Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fiddling with Fiddlehead Ferns

“Fiddlehead.” What a whimsical name for a funny looking little vegetable. I love saying it; even funnier that when I hear it I am reminded of a line spoken near the beginning of Gone With the Wind by Scarlett O’Hara. Except I would like to think she might say today: “Fiddle-dee-dee, markets, markets, markets. All this talk of Farmers Markets are making me hungry! (Rather than her line about the war, of course!) Lucky for us we have many markets all over the country, and in particular our very own backyard of Westchester County.  Many run indoors through the Winter and Spring, and in just around the corner will be in full force outdoors. I am simply beyond excited!

This week and next I’ll be talking about two very special ingredients that make a brief appearance once a year in the Spring: Fiddlehead Ferns and Ramps. Beautiful in appearance yet different in flavor; today we will be fiddling around with fiddleheads.

Fiddleheads are basically the unfurled frond of a fern. After the last snow melts and the ground warms these beauties begin to push their way above ground. They are harvested at that point, just before they start to unroll and open. 

In selecting fiddleheads you want to look for a bright green appearance, smooth and free of dark spots. They should be green, fresh and firm looking; and the coils should look tight. Generally before they are sold the brown papery chaff that surrounds the fiddlehead on the plant is brushed off, but if not, you want to gently brush it off when you clean them. 

To prepare them I like to give them a good wash in a couple of changes of cool water to remove any bits of dirt that might be lurking about and then trim the stem if longer than 2 inches. If you don’t think you will cook them as soon as you get them home store your fiddles in a plastic bag; but only for a day or two. 

Fiddleheads are versatile and easy to use. They have a mild taste reminiscent of asparagus with an added nutty bite all their own. Fiddleheads are a good source of vitamins A and C, Omega 3 and 6, iron and fiber. Fiddleheads should not be eaten raw as they have a slight bitterness until cooked, and may cause you to have an upset stomach.

This nice bunch above was picked up at the Chappaqua Farmers Market at the Newgate Farm table. After a quick perusal of our cabinet I found a bag of oriecchette pasta and some roasted hazelnuts. In the ‘fridge I found Parmesan, basil and ramps. Simple! (My recipe is at the bottom of this post.) 

In a large pot of boiling salted water I cooked the fiddleheads for 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon I removed them to a bowl and then cooked my pasta in the same water. This a great tip for pasta making: use the water you cook your vegetables in to give your pasta a little additional flavor.

While the pasta is cooking I was able to get the rest of my prep done for the dish. I sautéed the ramps slightly, then added the fiddles to the pan. This particular pasta only takes about 12 minutes, so at just about that time I was able to add it right to the sauté pan. I tossed it a bit and added the Parmesan, basil and hazelnuts.

This dish took all of about 30 minutes from start to finish. Instant gratification! If you’ve never tried fiddleheads now is the time. Keep in mind they will only be at the markets for a few weeks. Get them while they are here! Next week I will be talking a little more about ramps. So if you make it to a farmers market this weekend, keep and eye out and bring a bunch home!

Buon Appetito!

Orecchiette with Fiddleheads
Serves 4

1 ½ cups of fiddlehead ferns, cleaned and trimmed (about 6 oz)
2 cups oriecchette pasta
4 ramps, or 2 scallions and 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ cup of fresh basil, chiffonade (thinly sliced)
¼ cup hazelnuts, roasted and roughly chopped
¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese, plus more for garnish
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

In a large pot of boiling salted water (1 tablespoon kosher salt: 2 quarts water) cook the fiddleheads for 5 minutes, Remove with a slotted spoon to a dish. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions, less 1 minute.

In a sauté pan over medium heat add 4 tablespoons of oil and sauté the white part of the ramps for 2-3 minutes, taking care to not burn them. Season with a ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Add the fiddleheads and lower the heat. Drain the pasta and add to the pan along with the ramp tops, Parmesan and basil. Toss gently.

Divide in bowls and garnish with hazelnuts, a drizzle of oil and a little more parmesan, to taste and serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Farmers Market Find: Radishes

Radishes. Just thinking of them sends a message to my brain that tingles my tongue. Crisp, peppery and delicious. Radishes are usually the first thing I pick up on a crudité platter, if present. There is just something so appealing about them for me. I love eating them raw, but best eaten in combination with something like a fresh lemony-yogurt dip or even in a slaw.

By all accounts radishes have been around for thousands of years. Some food historians believe they were first cultivated in China, and made their way to Egypt and Greece. By the mid 1500’s they were in England and then off to the Americas. By about the 1600’s they were being grown on this side of the Atlantic, and the rest as they say, is history.
Radishes are root vegetables that can be eaten raw, braised or even roasted. They grow very quickly, which is a good thing for radish lovers everywhere!

Keep a few things in mind when purchasing your radishes at the market. You want the leaves to look fresh and bright. The root or radish end should be smooth, firm and intact. Put them back if they are soft, cracked or have black spots.

Once you get them home remove the leaves. If the leaves are nice and fresh go ahead and add them to your salad, or even sauté them a bit. After you remove the leaves place the radishes in a perforated plastic bag and into the ‘fridge they go. Most varieties will last for up to two weeks. That is of course never happens at our house!

Last weekend I picked up some lovely French Breakfast radishes from the Madura Farm table at the Chappaqua Farmers Market. The Easter Egg variety, you see on the right, were purchased at Tarry Market. I also had a bunch of Cherry Belles, the basic variety you find in the produce aisle too. I had a lot of fun testing, and eating, radishes this week!

A few days ago, on my weekly trip to Port Chester Seafood, I spotted some beautiful soft shell crabs in the case. (Another sign that Winter moving fast behind us.) These yummy little crabs make an appearance at the market in the Spring too – and are just so delicious. With a few other ingredients already in my ‘fridge I was inspired to make a super simple slaw to top my sautéed crabs. (The recipe is at the end of the post.) 


Believe it or not this recipe took me all of about 30 minutes to prepare. The one item in my cabinet, that makes slicing quick and easy, is a Benriner mandoline. You can find this basic model I keep in my knife kit for under $30.00.

Once you get your slaw together and marinating you can start working on your crabs. I use a combination of Wondra flour and fine cornmeal. Wondra is a fine milled flour that is used for gravy and pie crusts. I like it when I dredge things to fry - it's a lot lighter than all-purpose  flour and the cornmeal adds a little crispness. 

To pan fry I used grapeseed oil, but you can also do this with a nice canola too. Just use something that is neutral. You want the flavor of the crab to shine through! 

Once you see a little smoke coming off the pan, go ahead and place your crabs in topside down. You want to get a nice crisp crust. Since they are small cooking time is very fast - mine took only about 3 minutes on each side. You want them to be cooked through; juicy, but not dried out.  

For my sandwiches I used a soft roll with a slightly crisp crust. The crabs are delicate, so you don't want to have a thick dense piece of bread. Just for good measure I added a few more sliced radishes too! 

I still had some radishes left over so I decided to roast them in the oven. Roasting veggies is another simple way to bring out the true deliciousness of your ingredients. I do it all Winter long with parsnips, butternut squash, potatoes ... so why not try radish?

I simply sliced them in half, tossed with a little olive oil and salt and placed in a 450 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

When they came out I tossed them with a pat of compound butter from my freezer. Compound butter is a great way to add a little more flavor to your dishes. This one has lemon zest and chives. To make compound butter simply soften it and add the flavor you desire, then form into a log. (Keep them in the freezer to extend their freshness and life.) Compound butters are as different as your imagination and perfect over warm veggies, chicken or fish.

Not to let anything go to waste I took the pan that I cooked the radishes in and I added a little Lemon Vin Cotto Vinegar to it and then tossed in some beautiful spring lettuce from Gaia's Breath Farm, season with a little salt and pepper and gently mix.

The roasted radishes take on a texture that is a cross between a braised cipollini onion and a soft fingerling potato. The peppery bite mellows into an earthy sweetness. If you've never tried to cook one, now is the time!

Next week I'll be talking about Fiddlehead Ferns!
Buon Appetito! 

Maria’s Crab and Slaw Sandwich

Serves 4


2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage

1 cup matchstick sliced Cherry Belle radishes

1 cup matchstick sliced Granny Smith apple

1 cup shredded carrot

1 garlic clove, grated
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
¼ cup fresh lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

½ cup chopped hazelnuts

½ cup chopped chives

4 soft shell crabs, cleaned by your fishmonger

½ cup fine cornmeal

½ cup Wondra flour

½ teaspoon each kosher salt and ground black pepper

¼ cup grapeseed oil

4 soft rolls

Combine the cabbage, radish, apple and carrot in a large bowl. Whisk the lemon zest, juice, oil and seasoning in a small bowl. Pour over the slaw and toss well.

Meanwhile in a shallow bowl combine the cornmeal, flour and seasoning. Season the crabs with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Dredge in the flour mixture. Place the grapeseed oil a sauté pan over medium high heat. When it starts to smoke slightly add the crabs and cook for about 3 minutes in each side. When they are cooked through set aside on a platter.

The cabbage should be a little soft at that point. Give it a good toss and add in the nuts and chives. Taste for seasoning. Place the crab on a roll and top with slaw and enjoy!