It may be heretical to say, but sometimes we just get tired of eating avocado toast (or the avocados are expensive, or they aren’t ripe, or your roommate ate the last one... life happens). Luckily, spring is a time of toast-topping bounty at the farmer’s market. Nothing makes me want to break out my toaster like a glut of beautiful radishes, gem-like hakurei turnips, tender baby lettuces and fragrant bundles of herbs.
0f course I grew up aware of toast, but it was mainly the sad afterthought to a breakfast plate, soggy with butter-flavored oil or margarine, served a little thimble of smuckers grape jelly - not the stuff of love songs and rhapsodic food blogs. During my studies in England, I quickly realized that it doesn’t have to be like that. Toast is something of a religion across the pond. It seemed like English bread was made to be toast, toasters were designed to actually work, and not just to singe your bread! I’ll admit, eating buttery, jammy bread as a snack also makes more sense when you walk everywhere and are in your early twenties, but bear with me.
The real sea-change came about when I took a weekend trip to France and discovered the beautiful combination of radishes and butter. So simple, and yet so perfect. The sharpness, crunch and color of fresh market radishes are the perfect compliment to the rich, sweet creaminess of a good quality butter. A little bit of flaky finishing salt puts this dish over the top into a mythical realm of snack perfection.
Back in Athens, Georgia, living in college student penury and pining for my days in Oxford, the natural solution was to mash up the ubiquitous English staple with my daydreams of spring in Southern France - and my dietary staple of radish toast was born. Since then I’ve played around with different combinations of spring veggies and spreads on bread, expanding my repertoire. Here are three of my favorite hand-held ways to enjoy spring at the farmer’s market!
SPRING TOASTS - VEGETARIAN
Radish + butter + flake salt
The classic - thinly shaved slices of radish on a healthy amount of good quality butter (Banner butter is a great local option, I also love Kerrygold), with a sprinkling of flaky salt such as Maldon over the top for added texture. The salt also really brings out the sweetness of the radishes and butter. I like a mix of French breakfast and easter egg radishes, the variety of size and color is really appealing. Don’t shave the radishes too thin, they should still have some bite.
Minted pea mash + radish + lemon
“Mushy” peas are an english classic, this lighter version serves as a great vegan option for a creamy toast topping and it screams spring. Top with radishes for crunch and a squeeze of lemon juice to brighten everything up.
Hakurei turnip + gjetost + arugula + flake salt
This one is for the adventurous, but it is my favorite of the three. Gjetost (or brunost) is a Norwegian whey cheese, known for its creamy texture and slightly sweet, caramelized flavor profile. It may look like a slightly alarming square block of caramel-colored playdough, but it will change your world when paired with fresh hakurei turnips. Look for the “Ski Queen” brand at your local grocery store. Layer thin slices of gjetost on a warm, toasted piece of bread, shingle thin slices of hakurei on top, finish with a sprinkle of arugula (or the washed greens from your baby turnips), flake salt and prepare to have your mind blown.
Minty Pea Mash
(adapted from Bon Appetit Apr. 2013)
YIELDS: 2 CUPS — PREP TIME: 15 MINUTES
1 garlic clove, quartered
1/4 c fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp Kosher salt
2 c frozen peas, thawed
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
Zest of one lemon
Combine garlic, parsley, 1 tablespoon oil, a pinch of salt, and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan. Add peas and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until peas are tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, but keep some of the cooking liquid.
Transfer pea mixture to a food processor; pulse until a coarse paste forms. If you don’t have a food processor, mashing with a fork will achieve similar results. Mix in the mint, lemon zest, lemon juice, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Stir in reserved cooking liquid to achieve a spreadable, but not loose consistency. Season pea mash with salt, black pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired.
Any toast is as good as the bread you put it on. I prefer a crustier loaf, preferably a sourdough with some kind of whole grain or seed. Toasting in the toaster is fine, but for a truly ethereal crisp-chewy experience break out a skillet and some butter or olive oil and toast in it on the stove.
Get a mandolin! To achieve those instagram-perfect slices on your radishes, turnips, etc. in half the time invest in a mandolin like the benriner - cheap on Amazon, indispensable to achieving your toast dreams. But please, watch those fingers!
Room temperature butter is your best friend - that way you get a good, even schmere without ripping up your bread or having the butter melt away.