Fiddleheads are the newly emerged yet still furled shoots of ferns. There are many species of ferns that can be eaten, but the most delicious is this Maine staple: the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). These fiddleheads are so revered in the Pine Tree State, there is an annual festival, held in the first week of May in Farmington, championing these first vegetables of spring.
Fiddleheads are typically par-boiled to tenderize them and to remove some of the bitterness of the raw shoots. One of the most popular ways to prepare fiddleheads after par-boiling is to sauté them, often with garlic, onions, and lemon. I find fiddleheads cooked this way are excellent tossed with pasta.
Here’s a recipe I published a few years ago for The Daily Meal. It’s a simple dish that pairs ostrich fern fiddleheads with wild nameko mushrooms…a kind of “forager’s pasta.” This dish is intensely satisfying, even for meat eaters.
3 cups ostrich fern fiddleheads, brown chaff removed
1/2 pound linguine
1 tablespoon butter, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more to taste
3 scallions, chopped
3 cups nameko mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, minced
Zest and juice of 1 Meyer lemon
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the fiddlehead ferns and cook until crisp-tender, for about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water.
Bring another pot of salted water to a boil and cook the linguine until al dente.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the fiddlehead ferns, scallions, and mushrooms until the fiddlehead ferns just begin to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds. Then, add the lemon juice to deglaze the pan. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and toss well. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Drain the pasta and return to the same pot. Toss with olive oil and butter, to taste. Then, add the vegetables from skillet and toss again. Serve on plates and top with the Meyer lemon zest.