Spring Radishes with Chive Butter

The weather this past Saturday was spectacular, but was I in the flower garden doing the weeding I should have done last fall? Of course not! We took a quick jaunt to the lake for the first time this year to rest and read in the late afternoon. Nevermind the state parks aren’t open yet and it was a bit breezy, a quick walk was all I needed to warm up. But the walk got me thinking of summer, picnics, and what I was going to pack in that basket!

A few nights ago, my favorite local bakery (I’ve written about them here), mentioned they were serving French bread with radishes and chive butter. It sounded delicious, and since I had all four ingredients in the house, I decided to add it to the dinner I was making that night.

I love all alliums of all sorts, but I’m especially fond of chives. I love them snipped into some scrambled eggs with some creamy cheese added or with mashed potatoes. The chive bed is the first to pop up in the spring in my little herb garden and I’m always looking for ways to use them; I hate to think of those gorgeous green wisps being wasted on the wildlife that frequents the backyard!

So for this recipe, no measurement is needed. First off, take some fresh radishes and slice them paper-thin with a paring knife. Next, take a small bowl and add some softened  butter, unsalted or salted, whichever is handy and warm, and add some snipped chives, however much you want, a little or a lot. Spread the butter on a slice of warm French bread. Top with the sliced radishes. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could add some baby arugula or watercress and make a sandwich. And if you’re feeling extremely ambitious, I couldn’t help but think if you had a slice of homemade French bread right out of the oven that it would bring you one step closer to heaven!

This would be perfect to add to your picnic basket this summer as it doesn’t take up a lot of room, is relatively easy to pack, and you can eat it with your fingers. And like I do with my summer herbs and fresh garlic (see here), you can make a big serving, wrap tablespoon dollops in plastic wrap, and freeze for later use!

True Confessions…and a Recipe

“Hello. My name is Chris and I am addicted to cookbooks. I’ve done so well in 2011, only purchasing Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2 that I got for a steal on eBay in January. I’ve heard NPR and the New York Times review the summertime cookbooks with nary a note. I’ve gone to used book sales and have put back cookbooks that were tempting me. I even went to a bookstore that had an amazing cookbook section and purchased just two books of food essays! But the other day I found myself tempted by a cookbook and I fell off the wagon.”

Of course, this is done in jest, but I really do have a lot of cookbooks. I take them to bed with me to read like a novel, propped on a pillow. You’ll know I’m in a cooking mood or planning a big meal if you find a stack of cookbooks next to the bed in the morning! And often I do pare down my collection; I donated several to my library book sale this spring and was pleased to discover I had more room on my cookbook shelves.

So the other day I was remembering a story I recently heard food writer Melissa Clark  tell on the NPR radio program, “The Splendid Table.” She spent several summers in France with her family and every day her mother made a pan bagnat for the family’s lunch to take to the beach. This is a delicious sandwich, where you take a loaf of crusty bread, hollow it out, and fill it with a mixture of tuna, vegetables, herbs, olives, garlic, and lemon. When the sandwich was made, her mother would wrap it tightly in foil. A key ingredient to the recipe is to have a seven-year-old child to sit on the sandwich!  This melds everything together, the bread and the filling, into a delicious meal.

Clark writes the “Good Appetite” column in the NYTs and her book, In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite: 150 Recipes and Stories About the Food You Love, published last year,  brings together recipes and past articles. She is a great food storyteller and is improvisational in the kitchen, making dishes out of just about anything. I can’t wait to read this–and who can resist that grilled cheese sandwich on the cover?

Next week is Festival on the Green. From Sunday to Friday, evenings will be spent listening to free music on the green. This is always a week of picnic salad suppers for us, made ahead of time, so I can grab things quickly to pack when I get home from work before heading out the door again. I never, ever consider a sandwich dinner, but for this week, I plan on making pan bagnat for dinner one evening, sans the seven-year-old; my nephew doesn’t live close enough to sit on the sandwich!

Pan Bagnat
Reprinted from A Good Appetite: Lunch Recipe: Take One 7-Year-Old by Melissa Clark

Prep time: 15 min
Weighting time: 20 minutes
Total time: 35 min
Yield: 2 to 3 servings

2 anchovy fillets, minced (optional)
1 very small garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 8-inch round crusty country loaf or small ciabatta, halved
1 Kirby cucumber or 1/2 regular cucumber
1 medium-size, ripe tomato, sliced
1/2 small red onion, sliced
1 jar (5 to 6 ounces) tuna packed in olive oil, drained
8 large basil leaves
2 tablespoons sliced pitted olives, preferably a mix of black and green
1 hard-cooked egg, peeled and thinly sliced

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the optional anchovies, the garlic, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in oil, whisking constantly.

2. If using a country loaf, pull out some soft interior crumb to form a cavity. If using a ciabatta, you won’t need to eliminate anything.

3. If using a Kirby cucumber, slice thinly. If using a regular cucumber, peel, halve lengthwise, and scoop out seeds from one half. Thinly slice seedless half. Add sliced cucumber to vinaigrette and toss well.

4. Spread half the cucumbers on bottom of bread. Top with tomato and onion slices, then with tuna, basil, olives and egg slices. Top egg with remaining cucumbers and vinaigrette. Cover with second bread half and firmly press sandwich together.

5. Wrap sandwich tightly in foil, waxed paper or plastic wrap, then place in a plastic bag. Put sandwich under a weight such as a cast-iron frying pan topped with a filled kettle, or have a child about 7 years old sit on it. Weight sandwich for 7 to 10 minutes, then flip and weight it for another 7 to 10 minutes (or as long as you can get the child to sit still). Unwrap, slice and serve immediately, or keep it wrapped for up to 8 hours before serving.