At long last an old friend has returned – though as always but for a few fleeting weeks. Fiddlehead ferns are a harbinger of the march into summer coming out of the warming moist richness of the primordial forest sparking the hunter/gather in me -- always a pleasant find. Their flavor is unique though we try to pigeonhole them…a little reminiscent of artichoke: a tad crisp lettuce but without a doubt completely individual. They are definitely the grooviest of spring’s burgeoning growth and only available for us grazers before they start to unfurl and show their feathery, frond foliage.
While they bring on the funk visually, fiddlehead ferns are a skosh high maintenance for they need to be thoroughly washed, in several changes of water, and blanched to leach out some of their bitterness. I have had been told stories of really negative experiences with these pre-Neolithic holdouts which I have never fully appreciated or believed. I think it is vital to buy them from a local forager, and that the fern be a tightly wound spiral that is firm and crisp. I have seen them in “better food stores” for an outrageous-per-pound-sum that is all around offensive – I could not even begin to image how they would respond in my kitchen.
Tomato-Fiddlehead Ferns – yields 6 servings
1-pound fiddlehead ferns – washed well
1/3-cup Lebanese couscous
1/4-cup whole almonds – roughly chopped
1-can (15 ounces) chickpeas
4 garlic cloves – finely minced
3-cups pureed tomato
1/4-cup pitted green olives
1/2-cup chopped chives
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Bring 2 cups of water to a full boil, and cook the fiddleheads for 3 minutes. Drain, and immediately run under cold water. Hold to the side.
Heat a 2-1/2 quart saucepan over a high heat, and add the couscous and almonds. Toast the couscous and almonds for a few minutes stirring the contents occasionally. Add in the chickpeas, olives and garlic mixing to combine. Pour in the pureed tomato, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and allow the mixture to cook for 10 minutes.
Mix in the reserved fiddleheads, chives, salt and pepper. Cook to for a few minutes to completely warm through, and serve.