I heard a noise in my sleep the other night and sat up in my bed. I looked out toward the lake and saw a scrawny young moose, recently liberated from her pregnant mother’s care, bent down on her knees grazing on the new grass and fireweed shoots in the wild space right outside my bedroom window.
She came so close that, if my family hadn’t been sleeping in the same room with me, I would have opened the window to give her a pet and chase the mosquitoes away. Instead, I sat and watched her pass back and forth, gleefully munching on the fresh new greens of spring. It was in that moment I remembered I had seen fiddleheads nearby just that morning and I knew I needed to get some.
While many people enjoy fiddleheads simply sauteed with butter and garlic as a side dish, I think they are best used as a component to a composed dish. This recipe is a version of a classic springtime pasta dish that features fresh foraged fiddleheads.
1 pound penne pasta
2 cups cleaned fresh fiddleheads
½ of a large red onion
2 cups chopped kale
1 large carrot
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and set your salted pasta water on to boil.
Wash and cut vegetables. The carrot should be cut into penne-length and chopstick-width pieces, the onion into strips of the same length. Treat the fiddleheads very gently to keep from unrolling while cleaning so you have cute spirals in the finished product.
Toss your vegetables (except the tomatoes, keep them separate until the end) in oil, spread them out on oiled baking sheet(s), and season with the herbs de Provence and salt and pepper.
Roast for 15 minutes or until carrots are tender.
While the vegetables are in the oven, boil your pasta according to the instructions. Try your best to time it so the pasta and vegetables are done at the same time.
Drain your pasta and return to the pot.
Remove the vegetables from the oven and let rest 1 minute while you mix the Parmesan into the pasta. Add the vegetables, including the tomatoes, and mix very gently. Serve immediately.
This dish is meant to highlight whatever fresh vegetables are available so feel free to include or remove whatever you wish. Asparagus, peas, zucchini and spinach are great options. My rule with this dish (and with all meals) is to include at least one green thing and at least one red thing. The more colorful the meal the more interesting and nutritious it will be. This dish is classically vegetarian, but if you want some protein, you might add a roasted chicken breast or some baked salmon on the side to complete the meal.
Fiddleheads might not be particularly spectacular on their own, but their emergence among the dead grass is an indicator of a very special time of the year, the peak of spring, when the young moose are pushed out into the world on their own to make way for newborns, and the loons and cranes stake their nesting grounds. This meal is the perfect dinner for a spring day spent with soil-stained hands and dirty knees in front of garden beds.