Have you ever foraged for or cooked fiddleheads? They are the bright green coiled shoots from the Ostrich Fern ( Matteuccia struthiopteris). Described by many as having a flavor somewhere between asparagus and artichokes, they have a sweet herbal flavor and a nice firm texture. I have not foraged for them myself because there are some types of ferns that will make you sick and I’d like to go with an experienced person the first time to be sure I’m picking the right kind. (Have any of you done it before and be willing to take me out and teach me?! ) It is the season now and if you are experienced or have a good guide book you trust, get out there into the wet areas of the forest near streams and rivers and look for these little green gems.
Luckily, you can also buy them and this year seems to have been an abundant year for them. They are not farmed, they are picked by (usually) locals who then sell them to suppliers and so the season isn’t too long, 3-4 weeks weather permitting. While I didn’t find any at our Farmers market, our local Quality Foods has been great at bringing in local wild products and have had a great supply of fiddleheads this spring as well as watercress.
There is a consensus that fiddleheads should be well cooked to avoid food born illness. Health Canada recommends steaming or boiling for 10-15 minutes before using in recipes. When you are ready to cook your fiddleheads, give them a good wash in fresh running water first to get off any of the remaining brown husk, don’t rinse them until you’re ready to use them as they won’t keep as long if wet.
Since these are a once a year spring treat, I mainly prefer them gently but thoroughly sautéed in butter or olive oil with a little salt and sometimes garlic so that the sweet green flavour comes through. Sometimes I also do a mildly Asian stir fry with garlic, ginger, chili flakes and sesame oil and I have experimented with my leftovers recently dumping some into my steamed clams and making some into simple fritters both of which turned out great. These are a fairly sturdy green so they stand up well to many preparations. You can also steam them for 10-12 minutes and then plunge into ice water and drain to use in salads.
I’ve written two recipes to share this week, one recipe today is a simple Fiddlehead Fern and Cheddar Tart using flavorful local cheddar cheese, fresh local fiddleheads and store-bought puff pastry. If you can’t get fiddleheads, try this recipe with asparagus which will be even quicker and easier because you can skip the step of blanching. The other recipe is the ultra quick and simple Fiddlehead Stir fry with Garlic, Ginger and Sesame (click here for recipe). I hope you enjoy and would love to know what wild foods you’ve foraged for!
Easy and Delicious Fiddlehead and Farmhouse Cheddar Tart
Easy and delicious, this can be made ahead and served warm or cold making it ideal for a picnic or potluck. Serves 4 and is lovely as a lunch with a salad of fresh spring greens and edible flowers or up to 8 as an appetizer.
- 1/2 pkg Puff Pastry Thawed
- 1/4 lb Fiddleheads Washed and trimmed
- 1 tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 clove Garlic Minced
- 2 Leeks White and pale green parts sliced to 1/4"
- 1/8 tsp Salt
- 3/4 cup Farmhouse Cheddar or other Aged Cheddar Cheese Shredded
- Ground Pepper To taste
Preheat oven to 375' F
Heat large pot of water to boiling and blanch fiddleheads 10 minutes, then drain and cool on a clean tea towel to dry.
While fiddleheads are blanching, heat olive oil on medium heat in a sauté pan and sauté leeks, garlic and salt then turn off and let cool while rolling out pastry.
Roll out puff pastry onto parchment lined baking sheet to approx. 10" X 10"-10" X 12" rectangle.
Spread leek and garlic mixture over pastry leaving a border of approx. 1/2" bare. Place blanched and dried fiddleheads evenly over top, crack a little fresh pepper over and then sprinkle with cheese evenly.
Bake 22-27 min until edges are lightly browned. Cool slightly before cutting into squares.
Serve garnished with edible flowers from your garden or a lightly dressed salad of arugula.