Wild edibles can be elusive creatures; hiding where you least expect them, and absent where they aught to be found. A hunt worth pursuing, it just takes a bit more effort to get dinner on the table if foraging is involved. Luckily, here in New England, the forests are ripe with fiddlehead ferns, and I was determined to find them. Hundreds of ferns spring up every year in my own backyard, but alas, they’re not the tasty sort that you’d want to consume. Clearly, it was time to search farther afield, as there was no chance I would miss out on these short-lived seasonal specialties for yet another year. An epic journey ensued, or a wild goose chase, depending on who you ask, with over 50 miles traveled. Out into the vast, untamed natural beauty of… Whole Foods in New York City.
Yes, I know, I’ve lost all “foodie” cred for admitting that, but I just couldn’t find those suckers anywhere. Not by poking through the swamps or shopping in any local markets- There’s good reason I always miss out on fiddlehead ferns every spring. Still, this was the next best thing to foraging in the great outdoors, and the bounty still ended up being free. Our gracious cashier didn’t know how to price them, readily admitted this problem, and handed over the goods free of charge. Gotta love that kind of luck.
Most important to any dish utilizing these delicate wild vegetables is to keep it simple, and allow those ferns to shine. Taking inspiration from their coiled shape, I thought of shrimp scampi, minus the seafood of course. Though it’s hardly a revolutionary recipe, it was a delightfully fast, satisfying dish, which would pair beautifully with just about any protein accompaniment, be it bean or wheat. Garlicky strands of noodles intertwined with the stars of the show, brightened by a hit of lemon and fresh herbs, it simply screams “spring!” Fiddlehead ferns do have a sadly short window of availability, so don’t wait; go and “forage” some for yourself, before it’s too late!
1/2 Pound Fiddlehead Ferns
1/2 Pound Angel Hair, Spaghetti, or Linguini
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
1 Shallot, Finely Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Tablespoons Mirin (or White Wine plus 1 Teaspoon Agave)
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
3 – 4 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, Chopped
1/8 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Salt, to Taste
Zest of 1 Lemon
First, prep your fiddleheads by removing any particularly long ends and remaining papery “scales.” Wash well, particularly if you did find them yourself out in the wild. Cook in boiling water for a full 10 minutes, drain thoroughly, and immediately plunge them into a bath of ice water to arrest the cooking process. Once thoroughly chilled, drain once more and set aside.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package, and drain well. Toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil to prevent the strands from sticking, and set aside.
In a medium skillet, heat the remaining oil and toss in the prepped shallot and garlic. Saute over medium heat for about 5 – 7 minutes, until softened and lightly browned. Add in the mirin and lemon juice, simmering for about 2 minutes to allow the alcohol to cook and mellow a bit. Add in the cooked noodles and fiddleheads, tossing to incorporate with the sauce, along with the parsley, cayenne, and salt. Cook for 1 – 3 more minutes until piping hot, and finally top with the lemon zest.
Serves 3 – 4 as a Side