Thursday, May 7, 2009

Farmers' Market Fiddleheads

Last weekend, my beloved Orono Farmers' Market resumed its summer schedule and location along the Stillwater River.

Like a dork, I showed up the minute it opened. I chatted with farmers I hadn't seen since October, and marveled privately at the growth of their beards. There were a few new vendors, including Good Hike Bars out of Old Town. For $5 I picked up a half dozen of their granola squares, made with local cranberries from Ellsworth, Maine. They're sweet and chewy, and full of hearty stuff like oats, flax, and peanut butter.

Few plants are ready to pick and eat in early May, and I wouldn't know what to do with a pot of cabbage seedlings. Inventory was limited, but I took home some scallions, radishes, beet greens, baby lettuce, and a quart of fiddleheads.

Maine is apparently renowned for these baby ostrich fern fronds; foodies in Boston and New York pay through the teeth for them. Growing up in southern Maine, the only person I ever knew who ate fiddleheads was my elderly French Canadian neighbor. Because he also ate dandelion greens and poutine, and because they looked like alien tentacles, I dismissed fiddleheads as fringe food. Could you eat them? Yes. But should you? Only if stranded in the godforsaken wilderness.

I hadn't given fiddleheads much consideration until recently, when I saw them featured on some vegan food blogs. The ferns were in abundance at the farmers' market, so I bought a quart for $3.99 from my maple syrup man, who'd foraged them himself. Then I used this recipe to create a simple lemony fiddlehead pasta.

Trimming their stems and washing them free of debris is a pain, but fiddleheads have a mild, earthy flavor, somewhere between asparagus and green peas, that makes them worth the effort for the few short weeks they're in season. In this dish, their leafy centers absorb the lemon juice, white wine, and olive oil nicely. If fiddleheads are out of season, or if they creep you out, you could substitute asparagus or broccoli.

Fiddlehead Pasta with Lemon & White Wine

13 oz. linguine or fettucini
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 quart fiddleheads
3 tablespoons vegan margarine (like Earth Balance)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup dry white wine
freshly ground black pepper
lemon slices to garnish

Cook pasta according to directions, then drain it and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil to prevent it from sticking together.

While the pasta cooks, trim the ends of the fiddleheads. Remove any brown, papery casing, and rinse them several times in cold water.

Bring a small pot of water to boil. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat.

Parboil the fiddleheads in the pot for 2 minutes, then rinse them in cold water.

Sauté the fiddleheads in the olive oil for 5-7 minutes, until they are just beginning to brown. Add the margarine, garlic, lemon juice, Italian seasoning, salt, and cooked pasta. Toss in the skillet until evenly distributed. Add wine, and stir occasionally for 3-5 minutes, until most of the wine has evaporated.

Serve with lemon slices and black pepper (and the rest of the wine, obviously).

Serves 4.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds heavenly! I've been dying to try fiddlehead ferns, but haven't found them in markets yet... I'm afraid I might miss out on them for yet another year.


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