In general, there are two kinds of plants in my mind: The ones that you look at and the ones that you eat. I get a little uncomfortable when those lines get blurred.
For instance, if you carve a happy face into a pumpkin you shouldn’t eat that pumpkin. The same goes for those purple-brown ears of dried Indian corn that people leave about during Thanksgiving – you don’t eat corn that isn’t yellow.
Even though I grew up with a mom who has an ability to grow anything from the ground and who constantly tosses nasturtium blossoms into salads and has been known to sautée dandelion leaves with bits of bacon I simply didn’t want any of her weird dishes. I definitely drew the line when it came to the uncurling leaves of ferns, called fiddleheads.
The stream by our farmhouse had a bank that became lush with ferns right at the spot where the water slipped under the road. There was something luxurious about watching the ferns unfurl from the earth as the days grew warmer until the whole area was thick with rich green. So of course I was a bit put off early one spring when the ground was still hard with frost and mom started lopping off fern heads and carrying them into the kitchen. I refused to agree that these tender greens were considered a New England delicacy. What I heard was, “We need to trim our grocery bill, let’s eat the ferns.”
A number of the ferns later that summer were missing their elegant, feathered points.
In any case, now that eating local has become as trendy as those reusable shopping bags that are appearing everywhere, fiddleheads seem to have found an accepted place in the produce sections of grocery stores, and, of course, at farmers’ markets. They weren’t cheap at my corner co-op: $9.18 per pound. So much for the frugality of ferns.
But I brought a modest bunch home the other night anyway and invited my friend Jessica to stay for dinner. She took one look at the pile of tight green curls and said, “They look like Halloween food.”
Still, we persisted. While the bow tie pasta boiled, we tossed the fiddleheads into a hot pan with butter, garlic, and some fresh shrimp and sautéed them for three minutes. I seasoned the dish with salt and pepper and in no time at all we had a light meal – a perfect meal if you’ve just finished a run.
The next night I warmed the leftovers and coated them with a white wine sauce. Delish! What do fiddleheads taste like? Very similar to asparagus. Note to foragers: Not all ferns are edible, so do your research before you nibble your way through the meadow.
2 tablespoons of butter
Handful of fiddleheads, washed
1 clove of garlic, diced
1/4 lb. shrimp, peeled and washed
1/2 cup white cooking wine
Salt and pepper, to taste
Work up your courage to try something weird. Trim any scary-looking dark bits from the fiddleheads. Melt the butter and add fiddleheads, garlic, and shrimp. Add cooking wine. Sautée for 3 minutes. Serve immediately over freshly cooked pasta.
Cooking tip of the day: To peel garlic quickly, press down hard with the flat side of a knife on back of the clove to break the skin.