One of the best parts about spring and early summer is the influx of wild, wonderful, sometimes odd, seasonal produce that shows up fleetingly in the market. Things like fiddlehead ferns. These are the curled up fronds of ferns which are harvested in the wild and cooked much like greens. They look a bit like the scrolled part of stringed instruments – hence, fiddleheads. I find them to be a little nutty, sort of asparagus-like, and if washed properly not bitter at all. Because they have to be hand-harvested, they are a bit pricey. But, I only have them once or twice a year so I think it is worth it. I have seen several interesting recipes that feature them, but since they are so rare, I prefer to have them prepared very simply so I can appreciate them for what they are. I generally steam them first and then saute them in a little olive oil and garlic, sometimes with a splash of white wine.
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled & finely chopped
- splash white wine (optional)
- 2-3 cups fiddlehead ferns (cleaned as described below)
- salt to taste
Place fronds in a steamer basket over boiling water. Steam for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oil oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook until golden brown. Add steamed fiddleheads and cook, stirring frequently for approximately 5 mintues, until ferns start to brown just a little. Add wine and cook for one more minute. Salt to taste and serve immediately. Serves 4 – about 1/2 cup per person – 1 point per serving.
How to clean fiddleheads: Trim any brown/mushy/hairy bits off fronds (the pictures here show uncleaned fronds) Then place fronds in large bowl. Cover in cold water and aggitate fronds. Empty water, rinse bowl, and do it again. Finally, empty fronds into colander and rinse very thoroughly with cold water. I imagine a salad spinner would do this job pretty efficiently, but have never tried that approach.
Botanical note: There are quite a few species of ferns that are used for fiddleheads. It depends on what part of the country they are collected in. Be aware that not all species of ferns are edible, and not all growth stages are edible, so you don’t want to just randomly collect fiddleheads in the woods without an expert. There is also a danger of overharvesting, so even if you are sure of the species and growth stage, you’d want to be very sparing in the amounts you collect off of each plant.
Fiddleheads, fiddleheads, eat them up yum! (My apologies to Barnes & Barnes, I just couldn’t help myself.)