A Lazy Albany Gourmet goes after the Neighborhood Radishes
By Cheryl Angelina Koehler
When Albany resident Robin Donovan and her friend Juliana Gallin started writing a cookbook some years back, they weren’t thinking about gardening or sharing neighborhood produce.
“Growing your own vegetables isn’t especially ‘lazy,’” said Robin after the release of The Lazy Gourmet: Magnificent Meals Made Easy (Viva Editions, 2011). Indeed, the book contains no advice on canning, keeping chickens, or growing your own peas, but rather, it brims with inspiration and expert instruction for preparing beautiful food for your friends. The book grew out of the time when Robin and Juliana shared kitchen duties in a group house and mastered the art of putting on chic dinner parties without spending huge sums of money or arduous hours at the stove stirring pots.
In the course of advising how to set up a party-worthy pantry, hone basic skills, and tool up for success in the kitchen, they artfully weave pithy humor and spot-on wisdom, dispensing such pearls as, “Cooking a great meal can be just as easy as cooking a crappy meal.” This dictum, like the recipes and advice, is equally applicable to gala affairs and daily dinner fare.
Robin is giving less thought to fine-tuning the pantry these days, and more to connecting with the neighborhood abundance. The change is that her husband Doug Reil has taken on the role of coordinator for Transition Albany’s initiatives around food and edibles.
“I connected in with Transition Albany officially at their Great Unleashing,” Doug said in June. “A lot has happened in just a month and I’ve gotten quickly connected to many related initiatives.”
Those initiatives include garden work parties, a garden share program (hooking up those who have space but don’t use it to active gardeners who would), a possible new community farm, and garden swaps, which Doug plans to use as the primary collection point for the Albany Garden-to-Table initiative.
“The goal for Garden to Table is to activate local growers to increase yields and put that extra produce into restaurants and institutions. This would support local business, keep prices down, lower the carbon footprint of the food we eat, reinforce valuable food production skills, and build community.” The project launched officially on July 8 with its first delivery of donated local produce to Caffeina on Solano. (See facebook.com/albany.edibles)
Meanwhile, Robin has been putting her formidable cooking talents to work in addressing the neighborhood abundance of chard, for instance. “It just grows so well here and it seems we always have some in the garden.”
In June, Robin found herself eyeing a neighbor’s beautiful radishes. “Every time I walk by, I think of all the things I could cook with them: radish leaf pesto, radish and zucchini fritters, butter-braised radishes . . .”
Radishes may be the forgotten stepchildren of the vegetable world, but these delightfully spicy little roots deserve royal treatment. Bathe them in butter with a touch of sugar and vinegar to bring out their regal qualities. We won’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s worth trying this dish just to watch the unexpected color transformation the radishes undergo.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small shallot, finely chopped
25–30 medium radishes, stems removed, halved or quartered
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon vinegar (white wine, champagne, red wine, sherry)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup water
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium-high heat until it is melted and starting to bubble. Reduce heat to medium, add shallot and cook, stirring, until soft (about 2 minutes). Add the radishes, sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper, and water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the radishes are tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove cover, return heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately, garnished with chives.
Serves 2 to 4.