Mother Nature is a cruel mistress, as any Manitoban can tell you right now. We woke yesterday morning to a very pretty but unseasonable white blanket of snow covering everything in sight. But despite the snow, spring is still happening. Don’t believe me? Check the stores. For a very limited time, you can find fiddlehead ferns at specialty markets and small grocers like Vic’s Fruit Market on Pembina.
Fiddleheads are the very young, fresh growth of the ostrich fern. Fiddlehead season is limited to only a few weeks in the spring. Before fiddlehead season, the ferns haven’t popped up yet. After fiddlehead season, the fiddleheads have unfurled and become ferns. They also don’t travel very well, so they’re very much an “eat while available” seasonal food. And they’re harvested from the wild, so they are limited in supply, and can be a bit expensive. They are definitely a briefly available delicacy.
Because fiddleheads can taste very bitter before being cooked, you shouldn’t eat them raw. Instead, blanch them in boiling water for about 4 minutes and then shock them in ice water before using them. But aside from that difference, they can be used in many of the same ways that asparagus is used. Like other foods that are very seasonal and are only available in limited quantities, I prefer giving fiddleheads a simple treatment. This showcases the flavour that we won’t get to experience again for another year.
I have only found fiddleheads here pre-packaged for you. But if you get to select your own, pick out fiddleheads that are still tightly curled and not too big.
For these particular fiddleheads, I made a quick and easy pasta dish. To make it, you will need:
- 1/2 pound fiddleheads (or at minimum two nice handfuls)
- 6 slices bacon, diced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- about 1 lb angel hair pasta
Boil a small pot of water for the fiddleheads, and a larger pot for the pasta. Salt the pasta water. Clean the fiddleheads by removing any brown skins and cutting off the tips of the stems.
Once the small pot is boiling, add the fiddleheads. While the fiddleheads are boiling, prepare an ice water bath. After about four minutes, the fiddleheads should be bright green. Remove them from the boiling water and put them in the ice water bath. Set aside.
Heat a medium frying pan over medium high heat. Add the bacon, and cook until it begins to get crispy. Tilt the pan and carefully spoon out all but one tablespoon of bacon fat.
Add the onions to the frying pan, and lower the heat to medium. Cook until the onion begins to get translucent. Add the garlic and toss well.
Add the wine to the frying pan. Let the sauce reduce. (If you like a richer sauce, add a pat of butter.) Add the red pepper flakes.
Toss the angel hair pasta into the larger pot of boiling water. Cook to al dente according to the package instructions.
Drain the fiddleheads, and rinse with fresh water again. Drain, and add them to the frying pan. Toss well to heat the fiddleheads through.
Serve the fiddlehead mixture over the pasta. If you like, serve topped with a bit of Parmesan cheese. Serves four.