Simply Seasonal: Funny, furry fiddlehead ferns
In the Colorado Rockies, wild mushroom foragers do not share the whereabouts of their secret stash. And so it is in Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and the Great Lakes States – but for these residents, the delicacy is fiddlehead ferns. Fiddleheads sprout their curled heads in the first few warm days of spring. Their season is very short, and foragers are on the look out in late April and early May.These funny-looking veggies come from the ostrich fern or the cinnamon fern. Typically they grow wild in heavily wooded, damp or wet areas of northern regions. Fiddlehead foragers know their fern varieties, because like wild mushrooms, some are inedible.The unusual name comes from its shape – the unfurled fronds of the young fern curl tightly into a spiral, resembling the scroll at the top of a violin, or fiddle. And they stay tightly curled, through the harvesting, through cleaning, cooking and eating. Dustin Beckner, Chef de Cuisine at Restaurant Avondale, advises a careful cleaning, as the earth gets trapped in the spiral. “To prepare fiddleheads, first remove the brown papery covering,” he says. “Trim the dark ends from the stems and wash the fiddleheads in a strainer using a strong stream of water. Then place them in a large bowl of water and swirl them around, rubbing off the thin flakes of chaff on the ferns. Drain and dry in a kitchen towel, rubbing off any remaining chaff.”The flavor hints at its origin in mossy, woody areas. The taste is mild, nutty and somewhat similar to asparagus. Fiddleheads combine well with other vegetables and can complement light fish and chicken dishes or stand up to stronger foods like lamb or bacon. Their unique appearance creates a natural garnish.Nutritionally, the fiddlehead is a powerful antioxidant, helping to neutralize free radicals linked to the development of a number of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and other age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Fiddleheads are a great source of dietary fiber, and vitamins A and C.If you want to give cooking this veggie a try, your best bet is to go to a specialty grocer. With their bright green color and crunchy texture, fiddleheads are ornamental and an interesting addition to salads, stir frys, pastas, soups and stews. Lovers of this unique veggie claim preserving is a good way to extend their short season. Fiddlehead pickles, anyone?Saut of Spring Vegetables1 pound fiddleheads, cleaned1 cup snow peas1 pound fingerling potatoes, cut into 1″ pieces2 leeks, trimmed of green stems, washed and cut into 2” pieces1 clove garlic, minced2 Tablespoons butterBoil fiddleheads for 10 minutes and refresh under cold water. Reserve. Steam fingerling potatoes till fork tender. Saut in hot skillet in 1 Tablespoon butter to sear and carmelize on the outsides. Remove potatoes from pan and set aside. Add remaining butter to pan, reduce heat to medium and add garlic and leeks. Cook, stirring occasionally, till soft and fragrant. Add fiddleheads, snow peas and potatoes and cook for an additional two minutes, or until snowpeas are crisp and all veggies are hot. Serves 6. Bacon & Fiddleheads1 pound fiddleheads, cleaned2 tablespoons olive oilButter (optional)2 cloves finely chopped garlic 1/4 cup pancetta or bacon, cut into 1/4 inch cubes Kosher or sea salt and ground black pepperHeat oil in a saut pan over medium – high heat. Add the bacon or pancetta, if using, and cook, stirring until lightly browned. Add ferns and garlic and cook, covered, for 3 – 4 minutes. Uncover and cook for an additional 3 – 4 minutes or until they are tender but still are slightly crunchy. Add salt and pepper to taste and swirl in some butter. Serve immediately. Serves 4.Pasta with Shrimp and Fiddleheads1 pound fiddleheads, cleaned6 ounces linguine, uncooked6 cups water1-3/4 pounds fresh shrimp, peeled, with tails left on 1 teaspoon butter2/3 cup onion, chopped1/2 cup green pepper, diced1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced1 teaspoon thyme1/4 teaspoon pepper1/8 teaspoon salt1/8 teaspoon celery seed2 tablespoons fresh lemon juiceBring water to a boil in a large saucepan; add shrimp and cook three to five minutes, or until done. Drain well, and set aside. Cook fiddleheads in boiling water for ten minutes. Drain. Cook pasta as directed, without salt or oil. Drain well, set aside and keep warm.Coat a large, nonstick skillet with cooking spray; add butter and heat to melt. Add onion and green pepper and saut until crisp-tender. Stir in fiddleheads. Add sliced mushrooms, thyme, pepper, salt and celery seeds to vegetable mixture; stir well. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat three to four minutes or until mushrooms are tender, stirring often. Stir in shrimp and lemon juice; cook until heated through, stirring often.Place pasta on a large platter and spoon shrimp mixture on top. Serve immediately. Serves 6.Sue Barham is the marketing director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur, (larkspurvail.com) at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American Classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale, (avondalerestaurant.com) opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa and features a West Coast inspired, market driven menu.
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