Fiddle me this…


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What is shockingly green, coiled tightly, only found in early Spring and mostly comes from Maine or other areas in New England?

Give up? Fiddlehead Ferns, that’s what!

What is a fiddlehead fern you ask? Well About.com describes them as:

“…a New England spring delicacy. They appear on menus and in markets in the region from about May through early July. What exactly are these deep green, coiled vegetables, though? Fiddleheads are actually young fern fronds that have not yet opened up. They must be picked during a two-week window before the fern unfurls. Fiddleheads are named for their appearance, which resembles the scroll at the head or top of a fiddle. The ostrich fern is the species that produces these edible shoots, which have a unique texture but taste a bit like asparagus or okra. fiddleheads can be consumed raw or cooked.”

Until this year, I never knew that fiddleheads are harvested specifically from the ostrich fern. So how do you know which fiddleheads are Ostrich Ferns? Easy… according to the University of Main Cooperative Extension website:

“Nearly all ferns have fiddleheads, but those of the ostrich fern are unlike any other. Ostrich fern fiddleheads, which are about an inch in diameter, can be identified by the brown papery scale-like covering on the uncoiled fern, as well as the smooth fern stem, and the deep ”U”-shaped groove on the inside of the fern stem.”

I have ostrich ferns in my backyard… here is one of mine emerging a few weeks ago. As the fern grows, the fiddle head slowly unwind until the fern is standing straight up.

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These are the same ferns a few weeks later. They go from a ridiculously bright green (as fiddle heads) to a richer, darker green as they mature.

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Upon researching fiddleheads, I learned the reason why there is only a two week window for harvesting — It’s because once the frond unfurls, the plant becomes poisonous! DO NOT eat ferns that are not tightly coiled!

So I picked up about half a pound of fiddleheads at Russo’s a couple off weeks ago. I can never resist when I see them… and I usually only find them at Trader Joe’s or local farmer’s markets. I never know what to do with them though. I usually just saute them with a little olive oil or butter, sea salt and fresh ground pepper. However, I’m not a huge fan of them cooked like this and the Husband likes them even less… so I racked my brain trying to figure out what to do with them so we would actually enjoy them!

Since they are very reminiscent of asparagus, I decided that sticking to ingredients I know pair well with asparagus would work… and I was right. I decided to make Shrimp, Tomato and Fiddlehead Scampi — in a garlic, white wine, lemon-butter sauce. Read on for the recipe!

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Shrimp, Tomato and Fiddlehead Scampi

1/2 pound fiddleheads, cleaned and washed
1 lb shrimp, deveined and tail removed
3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
4-6 tbsp butter (no one said this would be low fat)
1 small shallot, sliced thin
1 garlic clove, sliced (almost shaved) thin
1/2 c white wine
Salt & pepper to taste

In a saute pan, heat olive oil and half the butter on med-high heat until melted. Add in the shallots and garlic, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Once they begin to nicely brown, add in tomatoes and saute for another minute or two.

De-glaze the pan with the white wine (scraping up all the little brown bits with a wooden spoon) and add in the shrimp. Cover. Cook until the shrimp become almost opaque (2 or 3 minutes), remove the lid and continue to stir until the wine evaporates and the sauce thickens.

Add in the remaining butter and the fiddleheads. You can add more wine at this point if you think there is not enough liquid to steam to the fiddleheads. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fiddleheads become al dente (or to whatever texture you generally like your asparagus). Serve immediately.

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We just ate this dish straight-up, but you could easily serve it over pasta or rice. It was SOOOO good. The sauce was amazing and the fiddleheads were great. This will be a keeper that we make time and time again!

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