I was always intrigued with fiddleheads, but I was never able to cook them in a manner that was delicious enough to warrant rushing to the market whenever spring came around. All of that changed when I met a woman named Isabelle who runs the Jardins Sauvages stall at Montreal’s Jean-Talon Market.
London - May. 16, 2012 - I was always intrigued with fiddleheads, but I was never able to cook them in a manner that was delicious enough to warrant rushing to the market whenever spring came around. All of that changed when I met a woman named Isabelle who runs the Jardins Sauvages stall at Montreal’s Jean-Talon Market. She showed me the way, and now I look forward to maximizing my use of this spring delicacy during its short but wonderful season.
Fiddleheads are the delicate, curling fronds of wild fern (commonly indigenous ostrich). Harvested early in the season when the plants are still young and fairly close to the ground, these beauties pack a serious nutritional punch as well as being so fresh and delicious. New research shows that they contain significantly more antioxidants than blueberries, and they have a relatively high protein-to-carbohydrate ratio.
So; back to Isabelle for a moment. She was running the market stall on the Saturday I visited, and I could tell she was very passionate about her products. Les Jardins Sauvage has most of spring’s bounty on offer, including numerous wild mushrooms, fiddleheads, ramps, stinging nettle, and other Carolinian Forest greens foraged from Quebec’s forest floor. They have prepared goods as well, such as the strange yet fabulous candied mushrooms she offered as a gift.
Along with my bag of fresh fiddleheads, Isabelle gave me an instruction sheet that detailed the perfect cooking method. Thoroughly wash the fiddleheads first and cut off any brown stem ends. Add the fiddleheads to a pot of boiling, salted water, and simmer them for 2-3 minutes. Strain them and discard all of the water. Put fresh water into the pot, and just repeat the process. In order to retain their vibrant colour and to stop the cooking process, immediately bathe the fiddleheads in ice water. Strain them, pat them dry, and voila; they’re ready for use. (Note: never eat fiddleheads raw, as they contain a natural toxin with ill side effects.)
One of my favourite preparations is to fry some double-smoked bacon and toss it with cooked fiddleheads and vinaigrette, adding shaved Manchego cheese, fresh mint and toasted pecans. (Extra-virgin olive oil, white-wine vinegar and sea salt works well as a vinaigrette for this salad.)
The recipe below, however, is my new favourite. Fiddlehead and basil pesto is a fantastic, versatile preparation that you can toss with freshly cooked pasta, serve with grilled spring lamb, spread on a sandwich, or add to cooked rice or boiled new potatoes as a side dish. The possibilities are endless! And it’s great to know that you’re eating something super healthy as well as delicious. This freezes well too, so you can draw the fiddlehead season out a little longer.
Fiddlehead and Basil Pesto (makes approximately two cups)
1.5 cups freshly cooked fiddleheads
4 cups tightly packed basil leaves
1/2 cup toasted walnut pieces
3 anchovy fillets
3 cloves of garlic (or 4, if small)
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of one lime (more, if required)
Sea salt to taste
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Depending on the size of your food processor bowl, you may want to halve this recipe and process it in two batches. I used a Vitamix, so the ingredients fit comfortably.
Add the fiddleheads, basil leaves, walnut pieces, anchovies, garlic, lime juice and some sea salt to your food processor. Pulse until finely chopped, and then flip to the high setting as you slowly drizzle the olive oil into the mixture. Scrape the sides down as necessary, ensuring everything is combined. Taste and add more salt and/or lime juice as required. Stir in the parmesan cheese, and simply use with your recipe of choice that calls for pesto.
Tip: Store any unused portion of the pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator, as it will keep for 4-5 days. It also freezes well in small, separate portions until ready for use.