Last week I went into Wholefoods to do my regular shopping and, as I always do, spent a good deal of time admiring the ingredients that I have never seen before outside of Wholefoods and would have no idea how to cook (ostrich eggs and duck eggs immediately come to mind). It is rare for me to buy something I haven’t cooked with before unless it is part of a recipe I want to try out, because I am concerned about not picking up the kinds of things that would go well with it and so possibly having to go back and shop for more ingredients all over again. This time, however, my eye was caught by a display of fern-tips. Just below them was a description and instructions for cooking: “Tastes a bit like asparagus. Wash very thoroughly. Sauté and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice.” So I bought a bag of Fiddlesheads (not so cheap, I have to admit) and the other night I finally got round to cooking them.
Here is what I made…
First, I washed the ferns very well. I wasn’t so sure about exactly what I was washing off – as the ferns get older their little leafy bits begin to turn brown and a little mushy, so I tried to rub away any of that that I could find with my fingers. I used roughly two handfuls of ferns, and (if you are going to have it as a main) I wouldn’t recommend using any less for one person:
Then I toasted a very large handful of pine nuts in a non-stick pan, shaking the pan constantly so they didn’t burn. I actually ended up toasting more than twice the number of pine nuts I needed, but they were so delicious that after having dinner I just ate the rest of them. You need surprisingly few – though the number I used here would probably be good for three people. Once toasted so they were quite browned and smelling delicious, I put them to the side in a small bowl:
Next I heated up a good glug of olive oil in a different frying pan (I was saving the non-stick for the garlic) and threw in the ferns after having cut off any slightly dried looking ends. The pan can be quite hot – I had it on medium heat because otherwise the oil started spitting. Apparently you have to cook Fiddlesheads or else they have the potential for making you sick, so I fried them for probably around 10-15 mins, stirring occasionally so they wouldn’t stick. They browned and softened a little, but I don’t think there was any great way of telling when they were done.
While the ferns were cooking I finely sliced two cloves of garlic (I thought this might be too much, but actually it was just right – because the garlic is toasted it doesn’t have the overpowering flavour that garlic can sometimes has, and it really is so delicious that the more of it you have the better). I think I could easily have added a third clove. I then just wiped down the non-stick pan that I had toasted the pine nuts in, heated it on the stove, and dry-toasted the garlic on medium heat until it was golden brown:
As soon as the garlic was done I took both it and the ferns off the heat and then piled the cooked ferns onto a plate, added a few slices of goats cheese, sprinkled with the pine nuts and garlic, and then drizzled with a bit less than the juice of half a lemon. (The lemon makes a big difference)
This was a seriously delicious meal, but with all the really strong flavours, I did feel like the flavour of the ferns got a little bit lost. They are nice, though – they tasted a little like flowers, or fresh-cut grass, though with more body and a hint of nuttiness. Fiddlesheads are only available for a brief time in Spring, but I think that you could easily substitute them for asparagus. (In fact, the stronger taste of asparagus may be a slightly better compliment to the strong flavour of the goats cheese). I would also fry up the asparagus in olive oil until it is near burnt – this makes the tops a little crispy, and saves you from having to boil them which makes them lose some of their flavour.