The long slow grow (60+ days) for this season's Spanish black radishes has finally come to harvest. The sooty looking root vegetable's flavor echoes the exterior scorched look, packing enough heat to make a baby cry. It's not quite wasabi, but it'd be a piquant partner to any winter seafood.
Flora Bella Farms dedicates 1500 square feet to this rare market find and McGrath Family Farms will likely have theirs out in time for this weekend's markets. Tops are usually shorn off to keep the leaves from sucking juice and nutrients out of the root ball, but you can easily tell the difference between fresh plucked and stored, which will come in handy while they are in season.
James Birch, owner of Flora Bella Farms, grew black radishes once years ago, but he gave up after a lack of demand. They're a common winter sight in Europe, but they haven't quite caught on here. That's starting to change.
"I had this one customer, he comes to [the Hollywood market], and he used to buy them," said Birch. "He kept bothering me to grow them again. And it's nice to have some variety."
Even though the vegetable takes up space for a lot longer than conventional breakfast-style radishes (a mere month vs. 60 days for the black radish), Birch likes them because they're patient and slow to bolt.
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"They'll stay in the ground like a turnip," he says. "Other radishes, after 30 days, they'll go to seed. They'll also get woody and tough. Black radishes will stay tender."
That staying power continues after they're pulled out of the ground, but you should still store them in the fridge until they're ready to use. Don't expect the juicy, light crunch of other radishes either -- black radishes are tender, but dense, and have a dryer texture that makes them perfect for pickling.
"I had some the other day that were pickled by Salt's Cure," said Birch. "Zack pickled some and they were so good."
Select radishes for firm flesh and a heavy feel, and check the top knot of leftover greenery for mold. Birch joked that, "the blacker the better," but there's no connection between the color and the flavor. In fact some of his black radishes pulled up white. Still, we recommend not peeling off the rough outer layer. The drama between the dark skin and the pearl-white flesh is striking and deserves to be preserved. They'll be around for the rest of December and into the new year.