I first learned about the simple pleasures of spring radishes on toasted bread with good butter from a friend who married a Frenchman.
It was such an easy, minimalist concept, such a pleasurable morning ritual. The slicing of the bread off the loaf. The transformation of the round, red and long, pale radishes into slivers so thin the light passes through them. A thick smear of bright butter. A sprinkling of salt. It was like a little poem.
And then there was the poetry of the eating itself. The crunch of the crust and forgiveness of the crumb, the peppery flavor of the radishes hovering over the sweetness of the butter and the sparkle of the fleur de sel.
We took breakfast very seriously back then. It was an all morning affair, with everyone contributing something— a pot of black, rich coffee, a bunch of grapes, hardboiled eggs and asparagus left over from last night’s dinner, yogurt with honey and nuts. And of course, the radish tartines. My favorite out of everything lovely on the table.
I still make these on the regular, especially when the first spring radishes come in. I like to play around with the concept—after all, tartine means nothing more complex than an open-faced sandwich with quality, special ingredients. There’s a whole restaurant named for and devoted to the concept in San Francisco, and while I did have the best croissant of my life there, I still like the home-made version best, because I can play with my food.
If you want to make your morning ritual extra enjoyable all week long, it doesn’t take much pre-planning. All you need to start is a good loaf of bread. I make mine from scratch these days with my sourdough starter, and a loaf will last me a week. You can also buy a lovely loaf from a number of Chattanooga bakers, including Bread and Butter, Niedlov’s, The Bread Basket, or Bluff View.
Next, you’ll wand some kind of spread to add moisture and flavor to your tartine. Think good butter, pesto, jam or savory preserves, nut butters, hummus, soft cheeses like ricotta or boursin, mashed fava beans, or even avocado.
After that, the world is your oyster. Top your tartine with avocado, feta, eggs, and sprouts for a green breakfast packed with protein and healthy fats. You could do classic bread and jam. Or you could try pesto, radishes, and asparagus tops. Slick butter over the bread and pile on greens from your share like the Red Kitten Spinach or Spicy Asian Mustard Greens, and top with a fried egg to get a jumpstart on your veggies for the day.
A thick spread of tahini and hummus with herbs, radishes, an egg, and a sprinkle of exotic spices like z’atar or berebere seasoning can sweep you away to Morocco before your coffee has even kicked in. Miso-pickled mushrooms could add an umami Asian flare to your pairings. A little mayonnaise or aioli and left over roast chicken or seitan is a great way to use up leftovers besides brown bagging your lunch.
There are endless ideas for how to top your toast. My favorite is still the simplest—radishes, butter, and a little salt. What will your new favorite be?