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.
Supporter of: Slow Food Fair Trade USA Northeast Organic Farmers Association EcoWatch Let’s Save Our Planet No Kid Hungry Hunger Free Vermont Environmental Working Group World Central Kitchen
47 Comments Add yours
They are almost too pretty to eat, well, almost. 🙂
i know what you mean! Almost…
I am so glad I read your post this morning. I never realized the ferns needed this kind of prep. I think now I won’t blanch so much at their price when they appear on a menu.
They are funny little things! But so worth it when prepped right. They really taste elegant, like a quirky asparagus cousin!
Every time you make those fiddleheads, I know two things. Number One: it’s Spring! And Number Two: I wish I had them near me, because I want to try them.
PS. I’m going to miss the bouquet of Wild Ramps my son used to bring me on Mother’s Day! 🌿
Oh! What a perfect bouquet!
Nice memories for you foraging for fiddleheads!
My uncle taught me so much!
Emeril featured these funny little ‘musical’ ferns on one of his segments and I had to try them. The result was awful – they were bitter and tough, a total failure.
This is a lot of work, not unlike the artichoke, and I’m wondering if it’s worth it. I sure would like to taste fiddleheads prepared the right way, though!
So many people have tried them not blanched first. I even had some served to me at a local restaurant that were improperly cooked. Tasted like trash, and I wrote to the chef the next day and gently let him know what he needed to do. The next time he saw me, he told me how relieved he was that they weren’t supposed to taste too bitter for words!
That’s what it was! I know I did not blanche them first. I guess I need to send a letter to Emeril!
Yes, you should. He should know better – he’s from New England!
Fiddlehead ferns! I thought only Koreans ate them. Here’s an article about gosari. They are typically served in bibimbap, my favorite korean dish.
It’s long been a New England staple! Thanks for the link!!!
I am always curious when you prepare the fiddleheads; they don’t grow here in NM, at least to my knowledge. Based on your substitutions, I can imagine how they might taste.
They remind me somewhat if asparagus, so that is a good substitute.
I’ve never had ramps or fiddleheads, I’m sure your dish is wonderful!
Thank you Jenna! If you ever see then, give them a try!
I just love saying “fiddlehead ferns”!
I know! They are quite silly to say, and to look at!
A delicious spring pasta dish.
It was really good! And tons of leftovers!
What a wonderful treat, to have all these fresh seasonal ingredients in one dish!
Your tasty recipe brought back memories of Vermont fiddleheads. Their flavor is so unique, and no doubt they are worth the preparation process. 🙂
Thank you Ronit! They are definitely little spring treasu!
Now I would love to eat this lovely looking dish. I have never been aware of fiddlehead ferns but a fern grows here in NZ which I wonder if it could be eaten. I will have to investigate. Nor have I seen ramps.
Your dish looks really inviting. :))
Thank you! Your extension agent should be able to tell you if there are edible fern sprouts where you are.
I enjoy reading your posts about the “different” (to me) foods that you prepare. This dish looks very appealing and satisfying.
Thank you so much Beth! We all grew up with those quirky little regional specialities, and often they are part of the wild edible landscape!
Perfectly healthy ingredients. ❤️❤️❤️❤️
They are! And so tasty!
A cute fanciful name too. You keep bringing us to good health with your wholesome recipes. 😍
Thank you so much! I do try to balance flavor and health, both are so important.
Hi Dorothy, I never heard of fiddlehead ferns until I just read a book by Kathleen Fuller “Matched and Married.” It’s an Amish Romance novel. Being from the South, I’d never heard of cooking with fiddleheads. I guess we learn something new everyday. Your recipe sounds delicious.
Thank you Jenny!
Isn’t it amazing how many wonderful food delights we learn about online? There are so many things I’ve discovered through other bloggers, and am always so grateful to try something I’ve never heard of before.
I definitely agree. I’m always looking for different recipes. That’s one reason I love your blog.
Oh, thank you again! That means a lot to me!
I’ve never seen a Fiddlehead fern before—it really adds to the presentation of this dish! But I love asparagus, so I’d be happy making it with that! 🙂
Thank you Nancy! It would be just as divine with luscious asparagus!
Splendid! will try as so tempting!
I’m glad it’s tempting! It is so delicious!
I keep hearing about fiddleheads but we don’t have them here where I live, that I know of! (Canada’s West Coast). Thanks for letting me into your food world today xxoo
I think their range might not spread all the way to your coast, but I’m sure you have asparagus!
Asparagus, yes! We tend to have carrots and broccoli instead but asparagus would add nice variety 😋
Some time in my life, I want to taste fiddlehead ferns! They do not grow anywhere that I’ve ever lived, but they look so interesting. If I ever get on Chopped and they put these cute little whirls in my basket, I’ll know exactly what to do with them, thanks to you! 😄
I’ve never seen them on Chopped, probably because there is so much prep time. Although they throw unpeeled and deveined shrimp at them, and that is time consuming too!
I have never heard of fiddlehead ferns, but they look so cute ☺️
They really are silly little things! And they are gone for the year. Always fleeting.