Nothing really says spring like Fiddlehead Ferns… I was at the store the other day when I came across these little guys sitting there along side the other greens. And when I saw them, I breathed out a heavy sigh of relief. The sun was finally on its way, making its return to the Pacific Northwest. Believe me, those long grey and rainy days of winter can wear on us all. But it’s those little signs that we look for, where we find hope and remember that this too shall pass. I always seem to find them at the market; daffodils, crocus, hyacinth, morels, pea shoots, artichokes, fennel, and yes, fiddlehead ferns. When I first came across these tiny wheels of wonder, I was really curious about them. And so I took them home with me and began to investigate. This year I was determined to come up with something really spectacular; a dish that would nicely transition from the heaviness of winter into spring.
Fiddleheads are actually fern fronds. They are the tightly coiled new growth on a fern plant, and left unharvested, they would simply grow into new leaves. They have a fairly short harvest period, and appear during early spring when the ferns begin to grow their new shoots. Fiddleheads are found forged from the forest, but caution should be taken with finding your own. Not all fiddleheads can be used for consuming, and some can actually be toxic. There’s only one variety that I am aware of that is edible, the Ostrich fern. Lucky for us, you can usually find them at your local grocery store in the specialty produce section or farmer’s market, so there’s little need for worry. If you don’t see them there, you can always ask for your produce department to look into finding them.
The best word to describe how fiddlehead ferns taste to me is green; very, very green. They have been linked to asparagus, spinach, artichokes and green beans. I would lean more towards describing them as wheat grass with a crunch. They pair especially well with olive oil, brown butter, hard cheeses such as parmesan and pecorino, polenta and pastas, prosciutto, vinaigrettes, lemon, onion, garlic and mushrooms. For a more Asian inspired dish, try sesame oil and soy sauce. They can be blanched, boiled, sautéd or steamed.
Fiddlehead Ferns and Yellowfoot Mushrooms
Caution should also be taken when eating fiddleheads as well. They need to be properly washed by submerging them in a bowl or basin with water prior to cooking. This helps remove the tiny bits that sometimes cling to the fern, and helps to remove any grit or dirt that may be hiding inside. And fiddlehead ferns should never, ever, be eaten raw. After washing, I usually boil a pot of water and submerge them for a minute or two. I then transfer them to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. I do this a second time, after replacing the water with a fresh pot. This should take care of any issue, while maintaining the fresh green color and texture of the piece, and it reduces the bitterness somewhat as well. Although, new safety standards state that you should “boil fiddleheads for 15 minutes or steaming them for 10 to 12 minutes prior to use in recipes.” Apparently there is some debate about whether this is accurate or not, and a five minutes cooking time seems to be the common consensus.
Preserved Summer Truffles
The idea was to pair these fiddleheads with pasta and truffles. I decided to use the preserved truffles that we brought back from Italy last year. They’ve been sitting on the shelf for long enough, and it was finally time to break the seal. The advantage of preserved truffles is that you can have them in your kitchen for use all year long. They usually come stored in a jar or can, and have a shelf life of usually up to 1 to 2 years. The tastes are not as pronounced as fresh truffles, but they are comparable. The brining liquid that the truffles are preserved with can also be used in cooking. (I actually added a little, maybe a tablespoon or so, to the heavy cream that the truffles were infusing in prior to cooking.) The truffles should not be eaten raw out of the container. Trust me on this… You’ll be hugely disappointed. They are best sliced and lightly sautéed. Heating them releases the essence. It is helpful to use a truffle butter or oil when sautéing to help enhance the flavors. Of course you don’t have to go to Italy to find truffles. They can be found in specialty stores, and I’ve also found several sources online.
I added the truffles to some heavy cream and let the flavors marry while I prepared the rest of the dish. I had found some yellowfoot mushrooms while shopping, and thought that they would be a prefect accompaniment. After sautéing the chopped pieces, along with some onion, I added a dry white wine to create a fond. A “fond” is a French word used in cooking that means “base” or “foundation,” and refers to creating a simple sauce by deglazing a pan of its browned bits after generally cooking meat and such. I then added the truffle cream that had been marinating on the side, to the fond to create a ridiculously rich and delicious cream sauce. After the pasta was added and mixed thoroughly, this ended up being the perfect base for the fiddlehead ferns to rest on. Yummm indeed!
- 1 (1 oz) preserved black truffle
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 4 tbsp Truffle Butter or unsalted butter for substitute
- 4 oz Fiddlehead Ferns
- 4 oz mushrooms such as Morels, Chanterelle’s or Yellowfoot, finely chopped
- 1 small Cippolini Onion or shallot, finely chopped
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 lb fresh fettuccine
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Grated Pecorino Romano, for garnish
- Chopped the preserved black truffle and add to heavy cream. Stir and set aside.
- Add Fiddlehead Ferns to a pot of boiling water and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Immediately remove and place in an ice bath.
- Repeat this process of cooking the ferns one more time. Set aside.
- Melt two tbsp of butter in skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions. Cook until fragrant and translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add mushrooms. Cook for an additional 12-15 minutes or until bits turn desired shade of golden brown. Add wine, scraping the pan for the delicious bits formed at the bottom. Add the reserved truffle cream and remaining tablespoon of butter. Simmer until thickened. 12-15 minutes.
- Melt 1 tbsp butter in a separate pan. Sauté Fiddlehead Ferns until warm, 5-7 minutes. Set aside.
- While sauce is thickening, add pasta to salted boiling water and cook until al dente, about 5-7 minutes. Drain pasta; add to pan with cream sauce. Toss to coat. Add Fiddlehead Ferns, tossing gently to mix.
- Distribute evenly to plates and top with Pecorino Romano. And enjoy!
Fettuccine with FiddleHead Ferns in a Truffle Cream Sauce