Thursday, May 7, 2009

daredevil, unnecessary worrier or just plain foolish?

in recent years, i've heard more
about fiddlehead ferns.
they were 
a green vegetable
a delicacy,
a foraged-for item with a small
window of availability.

but i had no idea what to 
do with them.
last spring, when basket-fulls
started popping up 
in the stores, i went home
to google them,
and find out what the deal
was with these 
mini coils.
what i read was scary:
stay away, they're poisonous,
they are a source of food poisoning.
so, i heeded the warnings.

this year, though, when they started to 
appear again, i was more rational.
would a large successful supermarket,
really sell baskets of poison?
would they knowingly
let people dig in and grab
handfuls, all the while secretly
rubbing their hands together
and laughing at
the travesty that would
take place when their
trusting customers
went home to serve
a new veggie
to their 

i had also spoken to my
friend colleen, unaware of my
fiddlehead fern fear, who
told me all about the time she made
them. never once did she mention
anything suspect. i read more online -
some mentioning to stay 
away from the ones that 
were loosely coiled,
some mentioning it's best to boil well -
spoke to the produce guy who promised i 
would be safe and a chef i know
who said, brooke, they're delicious.
just cook them and eat them.

after a lot of reading, i decided
to go for it. not that i'm such a 
throw caution to the wind kind
of person. at all.
but i chalked up the fiddlehead 
warnings to be like the ones
that are always on the bottom
of the recipes for poached eggs
or a medium-rare burger,
when they warn you about
the possible problems
associated with
under cooking.

so, i took precautions.
i gave them a short bath,
rubbing away any outer brown
casings or dirt, i weeded out
the ones that seemed very
loose (i'm more of a tightly
wound kind of girl, anyway),
trimmed off the ends
and briefly blanched them.

after they were blanched,
i tasted one. articles
had described the fiddleheads
to fall somewhere between 
green beans, asparagus, artichokes 
and something.
it's that something that makes
them pop, add more
than just a cuteness to dish.
but, certainly, you have to like
green vegetables to think
that the ferns are something special.

one interesting thread
through all of the reading
was that fiddlehead fern season
perfectly coincides
with the season of morel
mushrooms. a very lucky match.
i'm a huge mushroom
lover, but morels can be very
expensive. the great thing, though,
is that they are so light and because a 
little goes a long way, you can buy
a small amount and still 
get the flavor and appearance.

my original plan was
to saute them together
to serve alongside chicken,
but the night got away from
me and frankly, i'm always half
thinking of an excuse to not
cook chicken, so instead,
i ended up tossing the
finished saute with 
basil tortellini.
it was a good choice.
they were very good.
and, while i was very closely
paying attention to larry and i
for the next few days
(he was unaware of the possibilities), 
neither of us
complained of tingly fingers,
headaches, or anything
else questionable. 

unfortunately, three days 
later, after i had fallen asleep,
larry woke me up, loudly
asking, did you know that?
he was watching
bizarre foods. andrew had just
started eating a bowl
of fiddlehead ferns prepared
at some fancy restaurant,
when he mentioned that 
you really should only eat 
certain kind of the ferns,
or risk suffering the consequences.
larry looked...worried.
fiddlehead ferns and morel mushrooms in brown butter
really we were fine. and honestly chow, epicurious, food and wine and many more, all talk about fiddlehead ferns. i would have to think that if they were really so risky, people would stop featuring articles. or at least include massive disclaimers, like sushi houses do with blowfish. i would absolutely blanche them for tenderness and more, and make sure to wash them well.

1/2 pound closely coiled fiddlehead ferns
1  1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1/10 pound morel mushrooms, quartered lengthwise
kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
optional: basil tortellini

place fiddlehead ferns in a bowl; fill bowl with water. using your hands swish around several times to loosen any extra casings and to remove dirt and grit. if necessary, change water and repeat. instead of draining (and risking tossing the dirt back onto the veggies) remove fiddlehead ferns one at a time. trim ends. wipe away and dirt that remains.

bring saucepot of salted water to a boil. add fiddlehead ferns and cook 2 minutes, or until bright green and softened. drain and immediately run under cold water until cool.

in medium saute pan, melt butter on low heat. let butter cook 4 minutes, or until browned and smells nutty (this is best done in a pan that does not have a dark bottom so that you can accurately see when the color is changing). add shallots and mushrooms. increase heat to medium and let cook 5 minutes, or until the shallots are tender and the mushrooms are slightly crisp, stirring often. season with kosher salt. reduce heat to low and add fiddlehead ferns. toss constantly and cook 30 seconds or until just warmed through. transfer to serving bowl and season with kosher salt and pepper.

or, if mixing with tortellini: cook tortellini according to package directions. immediately remove from water with a slotted spoon and add to vegetables. gently toss to combine. sprinkle with grated parm.


Lisa said...

Morels were $34.99 a pound at my grocery store this weekend. Yikes!

brooke said...

they were $24.99, it came to $2.50 for about 8 of them.