do with roasted vegetables? There is a punchline in Naughty Marietta we loved to quote, giggling, where the practical captain indignantly instructs the princess in disguise, who has no idea how to cook a meal: "You don't cook a radish, you eat it alive!" Sorry, dear Nelson — you could sing the moon out of the sky, but you didn't know too much about radishes.
Roasted and braised radishes came as something of a revelation to me just a few years ago, when I kicked the stern captain's opinion to the curb and tried them cooked. When roasted, a radish gets sweeter, with its bitter edges mellowed out. But its real pleasure is how intensely juicy it is — it practically pops in the mouth, a little crisp and gloriously tender.
Roasted radishes are very good all by themselves, but even better with other vegetables, like this mix of tiny fingerling potatoes and fennel. They roast together into a simple yet colorful side dish for a spring meal. And just to round it out, we drizzle it here with a brown butter sauce, spiked with lemon.
That's the way to eat a radish, I say. They are very good eaten alive, but oh yes, Marietta, you can cook a radish too.
Roasted Potatoes, Fennel & Radishes with Lemon Brown Butter Sauce
1 pound fingerling or very small yellow potatoes
Flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound radishes, tops removed
1 fennel bulb without stalks, about 1 pound
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 lemon, juiced, about 1 1/2 tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
Fresh mint leaves or dill fronds, to garnish
Heat the oven to 450°F. Cut the potatoes in quarters lengthwise and toss with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a large bowl, as well as a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Spread the potatoes on a large baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or until barely tender.
Meanwhile, trim the tops and bottoms of the radishes, and quarter them lengthwise. Trim off the top and bottom of the fennel bulb and slice in half lengthwise, then quarter each half and cut the quarters into pieces about 1-inch-wide. Toss the fennel pieces and radishes in the bowl with another 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and salt and pepper.
When the potatoes are just beginning to get tender, spread the radishes and fennel on the baking sheet and toss to combine. Return the vegetables to the oven and roast for an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until the fennel and radishes are tender and juicy but not yet soft.
While they are roasting, heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat for 4 to 6 minutes or until it melts and then browns. Remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the lemon juice, mustard, and maple syrup. When the vegetables are done, toss with the sauce and spread on a platter or in a bowl and garnish with mint or dill leaves. Serve immediately.
(Images: Faith Durand)