A spring vegetable excursion: Garlicky Sauteed Fiddleheads with Parmigiano and Lemon

Samantha writes: I finally gave in and picked up some fiddlehead ferns (pretty pic attached) at the supermarket after eying them for the last week. I’ve never cooked a fern of any kind before and don’t really know how, but it’s spring and I know that this is their time. I also have chicken breasts. Should I pair them all into a saute?

Tony’s take: So, first, good for you to wade out to the deep end of the veggie pool! Fiddleheads really are tasty, especially if you prepare them properly, which is quite simple. Before getting to that, what fiddleheads are: these little green coils are a species of ferns harvested (in the wild) before they unfurl (think of a peacock that’s not preening). In texture, fiddleheads are close to asparagus. They have a relatively dull, earthy flavor that goes well with assertive ingredients like garlic and lemon. I would suggest cooking them separate from the chicken – this will allow you to focus on cooking the vegetable just right. Blanch the fiddleheads in boiling salted water (so they become tender and also to clean off some of the leafy muck often sticking to them), cool them in ice water, then saute with butter and plenty of garlic until browned and tender. Toss with lemon juice and shavings of Parmigiano and serve with the sauteed chicken breasts (sear those until browned and cooked through and then deglaze the pan with a little sherry and a splash of cream if your waistline can handle it). Serve with a baguette and feel proud that you’ve become one with the wonderful wilds of nature.

Serves 4 as a side: Prep time: 15 minutesĀ  Cook time: 5 minutes

What you need: Ingredients: Fiddlehead ferns (about 3/4 lb. or 5 cups), butter (about 3 Tbs.), garlic (3 cloves), lemon (1), Parmigiano, salt.

Equipment: Skillet, wooden spoon,cutting board, chef’s knife

How to do it: Prepare the fiddleheads: Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Trim the stem ends of the fiddleheads (if you like and if they’re all browned – this is optional and somewhat time consuming). Drop the fiddleheads in the boiling water and cook until their color sets a bright green and they soften to a toothy texture, about 1 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with ice water to cool. Drain well and pat dry with paper towels (this is important so they don’t steam when sauteed).

Saute the fiddleheads: Heat a large skillet over medium heat for 1 minute so that a droplet of water instantly evaporates when it hits the pan. Add 2 Tbs. butter and 3 or 4 smashed garlic cloves (use the side of a chef’s knife to crush them) and cook until the butter melts and the garlic starts to sizzle and become fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the fiddleheads, sprinkle generously with salt (about 3/4 tsp.), and cook, stirring occasionally, until they brown in places and cook through and become tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and toss with another pat of butter (about 1 Tbs.) and a splash of lemon juice (about 1 Tbs.). Season with more salt and lemon juice to taste (if you really want to get crazy, you could also add the lightest of drizzles of white truffle oil here as well) and serve topped with shavings of Parmigiano (use a peeler) and that chicken or some fish.

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