RADISH (RAVANELLO OR RAPANELLO)

This photo of this bunch of radishes was taken in France.

I was in France with friends and stayed in Mercadiol (a small hamlet) in the South West of France. It is the same restored barn that Stephanie Alexander stayed (with Maggie Beer and Colin her husband) when she researched material for her book Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France.

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My friends and I sampled much of the local cuisine, but we also enjoyed shopping in the local markets in the various nearby towns and villages and cooked some fabulous dishes together.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this variety of radish for sale at one of my favourite vegetable stalls at the market. Carmel, one of the stall’s proprietors proudly announced that a couple of her customers had said that they had seen this variety in France. She was pleased to hear that I verified this and had a photo of them.

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The following is a section from the vegetable chapter from my manuscript to be published in 2011.

Radish (ravanello or rapanello) is another vegetable that is probably over-looked in Australia – they are available all year round but are sweeter in spring. Radishes should be crisp, juicy, and peppery with sparkling white flesh.

My father grew them in his small garden in Adelaide because they reminded him of the times when he was a boy growing up in Sicily and he would help himself to the radish patch. When in Sicily, if in spring, it is quite common in people’s homes to be presented with small, firm radishes with fresh, unblemished tops at the beginning of a meal. Serve with a separate small bowl of salt, or extra virgin olive oil and salt, for dipping. Other tender vegetables such as broad beans, fennel or peas are also commonly placed on the table in the same way – it is a celebration of the vegetable and the season.

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Last week, my friend The Old Foodie wrote about radish.

When I select bunches of radish or kohlrabi, baby turnips or beetroot I partly select them for the quality of their leaves. In fact I cooked the leaves from the bunch of radish and baby turnips the night before you posted your blog – I sauté them in extra virgin olive oil and garlic.My father used to grow radishes in his garden and used to collect the young leaves for salads – not to be eaten alone, but as part of a mixed salad. He also grew rocket and radicchio and chicory and collected ‘salad ‘ leaf by leaf. And I support the theory that radish was used to stimulate appetite. My father used to talk about Sicilians just presenting a bowl of radishes (in season and fresh) with salt (to dip the radish into) before a meal.

Antipasto (or nibbles) before a meal is still not a common practice in Sicily, it is a modern invention, stimulated by tourists and their expectations. Because Sicilians to always begin a meal with a primo (first course), which for the majority of the time is pasta; they do not wish to spoil their appetite. The primo is followed by a secondo (main) and then fruit, and dessert for special occasions. A few nibbles, for example olives, a few cubes of marinaded pecorino could be the ‘nibbles’ for special occasions or part of an extended meal.

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