Fiddlehead ferns are a ritual in the northeast, and with a fleeting season, you have to be quick.
From my youngest childhood, I remember foraging fiddlehead ferns with my Uncle Leonard. The appear only for a few weeks, and then become the beautiful fronds of the ostrich fern that greens our woodlands. They are delicious, extremely nutritious, and unlike any other green.
Another wild treat at this time of year were the fragrant ramps that grew in abundance. My uncle called them wild leeks, but some call them wild garlic because they smell strongly of garlic. They are delicious sautéed in butter and served with potatoes. We love them.
A little trouble, but worth it
I usually get mine at the farm stand these days, or from the forager who sells them from his truck parked on the side of the road. A springtime delicacy, but you absolutely have to prep them right or you would never take a second bite. They need to be soaked to remove their dried brown scales, then blanched to remove the extremely bitter tannins. The blanching water will turn English Breakfast Tea dark brown when you are finished, and that means the bitterness has been removed. Cook them quickly after that, a simple sauté or warming in a dish like this pasta. My complete fiddlehead prep instructions are here. A bit tedius, yes, but not difficult.
Don’t worry, there are substitutions
If the season is over for you, or you don’t have them in your area, substitute chopped asparagus for the fiddleheads, and another leek for the ramps, adding a couple of cloves of garlic. The dish won’t taste quite the same, but will still be delicious.
Put the pasta water on to boil, and you are almost there
This dish takes a bit of prep, but after the fiddleheads are blanched, it happens in the time it takes the pasta to cook. I usually prep a big mess of fiddleheads and use them over the next few days on multiple dishes, then it is much less work.
If you want to make this dish vegetarian, simply omit the anchovies.
Spring Supper of Penne with Fiddleheads and Ramps
- 1 leek, white and light to medium green, sliced
- 1 10 oz. bunch of ramps
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 6 anchovy filets, minced
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 2 cups prepared fiddlehead ferns as above
- Juice and zest of one lemon
- 12 oz. brown rice or whole wheat penne or pasta of choice
- 1/3 cup Parmesan, freshly grated
- ¼ cup chopped hazelnuts for a little crunch
Put the water on to boil for the pasta and to blanch the ramp leaves.
Prepare the vegetables: Cut the bulbs from the ramps and dice them. Set the tops aside. Slice the white and most of the green of the leeks, leaving only the darkest, toughest leaves. They are often quite dirty, so give them a good wash once cut. Chop the tomato and mince the anchovies.
Once the water is boiling, salt it and add the ramp tops and blanch them for 10 seconds, no more. You just want to soften them and set the green color. Put them in a food processor, and immediately add the pasta to the same water.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium and add the leeks, ramp bulbs, and anchovies. Sauté until the leeks are soft and anchovies just about disappeared. Toss in the tomatoes and the fiddleheads and let cook until these are warmed through. Shut off the heat.
Pulse the ramp tops in the food processor and add the lemon juice and zest and purée. Add that to the pot of vegetables and mix well. If you do not have a food processor, very finely mince the leaves, or pulverize with a mortar and pestle. Then, toss in with the vegetables and combine.
Once the pasta is cooked, reserve a cup of the water and drain. Add to the rest of the ingredients along with 1/3 cup or so of the pasta water, and 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Combine everything well, and add a bit more water if you think it needs it.
Place on a large platter and top with a drizzle more of olive oil, the nuts, a bit of parsley if you have it, and a little more Parmesan. The wild taste of spring!
Seconds – A Pasta Salad
Any leftovers of this dish can easily be transformed into a pasta salad. Just add your favorite vinaigrette, mix it up well, and enjoy on a bed of lettuce. Fantastic!
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 2023– or current year, The New Vintage Kitchen. Unattributed use of this material is strictly prohibited. Reposting and links may be used, provided that credit is given to The New Vintage Kitchen, with active link and direction to this original post.
The New Vintage Kitchen does not accept ads or payment for mention of products or businesses.