Thursday, May 20, 2010

Simple Sauteed Fiddleheads and Leeks

This is less a recipe than a recommendation, because it's so ridiculously simple, but fiddleheads have a special place in my heart. When I was a kid, my dad and uncle Poppy (someone's baby talk for "Perry") always got excited during the brief season of these delicate, local ferns - and there was none of this "going to the market and paying $8 a pound" nonsense, because my uncle would go out in the woods and pick 'em his own damn self. (One is reminded of the scene in David Sedaris' essay, "Get Your YaYas Out," in which his Greek grandmother is seen crawling around the neighbors' lawns, harvesting the greens from their dandelions. This is only one of many such escapades that provoke Sedaris' mother to remark, "I don't know how you do things on Mt. Olympus, but here in America...")

But I digress. My uncle would show up with a bag full of strange, green, curly things that looked like nothing so much as the tiny fists of the Jolly Green Giant's babies, which would be immediately plunged into a sink full of cold water to soak. It was a fiddly business to remove all the shreddy, papery bits so they'd be ready to cook, but the rarity of their appearance seemed to make it worthwhile. Fiddleheads have a delicate, subtle flavor, not unlike asparagus, and like that other springtime favorite, they are best prepared simply; my father invariably sauteed them in olive oil, with some salt, pepper and a drizzle of lemon juice (which was pretty much the way he prepared all greens). I cooked up this most recent batch with chopped leeks and almost no seasoning, which was perfect alongside the garlicky tofu "scallops" in my last post. While a sprinkle of parsley or tarragon wouldn't do any harm, I'd advise giving these weird little guys a go on their own before painting the lily - or, fern - any further. I feel pretty sure that's the approach they take on Mt. Olympus!

Simple Sauteed Fiddleheads and Leeks
~ 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 1 large leek, thoroughly cleaned and chopped
~ 1 lb. fiddlehead ferns, cleaned and trimmed
~ 1 tsp. kosher salt
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1/4 cup dry white wine

~ Boil a large pot of water, and cook the fiddleheads for 1-2 minutes. Drain and rinse immediately with cold water.
~ In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the leeks over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes, until softened.
~ Deglaze the pan with a splash (up to 1/4 cup) of white wine, then add the drained fiddleheads, salt, a few grinds of pepper, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly so they don't stick.
~ Serve hot; you can follow my dad's example, and squeeze a little lemon juice on top if you like, but I think they're perfect just as they are.

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