Happy as leaves


Last night I shook hands on a new flat. There is still Italian paperwork to puzzle over and a dotted line to sign (on), but a 3rd floor flat with a small kitchen balcony is more or less ours. We’re not moving far, 600 meters give or take a corner, from one side of Testaccio to the other, from the via Marmorata edge of the wedge to tree-lined via Galvani.

We will miss our calm, cavernous courtyard with its palm trees and blooming oleander, our olive-green door and kitchen window. However I’m pretty sure this missing will be appeased by the balcony and the flats judicious position. That is: a corner away from my preferred bar for breakfast and few long strides from Monte dei cocci and the new Testaccio market. There is also a forno within sniffing distance and another bar directly underneath our future flat that’s run by a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to Alice Cooper. I am relieved, excited and as happy as these radish leaves.


It is the inimitable Fergus Henderson that reminds us to seek out radishes with happy leaves. Pert, frisky leafage that reassures, that speaks of recent picking, thoughtful bundling and minimal travel. Having spotted both happy leaves and bright, unblemished bulbs at the market, I bought three bunches. My sling suspended son managed to tug a red bulb from the bunch lolling from the top of the shopping bag as we walked home. Delight was soon replaced by confusion and then measures taken. I walked the length of via Marmorata with pieces of radish suspended – like the old, unidentifiable christmas tree decorations you feel obliged to hang year after year – in my frizzy hair.

Having washed the radishes and their happy tufts in plenty of very cold water, I set two bunches aside for today’s recipe and put the third on a plate on the table. There was also butter – long enough from the fridge to be forgiving but not too long as to lose opaque resistance – the stone jar of malden salt and slices of sourdough bread. The idea is to butter the radish rather than the bread and then sprinkle it with salt. I also butter my bread, thickly, as if plastering a particularly potholed wall and then take alternate bites of buttered and salted radish, happy leaves and buttered bread. The combination of radish: crisp and clean, warm peppery leaves, good butter, tiny shards of salt and best bread is one to relish and excite the most languid of stomachs.


With our San Bartolomeo chicken roasting and filling the flat with a familiar and reassuring smell, I separated the leaves from the bulbs of the two remaining bunches. As you might remember I roast my chicken according to Simon Hopkinson, that is a hot blast for twenty minutes or so, a slightly cooler roast for about an hour and then a rest in the cooling oven with the door open-a-jar for 20 minutes. When I have radishes – after the roast but before the rest – I tip and scrape some of the sticky juices and fat from the chicken roasting pan into a frying pan.

Then while the chicken rests, I fry the radish bulbs the hot, sticky fat for about five minutes, in which time their colour changes from that of an old English telephone box to that of a climbing rose: the most lovely blushing pink.  I then add the happy leaves to the hot pan along with a pinch of salt, a grind or two of black pepper and pull the pan from the heat. A gentle stir and the leaves wither and wane in the residual heat and settle in the tasty, fatty juices.


I carve my chicken in the roasting tin. In truth, it’s more pulling and tearing than carving, then remembering to roll each piece in the juices collected at the bottom of the pan before putting it on the plate. A round white plate. I am resolute about this and remain unswayed by any patterned or pretty plate propaganda. Braised radishes, still crisp but with a hint of giving, make a perfect fresh and sharp foil for a roasted bird wether it be duck, goose or an excellent chicken. Particularly Duck.

Not only are the withered leaves: peppery and sodden with rich meaty juices wonderfully tasty, they provide what Fergus Henderson calls structural weave, a tangled green bedpreventing your blushing radishes from rolling all over the plate. Come to think of it, I could do with a little more structural weave in my life. Now bring in the boxes and let the packing commence.

Happy food.


Braised radishes for with Roast Duck, goose or chicken

From the blooming brilliant Nose to tail eating by Fergus Hendserson

  • 3 bunches of radishes with happy leaves
  • juices from the roasting pan or duck, goose or good chicken or duck fat with a splash of chicken stock
  • sea salt and black pepper.

Wash the radishes in cold water. Remove the leaves from the bulbs.

Heat up your roasting juices or fat and stock and add the radish bulbs. Allow the bulbs to sizzle vivaciously, stirring attentively. After about five minutes the bulbs will have turned from red to blushing pink orbs, still crisp but with a hint of giving. Add the leaves and then remove the pan from the heat.

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and stir allowing the leave to wilt in the residual heat. Serve with slices of duck, goose or chicken making sure you spoon over the juices from both the meat and the radishes.



Filed under antipasti, food, In praise of, Rachel's Diary, radishes, recipes, spring recipes

63 responses to “Happy as leaves

  1. Ah, thank goodness, a flat has been secured and may you be very happy there too. I don’t tend to go for a radish but you make them sound ravishing .

    • rachel

      It was all a bit close to the bone…Yes thank goodness. It is neat and sweet. Dreading the packing but first lunch with Nancy – I am so looking forward to it. Wish you were here x

  2. What a GREAT idea. I toss blanched green beans in my roast chicken fat and juices, but this is brilliant – to be tried this weekend. Thanks to you I am now the owner of The Pauper’s Cookbook, and I am as happy as those leaves!

    • rachel

      So glad, it is such a nice book. I on the other hand tossed my green beans in the chicken pan last night (six thighs) having read your comment – so tasty.

  3. You have a flat! How exciting! Hope the paperwork sorts itself out soon as well (the only thing between me and my new flat as well).

    I have never cooked with radishes (in Germany where I grew up they are typically just eaten raw at the start of a meal) but your pictures might have just convinced me to give this a try. And yes to using the leaves – I am always shocked at how many people just discard beetroot leaves for example rather than cooking with them (and let’s not forget the weird habit of simply throwing out cauliflower and broccoli stems when they are the best part of both!).

  4. Delightful in so many ways. Fergus Henderson is one of my favourite food characters ever, I met him last year and he is truly a ‘character’ – not to mention one of the most entertaining food writers. I’ve never before had radishes like this but seeing as I’ve just bought my first radish seeds for my new veggie patch, let’s hope they thrive so I can try them exactly like this! Happy moving!

    • rachel

      Emiko, I was thinking of you just yesterday – I was talking to another friend about Ravioli, she mentioned pig cheeks and your recipe. You met Fergus? I have never met him formally but exchanged the odd or bizarre words with him at the bar at St J (my best mate used to work just down the road and so she was a regular in the early days). I love his food and writing too. Happy gardening. xx

  5. Jenny


    Happy moving! xxx

  6. Ah, radishes… we love them pickled, eaten raw with dark bread and butter, and like this. There’s something about their bite in combination with fat that’s just wonderful. Silly me–I used to slice them down the middle, leaving the leaves attached, and sauté them that way. Now I know better. Radishes first, stems and leaves later. Congratulations on the apartment! I assume one of your considerations was enough light proximate to the kitchen for photography? Ken

    • rachel

      The light in the (small) kitchen is good, especially in the morning so I might have to focus on breakfast. Posts about toast anyone? Yes to the fergus radish technique (bulbs, then leaves.)

  7. I’m as happy as the radishes after reading your wonderful post! Bought some beautiful ones yesterday and now know what to do with their cheerful leaves – happy moving!

  8. Congrats on your new apartment Rachel! and yes! Happy food, happy leaves, bring it on. I’ve only eaten radish once in my life, and mind you, only the bulbs. Never have i tried radish leaves, and HAPPY ones at that!

    Thanks for another amazing post! Particularly love this phrase – “in which time their colour changes from that of an old English telephone box to that of a climbing rose: the most lovely blushing pink.”

    Have a HAPPY HAPPY week!

    • rachel

      Thank you, I am planning to eat lots of happy food this week while I pack. Glad you enjoy reading along, it is lovely to have you here.

  9. thrilled that you found your new flat, even more thrilled to be gazing out the window of my friends’ flat at the structural weave of this lush Roman landscape. delirious jet lagged
    happy as leaves
    will be in touch soon

  10. Mike S

    I have had radishes served in similar fashion as an accompaniment to pigeon at St John and can confirm they were delicious. IF anything the addition of the chicken or duck fat will only improve the flavour. Thanks for your great blog.

    • rachel

      With Pigeon – nice. It has been a while since I ate at St J having eaten there a lot. I miss it. Glad to have you here.

  11. sara

    That chicken looks so moist! I love radishes and will try eating them this way. I tend to just snack on them raw. I’m Iranian and we often have them as a side to stews and rice. The sharpness of the radish is perfect with a slow simmered stew.
    Anyway, congratulations on your new flat! I hope the move isn’t too arduous…

    • rachel

      They are a perfect snack. I know very little about Iranian food but I would love to learn more. I love the idea of cold, sharp radishes with a warm stew. Thank you, me too.

  12. Betta

    congrats on the new flat rach! can’t wait to see it 🙂

  13. thebreathingroomyoga

    I’m drooling as I eat my toast with jam.

    Your new home sounds like bliss. Well done!

    • rachel

      It is modest but sweet and I am just happy to have found somewhere in Testaccio. I too am eating toast while I type this.

  14. Happy and lovely … bodes well for the move!

  15. Cheers to your new home! Hmm, Fergus Henderson, another English “food character” to learn about. You have introduced me to so many, Rachel.

  16. Hilary

    ooh, a kitchen balcony, nice!!! Is there room to grow things? I hope so! Happy packing and moving Rachel.

    • rachel

      There is room for a few pots and two chairs, maybe even a little lemon tree in a pot. However I am going to be cautious, I am a terrible waterer. Thank you.

  17. congratulations! sounds like a great place 🙂

  18. laura

    Evviva for your new home and for one problem solved. IBAL for the paperwork and the move and getting the bits of radish out of your hair!
    I’ve never cooked radishes before but will try this one out as you’ve made it sound so appealing. I’ve always looked for happy leaves, though, as they make a lovely frittata.

    • rachel

      It took me ages to work out IBAL (someone else wrote me a message on twitter with IBAL and I was thinking why is she talking about my bank code). In a frittata – yes – noted. x

      • laura

        That was me on twitter. Sorry about that; I adopted IBAL as a teacher for shorthand with my students ages ago and it’s become second nature to me now.

      • rachel

        ha – I love that it is you on twitter and I love IBAL. I quite like my IBAN too xx

  19. Congrats on the new flat, Rachel! Those leaves look happy indeed! Wishing you much happiness in your new home, and wishing us continued peeks into your kitchen adventures!

  20. Hilary

    oh, also, I have never cooked radishes, or eaten the leaves, so thanks for that!!

  21. Christine

    Congratulations on the new flat! I hope you and Luca will be very happy there.

    I keep seeing cooked radishes popping up, but I can never seem to resist eating them as is or with buttered bread as quickly as I get them. I’ll have to buy an extra bunch and then cook it that day, maybe Sunday after the market.

    • rachel

      Thank you. I know that well, the key is three bunches, one for immediate munching, the second at the table with butter and bread and then the third, braised.

  22. Wishing you great joy and happiness in the new flat – congratulations!

    I love the radish bits in the hair. Adding “serviette” to the Mom resume.

    Gorgeous photos.

  23. lexan

    slightly unrelated but how do you clean your enamelware?? mine always have spots on them!

    • rachel

      I use a normal pan scrub, but the softer scrubbing side to avoid too much scratching. I use a good bio detergent too! I’ve heard lemon juice works? I leave them soaking in ht water (the baking dish) if there are stubborn marks xx

  24. i do think the notion of radishes as tree baubles has legs, and rather stylish ones, at that.

    and as to the flat, a hearty congrats. i would, if i could, ferry over an almond cake to fortify the efforts. though i fear it would be on a patterned plate, and probably one as bright as radishes and happy leaves. i am hopelessly prey to pretty plate propaganda.

    and oh, fergus henderson. when will he get his nobel?

    • rachel

      When indeed, if we could meet for lunch in London, I think that would be the place for us. I’d make an exception for your patterned plate – I am fairweather like that when I like someone. x

  25. It’s always exciting moving into a new home- full of possibility! The first time I ever considered eating radish leaves was upon reading a salad recipe from Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail cookbook. Later, I fell in love with radishes and their peppery leaves when I grew them in my first garden. Your radishes braised in chicken juices look divine.

  26. I have posts to catch up on. It’s hot today. 88° F and muggy. Perfect start to summer after a very chilly, but beautiful, trot around the boot. And, Kath knows. I wish we could all get together and muse.

    • rachel

      I want to hear about the trip – I know i will. It’s weird and windy here today and I found three boxes but they are soggy. I need a beer.

  27. My radishes are in the ground….French Radishes! Their leaves are happy so far…I just hope what is hidden down in the cool earth is as happy. Wonderful ode to one of my favorite “roots”…the radish. Congrats on your new apartment. Sounds lovely.

    • rachel

      French radishes with white tips are my absolute favorite – you don’t find them in Italy (i think they are too nice and that would hurt italian radish pride.) I was talking about your writing with Nancy just yesterday x

  28. I’m another usual non-radish fan, but you’ve inspired me to try! Just what I needed this evening. Thanks!

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