What a thrill to cut fiddlehead ferns and eat them an hour or so later. Plenty of Mainers are prowling in the woods right this minute gathering the new ostrich fern sprouts before they unfurl, but I was recently in Massachusetts in the front yard at my friend Barbara’s house where she had stuck some fern plants a few years ago. They spread like crazy and we cut a small basketful, and in only three or four hours another batch had stuck themselves up far enough to slice off.
I cleaned them, and Barbara mixed them with portobello mushrooms for a simple pasta dish. Oh, yum.
Fiddleheads taste green. I suppose part of what makes them seem so wonderful is that they are among our first fresh green things to eat in the spring, aren’t bitter like dandelions and are susceptible to all kinds of preparations, even pickling.
My dental hygienist, Pam Carter from Newburgh, regaled me with her fiddlehead hunting adventures with her partner and their toddler. If I have to have my teeth cleaned, at least I can enjoy hearing about how they collected a cooler full and cleaned them by tossing them in a towel to let the brown papery wrappers blow away. She had brought some to work with her to warm up in the microwave for lunch.
“’Ow ’oo ’oo ’ix ’mm?” I said, with my mouth full of metal.
“We wrap them in some aluminum foil with a little butter and put them on the grill,” she said.
Well, that’s easy, I thought. What a good idea. They have enough to freeze or even pickle if they want.
If you don’t gather them yourself you can buy a pound or two as I did the other day. Farmers markets are likely to have them this season; I found mine at the co-op in Belfast. I think “green beans” when I think of fiddleheads and use them similarly. I simmered them for about 10 minutes or so, until they were a little tender, then I stir fried them in butter with chopped shallot and pieces of asparagus from my new patch — some of the earliest I have gathered. That was tasty, too. I like leftover steamed fiddleheads with salad dressing on them, eaten alone or tossed into a salad.
The pasta dish that Barbara made was very easy, barely requires a recipe and is infinitely flexible. You can use more or fewer mushrooms and fiddleheads, and the pasta can be spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine or a shell pasta, orecchiette or rotini. Add in bits of broccoli or some shredded spinach, or slivers of chicken, prosciutto or cooked shrimp.
Fiddleheads and Pasta
Yields 3-4 servings
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
2–3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
½ pound of fiddleheads
2 large portobello caps or equivalent in baby bellas
Cooked pasta of your choice
Parmesan or Romano cheese
Clean the fiddleheads and trim the brown stem end. Put into enough water to barely cover and simmer for about 10 minutes or until they are tender. Drain and set aside. Chop the portobellos coarsely. Heat the oil and butter in a saute pan and add the garlic and cook it briefly. Add the mushrooms and, when they are tender, add the fiddleheads and heat through. Toss with the pasta and serve with grated cheese on top.
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