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Many of you know well, since I don’t hide my unabashed love for the state, that I grew up in Maine. I lead with that (again) today because it surprised more than one person to hear that this dish was the first time I had ever cooked, tasted if I remember correctly, fiddleheads. Harvesting fiddleheads for eating, freezing, canning, pickling or selling is a spring tradition in Maine. Fiddleheads have a dedicated and passionate following; there is a Facebook page (with almost 10,000 followers!) dedicated to the curly ferns where folks can share information on where in the state (all of New England, it looks like) they are up. Just don’t give away your family’s secret spot. Although they weren’t part of my family’s food tradition, I certainly knew what they were and probably would have eaten some had they been served to me. When I found them at the farmers’ market last weekend, I figured it was time for me to see what all the fuss is about.

I am a big fan of risotto but not the time it takes to make a proper one. I found this “cheater’s recipe” and was absolutely bowled over by how good it turned out– it is so easy! All the work of slowly incorporating broth into starchy arborio rice is done by your oven; all you have to do is wait and decide how to flavor and serve the risotto. My version featured fiddleheads and asparagus I found at the market and mint from my little balcony garden, but I think you could make it with just about any combination of vegetables and herbs– I’m waiting patiently for fresh peas so I can make risotto with peas, lemon & mint, and my husband voted for one with tomatoes & basil. It may not be a traditional stir stir stir risotto, but it is a wonderful recipe to have in your collection!

sauteeing fiddleheads with asparagus & shallots

My opinion about fiddleheads? I think this recipe was a good way to serve them, with a creamy background and the similar, complementary flavor of asparagus alongside. They are striking to look at but kind of a pain to prepare– I like my veggies like I like my haircut, wash and go. Scrub, trim, blanch, shock, saute is about three steps more than I usually go for. However, fiddlheads are tasty and I wouldn’t say no to eating them again. In Seattle, they are rare, which means expensive, but I think it would be lots of fun to go out with someone who knew what to gather and where and forage for some. Have you had fiddleheads before? What’s your favorite way to prepare them?

cheater's risotto

Cheater’s Risotto with Fiddleheads & Asparagus (adapted from Mamatoga)

  • 1 – 2 c. fiddlehead ferns, washed, tough or brown ends trimmed*
  • 1 – 2 c. asparagus, washed, trimmed, cut into 1″ lengths
  • 1 medium shallot, cut in half and then sliced
  • 1 T. olive oil or butter
  • 1 1/2 c. arborio rice
  • 5 c. chicken or vegetable stock, divided
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 – 2 T. fresh mint or parsley, minced (optional)
  • salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large Dutch oven, combine the rice, 4 c. of stock and the wine. Cover and bake for 40 mins. Keep the remaining cup of stock warm in a saucepan over low heat.

While the rice cooks, prepare the vegetables. Blanch the cleaned fiddleheads in salted boiling water for 4 mins.; shock in ice water and then drain well. In a skillet, heat the oil or butter over medium heat and saute the shallots, blanched fiddleheads and the asparagus pieces until they are just shy of being done, al dente if you will. For me, this takes about 7-10 mins. and I cook the fiddleheads longer than asparagus; I like asparagus crunchy. The vegetables will finish in the oven, so do your best to factor that in so they are not overcooked. When your vegetables are sauteed to your liking, take the pan off the heat and set the vegetables aside until the rice is ready.

After 40 mins., the rice should be almost done, with most of the broth absorbed. Mix the vegetables in and return the pan, uncovered this time, to the oven for 5 mins. to finish cooking and heat through. Remove the rice from the oven, being very careful with a very hot pan, and rapidly stir in the remaining cup of warm stock until the risotto is thick and creamy. Stir in the butter, Parmesan and mint or parsley, if using; season to taste with salt & pepper. Serve immediately, with additional Parmesan cheese and/or herbs sprinkled over the top if you like.

*Take a look at this article from Mark’s Daily Apple for more detailed information about choosing and preparing fiddleheads: