Fiddleheads & asparagus
If you're detoxifying this spring, think of greens such as asparagus spears or curly fiddleheads.The following recipes make use of these nutrient powerhouses.
If you’re detoxing this spring, think of greens such as slender asparagus spears or curly fiddleheads—they’re the perfect accompaniment to a healthy detoxification. Both veggies are nutrient powerhouses—rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and folate (the B-vitamin wonder that may lower the risk of heart disease and birth defects).
Fiddleheads are much revered as the first gastronomical sign of spring; while asparagus is a much-anticipated prize that wild-food enthusiasts forage for and chefs get excited about. These greens are loved for being a memorable delicacy.
Spears or fiddles?
Asparagus is a member of the lily family. Grown in sandy soil, the crown (the plant base) produces edible, needle-like leaves (spears). It may take up to three years after planting for the first harvest. The best asparagus is picked while the spears are very young and tender and have a fresh flavour. After harvesting, the spears grow into ferns.
Fiddleheads are edible ferns. Hand-picked along muddy riverbanks, they are the young unfurled shoots from the ostrich fern. The end is curled in a tight spiral, and if you use your imagination, you might see the resemblance it bears to the decorative scroll on a violin. Fiddleheads are similar in both texture and flavour to asparagus—often described as a mix of asparagus or green beans with a touch of artichoke.
Fiddleheads and asparagus may be used interchangeably in just about any recipe. While they’re best treated simply—steamed with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, a pinch of coarse sea salt, and a squeeze of fresh lemon—they’re very adaptable. Add to any pasta meal or stir-fry. They both love spicy Asian dressings, adore a smothering of anything creamy (cheese sauce or hollandaise), and pair well with most egg dishes.
Swap fiddleheads for chopped cooked asparagus. Don’t use the tips, though—they’re too pretty for pesto! Use up leftover bottom ends of asparagus that are otherwise wasted (try using the ends from Pickled Asparagus recipe). Peel tough, woody stems before using so pesto isn’t stringy. Drizzle olive oil over top of finished pesto to keep its vibrant colour. Once exposed to air, the pesto turns brown.
Collected in the wild, fiddleheads are most often found at farmers’ markets or small specialty grocers. Also check freezer sections in larger chain stores. Choose fiddleheads that are tightly coiled, about 1 to 1.5 in (2.5 to 4 cm) in diameter. They should be dark green in colour with frilly paper chaffs around edges.
Use your finger and thumb to gently feather off papery chaff. Since fiddleheads are grown in muddy areas, they’re dirt traps. Wash in several changes of cold water. Get in there with your fingers and nudge out any hidden clumps of dirt.
Wrap in a damp towel and refrigerate up to 10 days. Re-moisten towel periodically and trim the dry stem ends, if necessary.
Fiddleheads have the potential to cause food-borne illness (symptoms may include nausea, dizziness, and headache) due to natural toxins. To avoid illness, thoroughly cook them. Do not eat raw fiddleheads. Trim stem ends, then boil in salted water or steam until tender, at least 10 minutes. Or coat with extra-virgin olive oil and roast until tender.
Select spears with firm, compact tips tinged with green or purple. Choose ones that are uniform in diameter so they’ll cook evenly. Avoid wrinkly or concave ones—a sign they’ve been on display too long. To test for freshness, bend a spear. If it snaps in two, it’s fresh. Thick or thin? Super-slender doesn’t equal tender. Pick spears that are filled out, but not overly thick.
Asparagus spears may be gritty and trap sand and dirt—especially the stem ends. Wash under cold running water.
Trim stem ends and store upright in a small amount of water, or wrap ends with a damp towel. Refrigerate and use within two to three days for ultimate freshness and flavour.
Snap off tough ends or just trim ends; then, using a vegetable peeler, strip off tough, stringy peel from bottom ends. Boil in salted water or steam until tender-crisp, four to six minutes. Or coat with extra-virgin olive oil and roast until tender.