Dinner at Prune was supposed to be a big deal. The kind of thing certain types of freelancers in New York saved for. So it was a bit disappointing to be seated in a stiff little metal chair so close to the next table that we could have eaten off our neighbors’ plates.
To tide us over before the stewed chicken, there was a little pile of radishes that at first, too, seemed oddly ordinary. But they were the pretty red and white ones, the kind labeled “French Breakfast” on the seed packet. Do people who seem inherently more elegant than we are really eat these every morning? Beside them, there was a slab of butter and bowl of flaky salt. This combination turned out to be the most remembered part of that dinner.
Radishes are about the first and fastest signs of spring you can grow. Their bite, balanced by sweet butter and salt, and maybe a mouthful of crusty baguette, makes a spectacular au naturel appetizer. Wash the radishes, getting the grit out of their tops and keeping an inch or so attached. Let them dry, so the butter will stick. Set out the butter and salt so people can jab and twirl each radish. No need to mention the double-dipping taboo at this point in history.
Radish canapés take that spicy crunchy freshness and buttery sweetness to a more sophisticated place. You grate the radishes and squeeze an astounding amount of water out of the result. Then mash and mix the grated radish into cream cheese. Lemon juice and minced herbs add complexity. Spread crispy toasts with the stuff, cut them into neat squares, and garnish with thin slices of radish. If you’ve got chives in the garden, your blossoms won’t be ready by Mother’s Day, but when you make these again in a few weeks the whole platter does look smashing scattered with the florets.
32 hors d’oeuvres
1/4 lb. radishes (about 15)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. minced parsley
1 tsp. minced chives
8 slices rye bread
Grate 12 radishes and set the rest aside whole to slice later for the garnish.
Squeeze the water out of the grated radishes, using cheesecloth or pressing the grated radish into a sieve, and set aside.
In a separate bowl, mash and mix the cream cheese and lemon juice until smooth. Add the minced herbs. Mix in the grated radish. Season with salt.
Toast the bread and slather it with the radish spread. Trim the toasts into squares (or some other neat geometry) and top each canapé with a few thinly sliced radishes.