Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fiddlehead ferns

Time for something green. Have you ever eaten a fiddlehead fern? I haven't, but my Mom and sister ate them in a salad in Connecticut several years ago. My sister reports:
"It might have been in Litchfield....I like them a lot, but mostly because they are so cool-looking. The only thing is their tightly curled shape sometimes harbors bugs or worms. Thinking that I might encounter one or the other sort of kills the joy of eating them for me."
No one on the web mentions encountering insects, although Wikipedia has a short list of possible health effects.

Fiddleheads are more than a novelty for many, who look forward to them each year because of their short growing season and because they are the first green vegetable to emerge in the early Spring. But don't expect a native New Englander to show you where to forage for them - their stands in the woods are closely guarded secrets! writes, "Tiny gray-green spirals reaching into the first really warm days of Spring. Each of them wearing their own little fur overcoat to protect them when it was chillier weather. Snapped up and eaten by whoever has the sense and taste to do it." The chef at a restaurant in Vermont knows where to find them and cooks them with duck confit in a pasta dish called "Duck and Fiddle." (The ferns got their name because they resemble the carved ornamentation, or scroll, on the neck of a violin.) You may be able to find some at your local gourmet market: a Canadian company in Port Colborne, Ontario, harvests and sells them to grocers fresh, frozen, or marinated and offers a whole list of recipes. The University of Maine offers tips on gathering and pickling this delicacy. Maine resident Charlie Burke also offers a recipe in the on-line magazine The Heart of New England and writes, "They have a delicious intense flavor which reminds me of the scent of woodland moss. Most describe it as resembling asparagus, but I think this is a reach. Cooked to crunchy tenderness, they are a flavorful and versatile treat. Most recipes call for blanching prior to final preparation, but I eliminate this step, preferring to sauté them directly." If we can find some at the store, we may have to serve them up as a side-dish with our not-yet-cooked squid-ink pasta!

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