Trivia question: Which green vegetable is delicious, provides a healthy dose of potassium, vitamin C and antioxidants, and tastes best when found growing wild next to riverbanks?
Found mostly in Eastern Canada, fiddleheads are the young, unfurled leaves of ferns. I like to call them the “bad boys” of the vegetable world because they’re mysterious, sometimes dangerous, and disappear just when you start to fall in love.
They’re mysterious because while they taste like a cross between asparagus and artichoke, they are actually unrelated to any other vegetable. They are dangerous because of the strict cooking regulations set out by Health Canada: they MUST BE stored in the refrigerator in a sealed plastic bag, they MUST BE thoroughly washed, and they MUST BE cooked before consumption to avoid potential food-borne illnesses. Finally, they’re heartbreakers, because they’ll be out of your life after only two weeks; fiddleheads have the shortest local availability of any vegetable in Ontario.
Personally, I have never been interested in trying fiddleheads. They just look too weird and seemed too difficult and scary to cook.
Boy, was I wrong.
On Thursday, fiddleheads showed up in my weekly organic vegetable delivery. And since I hate wasting food, I decided to get over my fear and get cooking. I checked out a few different cookbooks and websites, but it turns out there aren’t that many recipes around since they are a relatively new addition to the mainstream vegetable world. While I didn’t find a recipe to try, I did find out that fiddleheads can be swapped in where you’d normally use asparagus. I also found out EXACTLY how to prepare them safely. Given those two facts, I was inspired to come up with this:
Pasta Primavera a la Ontario
This is the first dish I have cooked in months where almost everything but the pasta was grown in Ontario. There’s just something about locally-grown produce that tastes so much better than the fanciest, exotic fruit from halfway around the world.
Warning: When you read this recipe, you will think that preparing and cooking the fiddleheads seems like a giant pain in the rear. But think of it this way: you’ll only have to do it once or twice this entire year. And its worth it.
2 cups of fresh fiddleheads (you can also use asparagus or green beans)
2 cups cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 container of grape tomatoes, halved
1 box short pasta (I used a combo of the ends of a few boxes of fusilli and penne)
1 ½ tbsp each butter and olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
10 leaves of fresh basil (dried doesn’t work in this dish), cut into long thin strips (chiffonade).
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
1. Clean the fiddleheads: Rinse and sort them, removing any that have begun to unfurl. If you see any that have a brown skin or scales on the tail, that doesn’t mean their bad, just remove and rinse. Then, trim off the ends so that about ½ cm remains before the swirl starts.
2. Place the “cleaned” fiddleheads in lots of boiling water to cook and “clean” them again. Boil for 5 minutes. The water will get really dirty. Discard the water, rinse the ‘heads and then refill the pot and boil them for another 5 minutes, or until they are softened and completely cooked.
3. Rinse well and put aside. Clean out the pot, refill with water, add a bit of salt, and cook your pasta.
4. While all this is going on, make the mushrooms: melt the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Toss in the creminis (along with a dash of salt) and sauté for about 5-10 minutes. This high heat allows them to retain their shape and develop a gorgeous golden caramelized crust.
5. Add the fiddleheads into the mushrooms and toss around for about 3-4 minutes. Then add in the garlic and a bit more salt. Stir around for another minute or so and then remove from the heat.
6. Place the chopped tomatoes into the bottom of whatever serving bowl you’re planning on using.
7. As soon as the pasta is cooked, drain and add to the mushrooms. Mix well and pour over the tomatoes. The hot pasta will warm the tomatoes but not cook them so much that they get watery or lose their shape.
8. Let cool until just a bit warm and then stir in the basil and cheese. If it is too hot, the cheese will melt and get gloppy and the basil will lose its bright green colour.
9. Taste and adjust seasonings with either salt, pepper, or more basil or cheese.
10. Serve warm or at room temperature. This dish is best consumed right away as the delicate flavours of the fiddleheads fades fast.