By Himanee Gupta-Carlson
One of the loveliest aspects of spring in our part of upstate New York is the arrival of one-hit wonders: wild or cultivated foods that are only available fresh for a few short weeks at some random window of time between mid-April and early June. Among the stars of the list are fiddleheads, the tightly spiraled tips of a fern that taste like an explosion of spring.
With all of the joys of seeing fiddleheads at the Saratoga Farmers’ Markets come some qualms: What do you do with these things? How do you know that they’re safe to eat?
I once shared some of these qualms, for good reason. Back in 1996, while traveling in India, I bought a bag full of fiddleheads from a farmer who encouraged me to peel them and cook them like any other pea or bean vegetable. I did so, washing my hands constantly along the way, with the help of a friend who did not wash up. She became violently ill and had to be hospitalized for the night.
So, what does that say about fiddleheads? Are they safe?
The answer is yes, with precautions.
Because fiddleheads are a wild crop, they do need to be prepared and eaten with care. With care, they are delicious like asparagus with a buttery flavor. They are loaded with vitamins A and C, and they don’t require a whole lot of preparation. So what kind of care does one need to take with fiddleheads? Here are the steps:
- Stick to the fiddlehead piece of the fern itself. Sometimes, you’ll see fiddleheads for sale at markets on longer stems. The stems should be cut within 1/8th of an inch from the point where the fern curls tightly inward, forming the fiddlehead.
- Make sure the fiddlehead is tightly curled. As the fern matures, the fiddlehead tip uncurls, forming the ultimately full fern that is beautiful to look at but not safe to eat.
- Don’t eat fiddleheads raw. Most experts point to a mild toxicity that resides in the raw fern. They recommend washing fiddleheads thoroughly, rubbing off any of the brown papery covering that accompanies them, and give them a good rinse and draining. After all this, heat a small pot of water to boiling and toss in the cleaned fiddleheads. Boil until their intensely emerald green hue turns to a softer jade, about 3 minutes. Blanch in ice cold water.
Because fiddleheads are close to asparagus in color and flavor, many recipes recommend doing to fiddleheads what might be done to asparagus. I personally like them clean and simple. After blanching, I reheat them a little and toss them with a little olive oil. Or sometimes, I omit that step. They are just as flavorful eaten without any additions. They also can be sautéed with onion, tossed into scrambled eggs, or baked into quiches or frittatas. Pattie Garrett describes several possibilities for using fiddleheads in her My Saratoga Kitchen Table blog at http://www.mysaratogakitchentable.com/?s=fiddleheads
Here are a few simple preparations for fiddleheads. Enjoy them while they’re fresh and in season:
• 5-7 fiddlehead ferns per person
• water for steaming
• optional: butter or oil; salt, pepper, lemon juice
1. Clean fiddleheads.
2. Place about one inch of water in a pot and heat. Insert a steamer basket and add fiddleheads, or place fiddleheads directly in water.
3. Steam with lid on the pot for approximately 5-7 minutes until fiddleheads are tender but still crisp.
4. Toss with oil, spices, or lemon juice if desired and serve.
• 5-7 fiddlehead ferns per person
• butter or oil
1. Clean fiddleheads according to directions above.
2. Heat oil in a frying pan and add clean and dried fiddleheads.
3. Lower heat to medium-low and cook, tossing fiddleheads in oil gently with two wooden spoons for about 5-7 minutes.
4. Season with salt and pepper if desired, and serve.
(adapted from a recipe by wild foods expert Langdon Cook)
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 1 cup fiddleheads, cleaned and blanched in boiling water for a few minutes
• 1 onion (or a couple of wild ramps), chopped
• 6 eggs
• ½ cup yogurt
• salt and pepper, to taste
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Whisk eggs and yogurt in a mixing bowl.
3. Heat oil in a skillet, add onion and toss over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, until onions are translucent.
4. Add fiddleheads and cook for an additional minute.
5. Add egg mixture, lower heat, season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook on stovetop until eggs are set, then finish off by baking in oven for 7-9 minutes.
Fiddleheads and Gruyere with Phyllo Dough
Compliments of “My Saratoga Kitchen Table” blog
Author: adapted from Closet Cooking
• 1 Tablespoon olive oil
• 1 leek, trimmed, cleaned and sliced thinly
• 1 garlic clove, chopped
• ½ lemon juice
• 3 sheets phyllo dough, thawed as directed on package and cut in half lengthwise
• 2 cup Gruyere, cheese
• ½ pound fiddleheads, well cleaned and blanched for 3 minutes
1. Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat.
2. Add the leek and cook until tender, about 3-5 minutes
3. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute
4. Remove from heat, mix in the lemon juice.
5. Place a sheet of phyllo dough on a greased baking sheet and brush it with oil. Repeat with the remaining sheets each on top of the last.
6. Sprinkle the leeks over the phyllo followed by the cheese and finally the fiddleheads.
7. Bake in a preheated 375 degrees oven until the phyllo dough is golden brown, about 10 minutes
Notes: Try substituting pizza crust for phyllo
Calories: 284 Fat: 15 Saturated fat: 7 Carbohydrates: 24 Sodium: 261 Protein: 15 Cholesterol: 40