Spring Delicacies

by Mark R. Vogel

            Fiddlehead ferns are the young fronds, (leaves divided into multiple sections), of the ostrich fern. Prior to blooming the fronds are coiled up on themselves and resemble the end of a fiddle, hence the name. They are available for about a month in early spring. Start looking for them in the supermarkets in April. 

            Fiddleheads are grown in the eastern US and Canada. Maine is particularly noted for its fiddleheads. Pick fiddleheads that are tightly coiled. As the plant matures and the fronds unfurl, they become tougher and less edible. Look for bright green specimens with no signs of wilting or discoloration. The sooner you use them the better, but do not store them beyond two days. Trim the stem end and wash them thoroughly for they sometimes have a brownish or fuzzy covering on them. Fiddleheads are a good source of Vitamins A and C and provide some fiber. They have a unique and woodsy taste, somewhat similar to asparagus. Do not pick your own growing in the wild unless you know what you’re doing. There are similar looking species that are toxic. 

            Fiddleheads can be steamed, boiled, simmered, or sautéed. Add them to your next salad. To do so, briefly blanch them in boiling water and then shock them in ice water. Then cut them up and toss with the lettuce. If you’d like you can marinate them first. Simply put them in a bowl with a mixture of olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, salt, sugar, and some herbs. Allow them to rest in the marinade for an hour or two. Fiddleheads find their way into the same kinds of recipes as other vegetables. People make soup out of them and even put them in quiche and soufflés. My favorite preparation is simply sautéing them.

 

SAUTEED FIDDLEHEAD FERNS

 

1 lb fiddlehead ferns, trimmed, washed, and dried.

1 large shallot, chopped

Butter and olive oil as needed

2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

Parsley to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

 

            Heat up an equal amount of butter and olive oil. Sauté the ferns and shallot for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook one more minute. Season with parsley, salt and pepper and serve. If you like, you can even give them a squirt of lemon juice. 

 

            Another spring favorite, highly prized by gourmets the world over, is the morel mushroom. Morels are wild mushrooms in season from April through June. However, there are cultivated morels that are available at other times in the year. Morels look like conical shaped honeycombs. They are light to dark brown in color. They have a smoky, earthy taste and the darker the color the more intense the flavor. Morels also come in dried form. To rehydrate, simply soak in warm water for 30 minutes.

            Choose morels that have a firm yet spongy texture. Avoid ones that are soggy, damaged, or smell of mildew. Because of their little pockets, morels can harbor a notable amount of dirt and even small insects. Thus, they should be cleaned meticulously. First, trim them at the stem end. Next, place them in a bowl of water, give them a swish or two, and allow them to rest for a few minutes. Repeat this process with clean water until no more grit is observable. Store morels in damp paper toweling in the fridge for up to a few days. Morels can be used in virtually any way you would employ other mushrooms. They have a wonderful flavor and provide a refreshing alternative to the hackneyed and bland white button mushrooms.  

            Morels can be a little pricey but I’d think twice about foraging for your own to save money. Just like the fiddleheads, they have a similar looking counterpart, (known as the false morel), which is poisonous. 

 

FETTUCCINE WITH MORELS

 

1 lb fettuccine

2-3 shallots, chopped

Olive oil as needed

3 garlic cloves, chopped

10 oz. morels, sliced

½ cup chicken broth

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup heavy cream

Chopped parsley or basil to taste

Grated Parmesan cheese to taste

 

            Boil the fettuccine in salted water until just underdone. Try to time it so the pasta and sauce are done simultaneously. If the pasta finishes first, drain and mix with some olive oil to prevent it from sticking. In a large skillet sauté the shallots in olive oil until they soften. Add the garlic and morels and sauté one more minute. Deglaze with the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the morels are tender, adding a little more stock if necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cream, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, mix the pasta in, and simmer for one minute or until the pasta is done. Remove from the heat. Check for additional salt and pepper, and finish with herbs and cheese.

 

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