Fiddleheads, you ask, are the unfurled fronds of a young ostrich fern. They are collected in the wild before the frond has opened and sold as a seasonal vegetable in stores and outdoor markets. They are called fiddleheads because they resemble the curled ornamentation (scroll) on the end of a stringed instrument, such as a fiddle. Although not as common a name where I grew up, fiddleheads can also be called a crozier after the curved staff used by shepherds and bishops. In the Maritimes, fiddlehead season has begun and will last 3 weeks. North American Indians were eating fiddleheads long before the arrival of the first Europeans. The Australian and New Zealand aborigines and the Japanese are very fond of fiddleheads. In Indonesia, young fiddlehead ferns are cooked in a rich coconut sauce spiced with chilies, galangal, lemongrass, turmeric leaves and other spices. Choose firm, bright-green, tightly-curled fiddleheads with their little brown shells still intact. Eat only the curled head and a small portion of the green stem. To prepare fiddleheads, shake vigorously in a plastic bag to remove any brown scales, then wash thoroughly, changing the water several times.
2 cups fresh fiddleheads, cleaned
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 cups wild mushrooms
salt and pepper
1 lb. orecchiette pasta
8 oz. soft goat cheese, crumbled
chopped fresh basil
In a steamer set over simmering water, steam fiddleheads 5 to 10 minutes, or until tender. Drain and plunge into ice water until cold. Drain.
Heat butter and oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Increase heat to medium-high, add mushrooms and cook 3 to 5 minutes, or until softened. Add fiddleheads and cook another 3 to 5 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and add to fiddlehead mixture, tossing well. Divide into four bowls and top with goat cheese and fresh basil.
The Culinary Chase’s Note: My childhood memories of eating fiddleheads were mainly sautéed in butter which I still enjoy but this recipe takes this humble green to a new level. Fiddleheads are very fragile and highly perishable. Wrapped in a paper towel and placed in a plastic bag, they will keep in the refrigerator for a day or two. It is important to note that fiddleheads can be toxic when raw and it is therefore important to properly cook them.