“Fiddlehead.” What a whimsical name for a funny looking little vegetable. I love saying it; even funnier that when I hear it I am reminded of a line spoken near the beginning of Gone With the Wind by Scarlett O’Hara. Except I would like to think she might say today: “Fiddle-dee-dee, markets, markets, markets. All this talk of Farmers Markets are making me hungry! (Rather than her line about the war, of course!) Lucky for us we have many markets all over the country, and in particular our very own backyard of Westchester County. Many run indoors through the Winter and Spring, and in just around the corner will be in full force outdoors. I am simply beyond excited!
This week and next I’ll be talking about two very special ingredients that make a brief appearance once a year in the Spring: Fiddlehead Ferns and Ramps. Beautiful in appearance yet different in flavor; today we will be fiddling around with fiddleheads.
Fiddleheads are basically the unfurled frond of a fern. After the last snow melts and the ground warms these beauties begin to push their way above ground. They are harvested at that point, just before they start to unroll and open.More after the jump ..
In selecting fiddleheads you want to look for a bright green appearance, smooth and free of dark spots. They should be green, fresh and firm looking; and the coils should look tight. Generally before they are sold the brown papery chaff that surrounds the fiddlehead on the plant is brushed off, but if not, you want to gently brush it off when you clean them.
To prepare them I like to give them a good wash in a couple of changes of cool water to remove any bits of dirt that might be lurking about and then trim the stem if longer than 2 inches. If you don’t think you will cook them as soon as you get them home store your fiddles in a plastic bag; but only for a day or two.
Fiddleheads are versatile and easy to use. They have a mild taste reminiscent of asparagus with an added nutty bite all their own. Fiddleheads are a good source of vitamins A and C, Omega 3 and 6, iron and fiber. Fiddleheads should not be eaten raw as they have a slight bitterness until cooked, and may cause you to have an upset stomach.
This nice bunch above was picked up at the Chappaqua Farmers Market at the Newgate Farm table. After a quick perusal of our cabinet I found a bag of oriecchette pasta and some roasted hazelnuts. In the ‘fridge I found Parmesan, basil and ramps. Simple! (My recipe is at the bottom of this post.)
In a large pot of boiling salted water I cooked the fiddleheads for 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon I removed them to a bowl and then cooked my pasta in the same water. This a great tip for pasta making: use the water you cook your vegetables in to give your pasta a little additional flavor.
While the pasta is cooking I was able to get the rest of my prep done for the dish. I sautéed the ramps slightly, then added the fiddles to the pan. This particular pasta only takes about 12 minutes, so at just about that time I was able to add it right to the sauté pan. I tossed it a bit and added the Parmesan, basil and hazelnuts.
This dish took all of about 30 minutes from start to finish. Instant gratification! If you’ve never tried fiddleheads now is the time. Keep in mind they will only be at the markets for a few weeks. Get them while they are here!
Next week I will be talking a little more about ramps. So if you make it to a farmers market this weekend, keep and eye out and bring a bunch home!
Orecchiette with Fiddleheads
1 ½ cups of fiddlehead ferns, cleaned and trimmed (about 6 oz)
2 cups oriecchette pasta
4 ramps, or 2 scallions and 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ cup of fresh basil, chiffonade (thinly sliced)
¼ cup hazelnuts, roasted and roughly chopped
¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese, plus more for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
In a large pot of boiling salted water (1 tablespoon kosher salt: 2 quarts water) cook the fiddleheads for 5 minutes, Remove with a slotted spoon to a dish. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions, less 1 minute.
In a sauté pan over medium heat add 4 tablespoons of oil and sauté the white part of the ramps for 2-3 minutes, taking care to not burn them. Season with a ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Add the fiddleheads and lower the heat. Drain the pasta and add to the pan along with the ramp tops, Parmesan and basil. Toss gently.
Divide in bowls and garnish with hazelnuts, a drizzle of oil and a little more parmesan, to taste.