Tempting Trio of Spring Treasures

Could there be anything more perfect than finding wild fiddlehead ferns, ramps, and asparagus all in the same day?

The blossoms on the trees are just popping out in lacy, pale green wonder. The grass in the fields is beyond green as well, and the odd freshly tilled field scents the air with earth and possibilities of the coming season. No bugs. No weeds, save the dandelions, but we’ll eat those as well! It is, by far, my favorite moment of the year, and moment is what it always feels like. There will be rain tomorrow, and we need those showers, but for today, all is well in this patch of the world with blue skies, sun, and wild delights.

A foraging heritage

I’ve foraged fiddleheads since I was a child. My Uncle Leonard was a great forager of all things wild, from a myriad of mushrooms, all season long, to butternuts, walnuts, and just about every edible green shoot and funny little root imaginable. I accompanied him and my Aunt Mary to the forest often, and have fond memories of her obsessive antique bottle collecting in old cellar holes, and his fresh mushroom gathering! He loved the early sprouts of pokeweed, wood sorrel, dandelions, lamb’s quarters, and of course ramps and fiddlehead ferns. If we were lucky, we’d find an elusive morel mushroom or two!

When the fiddleheads, *ramps (also called wild leeks or garlic), and asparagus all sing at the same time, there are several dishes I make, from simple sauté to a little show-off tart. This is the terroir of early spring green in New England, long awaited after a winter of white and grey, and we need this as much as corn in July and apples in September.

Sustainable harvests

Look for ramps that have been harvested sustainably, cut off at the soil line and not pulled by the roots. While they grow in abundance in our northern woods, if over harvested they too will become endangered.

A lot of folks think they detest fiddleheads, the unfurled sprout of the ostrich fern which appear in northern woods in April. Most likely, they found them at a farm stand or side-of-the-road vendor and just brought them home and cooked them. They probably tasted like a hideous weed, never to be sampled again. But there’s a blanching trick to them which removes the extremely bitter and foul tasting tannin, resulting in a delightful vegetable that is right up there in taste and texture to asparagus. If you think you hate them, prep them right and give them another chance, I’ve coaxed many a convert!

Let’s keep it simple, or not!

My favorite way to eat them is a simple sauté with lots of garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice. Nothing better, so that is how I decided to cook them today. The only thing needed to complete the meal was some pasta, and I use a black rice pasta we love. You could also use them as a topping for any other favorite pasta, potatoes, pureed celeriac, polenta, or rice. What do you like best?

This is a vegan dish, but you can always add just a bit of Parmesan or even vegan Parmesan for a bit more of a salty element.

Fiddleheads, Ramps, and Asparagus over Rice Noodles

  • 1 lb. fiddleheads
  • 1 lb. asparagus
  • 1 large bunch ramps
  • 4 to 6 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 8 ounces rice noodles

Prep the fiddleheads, do not skip this step: Soak the fiddleheads in cold water for 10 minutes. Rub any brown papery scales off them. Change the water, swish well, and let soak another 10 minutes. Change the water again, swish around, then drain. You should see lots of little brown flecks sluff off.

While the fiddleheads are soaking, bring a large pot of water to the boil. When ready, add a couple of tablespoons of salt, along with the drained fiddleheads. Cover and quickly bring back to a boil. Let cook for about two minutes; the water will start to look like English breakfast tea, it will be that dark.

Drain, and plunge in ice water or rinse until chilled in cold tap water. Drain again, then pat dry on a towel.

You can now store them in the refrigerator for cooking over the next few days, or cook them right now!

Prep the rest of the vegetables. Trim the tough ends off the asparagus and cut into one-inch pieces. Set aside.

Separate the ramp bulbs and chop them, leave greens in tact. Set aside.

Let’s get cooking. Bring a pot of water to the boil to cook the pasta as directed on the package. While the pasta is cooking, the rest of the dish can be finished.

In the meantime, heat a large skillet over medium-high. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the fiddleheads along with half the garlic for about three minutes, turning frequently. Set aside.

Add the last tablespoon of olive oil, the asparagus, and the last of the garlic and ramp bulbs. Sauté until the asparagus is just tender, then add the fiddleheads back to the pan along with the ramp greens, salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, cover, and remove from the heat and set aside covered, to allow the ramps to wilt.

Plate the pasta, and distribute the vegetable mixture over the top. Sprinkle with the zest and juice of the lemon and a bit more salt and pepper. You know how you like it!

Other recipes using fiddleheads.

Fiddleheads, Vidalia Onions, and Baby Potatoes

May Day and Fiddlehead Ferns

Marinated Spring Vegetables

Spring Forager’s Supper

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60 Comments Add yours

  1. This what I call good earth, homestyle food, and you have not a green thumb but a green hand. Delicious!

    1. Thank you! I love the idea of a green hand!

      1. LOL! A green hand is exactly right!

  2. Ally Bean says:

    A wild leek is a ramp. Learn something new every time I come here.

    1. Thank Ally! They smell absolutely wonderful, an aroma that smells of garlic and spring onions and the essence of everything good at this time of year. I love opening the refrigerator when I have some tucked inside!

  3. NativeNM says:

    I am not familiar with fiddleheads or ramps but I am intrigued! It all looks delicious, wish I could taste it!

    1. Thank you! You can always use just the asparagus and another tender green, such as baby spinach.

  4. Suzassippi says:

    That is a beautiful dish and sounds like something I would like. I have never heard of a fiddlehead fern…or a ramp!

    1. Thank you! They are northern treasurers indeed.

  5. terrie gura says:

    This was awesome to read, Dorothy! Loved the story of foraging with your aunt and uncle, and it explains completely why you are so committed to seasonal cooking and eating. I’ve never been lucky enough to even see a fiddlehead fern in person (I live in the land of kudzu), but if I ever do, I’ll know exactly what to do with them!

    I loved seeing your earlier fiddlehead recipes also, especially the one with the onions and baby potatoes. Looks so delicious and nourishing! 🙂 YUM

    1. Thank you Terrie! Well, if I were you, I’d get my revenge on the dreaded kudzu by eating it! Although, happily, we don’t have it here, I know that the leaves, tips of the vine, and roots are edible, and the flowers can be used in candy making.

  6. BERNADETTE says:

    A truly spring delight. I can smell the spring green from just looking at these dishes. I wish our farmer’s markets would open soon because that is the only place I will be able to find fiddleheads.

    1. Soon Bernadette! Soon!

  7. Lovely spring ingredients 😋

    1. Thank you! They are truly treasures from our forests and gardens.

  8. Carol Taylor says:

    I can taste this delicious dish, Dorothy..there is nothing like freshly foraged mushrooms and greens my daughter in law is the forager in this family she’s up and out…an early riser ….

    1. Thank you Carol! Early risers get the best mushrooms!

  9. Nancy Richy says:

    The one and only time I tried cooking fiddlehead ferns, it was a complete disaster! I’m looking forward to giving this great recipe a whirl very soon!

    1. So many people have told me the same thing Nancy, including my sister! It’s all about that important blanching step you cannot skip. She’s coming over tonight for dinner and I’ll make them the right way. I’m sure she’ll say “where have you been all my life fiddleheads!”

      1. Nancy Richy says:

        Thanks for the secret, Dorothy. I first learned about fiddlehead ferns watching Emeril Lagasse and I’m positive he didn’t blanch them beforehand. I’m anxious to give this a try! I was thinking of tossing in a handful of pignoli nuts; what do you think of that idea?

      2. I think the pignoli nuts would be wonderful! What a great idea!

      3. Nancy Richy says:

        Great! I love pignoli nuts and add them to lots of recipes, especially salads and veggies.

      4. I think that’s a wonderful idea! A little crunch is always good, especially if it is a buttery crunch!

      5. Nancy Richy says:

        I agree! A little crunch is always good!

  10. Never had a fiddlehead, or seen one in nature. But the RAMPS….don’t get me started on the wild ramps. I looove them!!! My son and his wife usually bring me a “bouquet” of wild ramps from their secret places of foraging. 🌿🌿🌿

    1. Good son and wife! This would be one of my favorite bouquets! The aroma of ramps drives me wild! Sometimes, when I know I have them stashed in the fridge, I open it up just to linger there a moment enjoying the perfume!

      1. Me, too. And then I make the most amazing dishes! They’re quite the star attraction. 🌟✨💫

      2. Star of the day!

    2. Frances says:

      Can you buy ramps and fiddlehead at organic grocerys

      1. You often can. I saw both at my local health food store recently. The fiddleheads are done for the year here, but there are still some ramps to be had.

      2. I have no idea. Never tried, mostly because I would have to drive 40 miles to do it. 🌿

      3. Logistics! Once in a while someone writes to me when I’m unfamiliar with an ingredient and I’m told “You can get that at any Asian market.” Well, I live in Vermont, and I might have lots of farm stands, I have to drive at least forty-five minutes to find an Asian market, and it’s a small one!

      4. See? Once again, Dorothy, you get me. 😜🍃

      5. Birds of a feather!

      6. Speaking of birds….have you noticed the distinct absence of wildlife birds since the 17-year cicadas have arrived? We can’t even entice our feathered friends to come to full bird feeders. It’s so odd!!!

      7. I hadn’t! Perhaps it is the pitch of the sound or something? I think I’d better call my insect smart person.

      8. Please do. I can’t wait to hear their perspective on this strange phenomenon.

  11. chef mimi says:

    Gah! I’ve still never had ramps. Although I had a pasta with ramps pesto once, which was great. This looks so much fun, with all the fresh green stuff!

    1. I think I was suffering from green fever!!!!!

  12. Julie Zimmer says:

    Just thought to take a peak to see what you are up to (it’s my day off work). What a nice array of greens on healthy rice pasta here. And fiddle heads are so cool looking! I’ve never tried them and hope to one day!

    1. Thank you Julie! I hope you get to try fiddleheads, they are so delicious, every bit as wonderful as asparagus. Enjoy your day off from work! I hope you get good weather.

      1. Julie Zimmer says:

        Thanks! The weather is the pits 👎…. but I got my 1st COVID vaccine 💉 this afternoon!😀

      2. Wonderful!!!! Congratulations, and in a couple of weeks you will already have a good amount of protection!

  13. What a glorious Spring dish! I have always wanted to try ramps, but alas, I’ve never seen them available in my area. I could eat asparagus everyday, my favorite green vegetable. The black pasta topped with this Spring vegetable medley is Bon Appetit magazine worthy! So interesting about your Uncle and his foraging…
    Jenna

    1. Thank you Jenna! I do hope you will be able to find ramps somewhere to sample, they are quite addictive and only available for a few weeks in the spring!

  14. Klausbernd says:

    Dear Dorothy
    Thanks for sharing. Sounds yummy.
    Wishing you a wonderful weekend
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    1. Thank you so much! Have a lovely weekend as well! Happy spring!

  15. Christy B says:

    I’ve heard of fiddleheads but never seen them in person or eaten them!

    1. If you get the chance, give them a try! If they are cooked right, you’ll have a pleasant surprise!

      1. Christy B says:

        I look forward to it!

  16. Carolyn Page says:

    Well I never! And, Dorothy, I mean never…
    Your recipes are so diverse, so seasonal, and so tasty. I will do what I can, next Spring, to look for fiddleheads (ramps).
    The name makes me smile.
    xoxoxo

    1. The name is funny, and they are quite funny, but so delicious!!!!!

  17. Forestwood says:

    No fiddlehead ferns here but they do look fabulous! I cook use wild leeks perhaps. The greens in this dish look mouth watering. What a nice combo.

    1. Thank you so much! I crave these greens every spring, can’t wait for them! It’s been a cold spring, so I hope the season lasts a little longer.

      1. Forestwood says:

        🤞

  18. love those ingredients!! sounds delicious!!

    1. Thank you so much! It is so satisfying at this time of year.

  19. This is the first time I am hearing about Fiddleheads. I love greens in any form. I have to see our local farm market for these. Thank you for all different recipes to use them. They sound wonderful.

    1. Good luck in your hunter gathering! You’ll find them for the next couple of weeks, then they will disappear until next year!

      1. Oh boy….I better hurry up

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