I first heard about Rene Redzepi’s Copenhagen restaurant Noma when I attended the 2008 edition of the Omnivore Food Festival in Deauville, a gastronomic event during which high-profile chefs from France and beyond are invited to cook live on stage.
He has since received many more accolades as the herald of a refreshing and talented new wave of Scandinavian chefs. His forager’s approach seems to celebrate nature at its most generous, yes, but also at its roughest, revealing its beauty even when rocks and roots and wind are all it has to offer*.
Among the dishes Redzepi presented that day was a trompe l’oeil vegetable field: served on a warmed slab of stone, baby root vegetables were planted in a layer of mashed potatoes, then topped with a soil-like layer of malt and hazelnut flour crumbs.
I later heard about a variation on this idea that’s become a signature amuse-bouche at Noma: radiser, jord og urteemulsion (radishes, soil and herb emulsion) involves radishes with their leaves on, served in a terracotta pot that contains a creamy herbed dip at the bottom, and the same crumbs on top.
I located an Observer article in which Redzepi gave a recipe for his vegetable field, including directions to make his dehydrated “maltsoil.” But then I also found a few blog references to a recipe that was published in the Figaro Madame late last year and drawn from Trish Deseine’s book Comme au resto, wherein the soil is made, more simply, from slices of dark bread.
It is the route I opted for, grinding dried-up slices of my sourdough chocolate bread, which is not sweetened (and will appear on this blog very soon), and using a mix of fresh cheese and yogurt for the herbed layer.
I’m always looking for novel ways to serve radishes** beyond the classic radish/butter/salt trio, and this was a whimsical and tasty one. I had fun assembling the containers — two small bowls and one square little dish like a gardening box — and served them at apéritif time, as a light companion to pre-dinner drinks. Once all the radishes had been consumed, there was some herbed cheese leftover in the bowls, so I cut thin slices of fresh baguette to scoop it up.
I dream of organizing a Danish getaway around a Noma reservation — Copenhaguen is just a two-hour flight from Paris after all — and someday I will, but in the meantime I’ll just munch on my radishes, and soon dive into the book Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine, to be released by Phaidon this fall.
* Learn more about new Scandinavian cuisine by reading the Manifesto for the New Nordic Kitchen. And if you’re curious about Redzepi’s cuisine, a few bloggers have posted pictures of their meals at Noma: see the appetite-whetting reports on Chuckeats, A Life Worth Eating, Gourmet Traveller and Food Snob.
** For more radish inspiration, take a look at these avocado and radish canapés with smoked salt, this chicken and radish salad with avocado green goddess dressing, my radish leaf pesto, or Sonia Ezgulian’s tarte aux radis.
Radishes in Soil, Noma-style
- 1 bunch radishes with fresh-looking leaves, about 500 grams or 1 pound
- 2 to 3 stale slices of dark bread, such as pumpernickel or rye (I used my unsweetened chocolate bread)
- 150 grams (5 1/3 ounces) fresh cheese (I used fresh goat cheese but you could use cow’s or sheep’s milk cheese)
- 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
- 1 small clove fresh garlic (in season right now), finely chopped
- a handful mixed fresh herbs (I used parsley, dill, chives, and mint), roughly chopped
- fine sea salt, freshly ground pepper
Clean the radishes thoroughly to remove any trace of sand or dirt. Trim the bottom of the radishes but leave the stems and leaves intact. Let the radishes dry completely (or the herbed cheese won’t stick).
Toast the bread slices if necessary to remove any remaining moisture. Cut into pieces and grind in a blender or food processor until reduced to breadcrumbs, some coarse, some fine.
Beat the fresh cheese and yogurt together until smooth; add a little more yogurt if necessary to get a creamy — but not too liquid — consistency. Fold in the garlic and herbs, and season with a little salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Spoon the fresh cheese at the bottom of several shallow ramekins or bowls; if you have clean little terracotta pots, the effect will be even more striking. Plant the radishes in without crowding, and sprinkle with the bread crumbs to form a soil-like layer. The radishes may be eaten whole, leaf included, if desired.
Cooking/baking time: no-cook recipe