7.04.2011

Fiddling Around


Every year in late spring or very early summer, I read something or other about fiddlehead ferns. One of the articles mentioned they grow wild in New England along mossy stream banks. That kind of lets Florida out, or so I thought until I found them in both the Fresh Market and Whole Foods. So I brought some home, did more reading and made them for dinner the other night.


So what are they exactly?
They are the immature leaf fronds of ostrich fern plants that have not yet opened. Fern leaves are poisonous once they open and can only be enjoyed in this early stage. 
What do they taste like? A cross between artichokes and asparagus, kind of earthy and nutty.
Where do you find them? The ostrich fern is native to the northeast as well as to the upper Midwestern states. Ostrich fern also grows freely in Alaska and in many parts of Canada. It is grown in the Northwest where wild-food enthusiasts consider it high on the culinary list. Ostrich fern will grow in the home garden in regions with moderate to cold winters and mild summers. It does not do well in areas that remain warm year round. The winter chill period is important to the growth cycle of this fern.

So, look for them in late spring and very early summer. Fiddlehead ferns are only available for a short time, so grab them while you can. Because Florida does not have fiddlehead ferns growing by mossy stream banks or anyplace else, I looked to see where mine came from. The label said: Alpine Foragers Exchange Inc. in Portland Oregon. That's a long trip from Oregon to Florida for sure. I'm rather surprised someone in New England isn't supplying them, but maybe the prices are higher or perhaps nobody's thought of it.

I also read they are fabulous served with morels, which you lucky northerners can forage for at just about the same time. Those two earthy flavors combined must be a gourmand's dream. I think next spring I'm going to splurge and buy some dried morels just so I can taste these two together. But if you love mushrooms and don't want to spring for morels, use shiitakes or any other commonly available mushroom.

How to prepare them for cooking? If more than 2 inches of stem remains attached beyond the coiled part of the fiddlehead snap or cut it off. If any of the paper chaff remains on the fiddleheads you may rub it off by hand. I rinsed them in water and used a soft brush to get the chaff off. After the chaff is removed wash the fiddleheads in several changes of cold water to remove any dirt or grit. Drain the fiddlehead completely. Use them fresh as soon after harvest as possible.
When I made them, I got some salted boiling water going and parboiled them for a couple minutes. Not long, because you don't want them soft. Put them in an ice bath and then dry them completely. The first time, I fried them along with some shallots and garlic and seasoned them with salt and pepper, eating them as a vegetable. Double yum, people. 
Then I read Mary's blog.... Ocean Breezes, Country Sneezes and she had made them with pancetta, something I noticed a few other recipes suggested. Mary also mentioned you can freeze them. I'll try that next year, although I should think getting them absolutely fresh (which I can't) would be key to successful freezing.

The next night, because I had some angel hair pasta, I cooked that and at the same time, browned some pancetta, browned shallots and garlic with the parboiled fiddleheads, tossed it with the pasta and topped with a bit of Parmesan. Oh Lord. Deeee-vine. 

But next time, I'm using bacon which would be just as good if not better (and I almost always have some in the fridge), and mushrooms. Morels would be perfect if I could get them, which I can't, darn it, but we already discussed that. Next spring, if you find fiddleheads in your market or if you can forage for them, take some home. Make them with bacon and mushrooms. What a treat. 
So here's the recipe...with by-the-seat-of-your-pants instructions;  a combination of several recipes. 

Fiddlehead Ferns with Pancetta


Ingredients:

Fiddlehead ferns
Pancetta, 1/4 inch thick, diced (or bacon)
1 garlic clove, minced

1 shallot, diced
pasta, your choice
Parmesan
mushrooms, morels if you're lucky (optional)

Method:
Clean the fiddleheads as described above. Boil them in salted water for a couple minutes, then plunge them into an ice bath to stop the cooking.
Dry thoroughly. Brown the diced pancetta and remove from pan onto paper towels. I discarded the grease, wiped the pan and added some butter. Add the shallots, garlic and fiddleheads. Brown them lightly and then add the pancetta.
Cook your pasta as desired, drain and toss with the fiddlehead/shallot mixture. Top with some Parmesan and serve.

46 comments:

  1. actually had never heard of these so I found this very interesting. they are very unique looking!

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  2. Dear Barbara I never seen this, is amazing all the new meals and we can see at Blgger in different countries but look awesome!! really nice, xxgloria

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  3. I'm not surprised to read that your fiddleheads came from Oregon. They can be found for a very short time in local farmer's markets. You've given us some wonderful ways to prepare them, Barbara. A quick saute with morels and bacon would be sublime.

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  4. I love fiddleheads. I made them very similar to you. It's to bad the harvesting season for them is a short one.

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  5. Never heard of these before but from your description, they sound tasty!

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  6. The first time, I saw these, was at Joanne's and I was simply amazed. You just amazed me again. They are interesting to look at as you describe them, they sound tasty.

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  7. I've only had them once, hard to find! But if I find them I'll make your recipe, it looks fantastic.

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  8. cool I saw them growing wild in Scotland nr my parents house, great post I need to try cooking them did you like them?

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  9. Hi Barbara,

    Interesting article - over here we have a Ponga fern that I have heard people cook to eat, I have not tried it though. Thanks for sharing the recipe and will be good with the pasta, garlic and pancetta.
    Will have to check it out.

    Happy week
    Hugs
    Carolyn

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  10. Something I'd love to eat... Your dish must have been divine, indeed!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  11. I'd really like to try those, but I've never seen them here in the UK. I love how you prepared them :).
    HOpe you had a lovely 4th of July!
    *kisses* HH

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  12. I've always wanted to try those!

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  13. I have to admit I've never eaten these or for that matter, seen them in person. You've made them very gourmet Barbara.
    Sam

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  14. omg what an amazing plant to eat! Thank you for sharing something I thought I'd never see- the dish looks amazing!
    COme follow my blog :)

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  15. Even though I see a number of articles/recipes for fiddleheads, I've not seen them in the markets--actually, I stopped looking for them. The only time I've had them was at a restaurant, called The Restaurant, in Reading, Pennsylvania. At the same meal, I had my first morels as well.

    Best,
    Bonnie

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  16. I have never foraged for fiddleheads but they are available widely here in BC.

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  17. Barbara, what an amazing fern shoots dish. You've finally got the chance to try this out.
    Hope you're having a great day.
    Kristy

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  18. Interesting. I haven't seen any... I'll have to ask around and see if anyone else has seen them locally.

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  19. I do love fiddlehead ferns, probably as much for their taste as for their beautiful and unique appearance! Have only ever eaten them in restaurants, but this pasta looks like something I can do at home. Thanks!

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  20. I've had fiddlehead fern pasta before. I'm not sure that I'm a true fan. They're earthy, alright, perhaps too for my taste. Your dish looks great and makes me wonder if we cleaned and cooked ours properly. Perhaps I should try again.

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  21. Nice idea to serve the curly fiddleheads with pasta! I once had fiddlehead soup, but that's been my only experience.

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  22. I have never had those before...they look cute, don't they? Pancetta makes everything taste better ;-))

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  23. TEEEHEEEE I LOVE THIS TITLE!!! I have NEVER tried these....it is time I start back into my kitchen adventures. I used to make my own pizza dough, I would cook every night and I would cook my husband's dinners. But teaching has taken the wind out of my cooking sails and these days it is what is easy..but still delicious and garnished with home-grown herbs such as basil, thyme and oregano. ANYTHING with pancetta is fabulous! THANK YOU BARBARA for visiting me...yes, music has been part of my life since early childhood...having a dad who played piano every day introduced me to the French composers early on and my harp graces the air in my home. Have a magnificent and COLORFUL DAY my friend! Anita

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  24. Barbara, this is fascinating.
    I've read about fiddlehead ferns but never knew what they wer.
    Is it possible I wonder that the ferns growing alongside our lane are edible at this stage too?

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  25. I'm so jealous! I've been hearing about fiddlehead ferns for weeks now and yet can't find any of my own. Oh well, I'll have to live vicariously through you.

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  26. I saw fiddleheads the other day the store. I passed on buying them though. I was worried I wouldn't like the taste. After seeing your recipe I wish I would have grabbed some...it looks delicious!

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  27. I love fiddleheads. We got to eat a lot of this when we were back home...but a different type. We like to cook it spicy with some dried shrimps. Love how you added it into pasta.

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  28. Since they are poisonous after a certain stage I've always been afraid to try them but everything I've read says they are delicious! I grow some wild ferns that I dug from my parent's cottage in northern Wisconsin - I wonder if they might be Ostrich ferns...I need to research that!

    Your dish looks like a wonderful way to prepare them.

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  29. These are fascinating! I've eaten them in a salad in a Burmese restaurant of all places and they were really good although unlike anything else we have tried :)

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  30. What a lovely recipe, especially considering this is your first turn at bat with them. They look delicious and yours look especially fresh and appealing. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

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  31. I saw these on the menu of some restaurant in San Fransisco I believe, but never tried them; now I wish I did! Love their curly look, kind of like an Art Nouveau motif~

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  32. These are so neat looking - like curlicues and I love the name! Your preparation sounds flavorful and looks delicious - I would love to try them!

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  33. I had never heard of fiddlehead ferns until I read your post, but I sure would love to try them to see how they taste. I'll keep my eyes open for them at Whole Foods and see if I can find them.

    It's such a pretty pasta and I'm sure it must have been wonderful!

    Thanks so much for sharing this most interesting recipe. And I enjoyed learning about a new food and how to prepare it. :)

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  34. I love these, but have only had them in restaurants. Wish I could be lucky enough to find them growing in the wild.

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  35. I confess that lo these many years I have never worked with the fiddleheads---so your post is so helpful and informative. perhaps next spring!

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  36. i've seen others post recipes for fiddlehead ferns and i grow ostrich ferns in my garden . . . but the only thing eating them are the Japanese beetles - which i hate . . . but i digress . . .

    have always been a bit leery about trying them for the 'poisonous' reason you've mentioned . . . i might be daring next spring . . . if i can get to them before the beetles!

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  37. I have always been intrigued by these; thank you for teh information and that recipe looks good.
    Rita

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  38. I didn't try those, but I am going to look at my local market and try them ASAP.

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  39. I love fiddleheads!! What a great tutorial :) And the pasta dish looks awesome.

    Sues

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  40. Barbara again you have created yet another dish that is very interesting. I have never had fiddleheads. Would be willing to try yours.

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  41. I never seen this, but sounds tempting :)

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  42. I read in one article that it grow wild in New England along mossy stream banks. That kind of lets Florida out, or so I thought until I found them in both the Fresh Market and Whole Foods.

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  43. i'd love to forage for ferns, but I would be afraid not to be able to recognize the right fern! I'll bookmark this for next year!

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  44. This is the first time I've heard of fiddlehead ferns--the way you describe it makes it sound like something I would adore. I'll be on the lookout!

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  45. while i don't think i'd like to eat these (i don't care for asparagus or artichokes!), i've always loved their appearance. nice post, barbara!

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