Celebrate early spring with the New England’s signature delicacies of fiddleheads, dandelions, ramps, and mushrooms, in two mid-week meals.
The season of foraging has begun. Fiddleheads are everywhere, dandelion greens are decorating the lawn, wild onions are poking their heads up, and any day now, the reclusive morel mushrooms will arrive. In the garden, large clumps of chives and thyme offer their unique taste of spring, ready to season just about everything we cook.
Cook once –– eat twice. This forager’s supper doubles as a refreshing salad the next day with just a few additions.
I grew up with the tradition of early New England spring foraging for fiddleheads. My uncle loved these more than anything, and we’d go out each year to harvest our fill, along with the first of the morel mushrooms if we were lucky. On a great day, we’d get both, plus the bonus of some wild leeks (ramps). After cleaning and blanching the fiddleheads, we usually prepared them simply, a quick sauté in butter with a little garlic and a little finish with cider vinegar.
This calls for a feast of new beginnings
The time is upon us and the season is brief, just a few weeks, so using native fiddleheads means they are enjoyed right now, or pickled for later.
I found my first fiddleheads of the season last week, the benefit of someone else’s foraging. Fiddleheads, or fiddlehead ferns, are the tightly curled fronds of newly emerging ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). They are extremely nutritious, and just what we crave after a long winter. They have a fresh flavor that some compare to asparagus or artichokes, and they are just what we need after a winter of root vegetables.
They get their name from their resemblance to the ornamental end of a fiddle. It is traditional in the Northeast to harvest your own in the woods, or look for a roadside peddler. For years, when not foraging my own, I bought mine from a man who parked his pickup truck at the same turnaround year after year. Never fear. One spring, the pickup was no longer there, but I found another supplier! My sister-in-law often brought me fiddleheads she foraged herself, in exchange for my work of preparing and cooking them for her. I called it an even trade.
There are many recipes for fiddleheads, from soup and salad, to main and side dishes. No matter the use, they must be prepared before you eat them, but after the cleaning and blanching, you can store them in your refrigerator for a week to pull out for quick cooking.
If you are not familiar with the ferns, please only pick them with someone experienced in foraging them. Other varieties of ferns are not edible and can make you sick, so you really need to know you’ve got the right plant. Additionally, these are not suitable to be eaten raw. And, of course, never ever pick a mushroom unless you absolutely know what you are doing.
However, most of the farm stands, co-ops, and farmers’ markets carry them this time of year as well, and there are also mail-order sources.
Nutritional Information: Fiddleheads are a good source of iron, potassium, manganese, copper, niacin, thiamin, calcium, Vitamins A and C, both omega-3 and-6 fatty acids, and are rich in fiber, protein, and anti-oxidants. Now that’s a spring tonic!
Spring Forager’s Supper with Fiddleheads & Dandelions
If you do not have access to fiddleheads, substitute spring asparagus cut into bite sized pieces. You can use any greens you like in place of the dandelions or ramps, such as baby spinach, watercress, or even a bag of spicy mixed greens from the market.
To save time later, prep a full one or two pounds of fiddleheads when you find them and store them to use all week. To prep them, you will need to soak and clean them, and blanch them to remove the bitter tannins. See full instructions here: Preparing fiddleheads.
Once they are prepped, they cook in just moments.
You can use any mushroom you like in this dish. Shiitake mushrooms are really good here if you can’t find wild morels at the farm markets. Leave out the anchovies and cheese and you have a lovely vegan entry.
Dandelion greens when young and tender are prefect here, as are the delicious garlicky ramps. Be careful harvesting the ramps and do not take the actual bulbs. You don’t have to be careful with the dandelions!
I used brown rice pasta here, but you can use what you like. Unfortunately, my one pound bag of pasta is now only 12 ounces! However, I like the ratio of vegetables to pasta better, so this worked out.
Always look for organic produce first!
12 ounces brown rice or whole wheat pasta
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 large shallots, minced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
3 or four anchovy filets
10 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1/2 lb. prepared fiddlehead ferns*
2 large handfuls of dandelion greens (weed revenge) or ramps
2 tbsp. cider vinegar or lemon juice
2 tbsp. toasted pinenuts
Parmesan cheese, grated, optional
Put your pasta water on to boil. When at a rolling boil, salt the water heavily and add your pasta, stirring now and then to keep from clumping. When finished, reserve a cup of the water, drain the rest, and set aside.
Heat a 12-inch skillet and add the olive oil.
Sauté the shallots for a couple of minutes.
Add the anchovies and garlic and sauté another minute or so. The anchovies will melt away.
Add the mushrooms, and continue sautéing until they soften. Add salt and pepper.
Stir in the fiddleheads, and cook for another two minutes.
Add the pasta and the greens, mix well, cover and cook for minute or until the greens have just wilted. Taste, and add more salt and pepper as desired.
Add a little of the reserved pasta water to loosen it up, and dot with a bit of butter to add some creaminess.
Place in a large bowl, sprinkle with the cheese if desired, the vinegar, a drizzle of a little more olive oil, and top with the toasted pine nuts.
Add some protein if you like!
You can serve this dish with a side salad or you can dress it up a little more
Add some sautéed scallops, chicken, or tofu if you would like protein on this meal, but try to keep the protein simple. The vegetables should be the star of the show.
Second Appearance Salad
Fiddlehead salad can be as simple as adding a vinaigrette to some prepared fiddleheads and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
If you have leftover Forager’s Supper, you can transform it easily into a second appearance. The next day, add a little more olive oil and vinegar to taste, some halved cherry tomatoes, and a finely minced yellow or orange pepper. You can also add other left-over vegetables such as broccoli or peas.
Top with freshly snipped chives and some violets or other edible flower, and finish with a little more sea salt and pepper.
Foraging for Morels with Uncle Leonard
Look over there, under that apple tree.
Where? I only see leaves and bark.
That’s because you are looking too hard.
© Copyright 2019 – or current year, Dorothy Grover-Read, The New Vintage Kitchen