One of my favorite spring vegetables is fiddlehead ferns. Their season is so short that if you don't buy them when you first see them at the market, chances are they'll be gone by the next time you return. This makes them a special seasonal treat that can only be enjoyed once a year.
If you've never tasted fiddleheads before, they are reminiscent of asparagus, but earthier with mossy undertones. Fiddleheads are actually fern tips, or fronds, that are picked just as they break through the earth, but before they have a chance to uncurl. I love how you can actually taste how wild they are. Dare I say they make me feel like a hobbit? Come on, they're totally hobbit food!
While delicious, fiddleheads shouldn't be eaten raw, as they contain a toxin that causes abdominal pain when ingested. Fortunately for us, this toxin and bitterness is destroyed by heat when cooked. Fiddleheads sauteed with garlic, shallots, and a splash of lemon juice is a simple way to prepare them, but one that really lets them shine. Enjoy them while they last!
SAUTEED FIDDLEHEAD FERNS WITH GARLIC & LEMON
3/4 lb. fiddlehead ferns
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
Half a medium shallot, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Thoroughly wash the fiddleheads under cold water. Remove any brown chaff (anything that looks papery or furry) by carefully running your finger along the inside of each fiddlehead. Trim off the brown stem ends using a paring knife and discard. The fiddleheads are now ready to be cooked.
Fill a medium bowl with ice water and set aside. Bring a 4-quart saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Blanch the fiddleheads for 1 minute, strain, and place in the ice bath to stop them from cooking. When cool, strain and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and butter in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft but not browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more. Add fiddleheads to the pan, tossing them with the shallots and garlic, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until they are tender-crisp. Add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss and remove from heat. Serve immediately.
Yield: 2 servings