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.
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.
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