Fiddlehead ferns are a spring delicacy you probably won’t find in your supermarket. The ostrich fern and a few other varieties are edible and in spring send out shoots that are tightly curled at their ends before the leaves unfurl. They look like the scroll of a lute or fiddle. Where there are woods, there are ferns, and if you live in driving distance of woodland, chances are your specialty grocer or farmers’ market will carry them. But don’t blink or you’ll miss them: the season is short, and they are highly perishable. At New York’s Union Square Greenmarket, where I first encountered them, I also learned that they were something of a New England delicacy, since pre-Colonial times a staple in the local Native American diet. They are also eaten traditionally in Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. They are decidedly not French, however, and have the look of something that defies you to divine a way to prepare them. Fortunately, the farmer with his basket of fiddleheads at Union Square was forthcoming and saved me the trial and error. Once I mastered them—very simple to do, actually—it took only a short French woman’s leap to try them with pasta. Now they are something we look forward to, if ever so briefly, in spring.
16 ounces spaghetti
Fiddlehead Ferns (see recipe)
2 ounces prosciutto or pancetta, cut into small pieces
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Yield: 4 Servings
Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. Drain and set aside, reserving 1⁄2 cup of cooking water. Add the reserved water to the skillet with the cooked fiddleheads, and mix well. Add the prosciutto, and cook 2 minutes more while stirring. Toss the pasta with the fiddlehead sauce, transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with Parmesan and parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately. Note: If you can’t find fiddlehead ferns, broccoli rabe is an alternative.