I still remember where I was, the meal I was having when I first came across fiddlehead ferns. In the tiny raw-wood panelled dining room of Kitchen Table Bistro in Vermont on one of those balmy spring evenings, just as it is now sitting at my desk writing this. The windows were opened, just a crack, and the new season breeze gently puffed at the beeswax candles on the tables. I watched as candlelight flickered over the wine blushed cheeks of the other guests. We ordered a bottle of sweet minerally white which was on our table sweating slightly in the warmth of the dining room – little beads of water running to the bottom of the bottle and pooling in a damp ring on the tablecloth. We sat and sipped, drinking it all in – the wine, the atmosphere; all of it.
And out came a taste from the kitchen; a tiny homemade brioche toasts with spring pea pure and the most delicate slice of house smoked trout caught from the river further down the road. I remember loving the buttery richness of the toast and the way the smoke from the trout stayed on my tongue until I washed it down with a cool sip of wine.
We had asked the server to bring us what he thought was the nicest of the first courses that evening. Each choice had sounded as wonderful as the next and we were indecisive and caught up in the romance of the evening, too giddy to make the decision ourselves. A perfectly elegant plate of fritto misto arrived. Not a mound of fried things but rather an incredible considered plate of fine spring vegetables accented by a verdant herb sauce strategically painted in swaths on the plate. There were flowers too, bright yellow and purple, sprinkled about the vegetables and they looked beautiful against the green. And so we began to sip again on our minerally wine and nibble at the vegetables wrapped in golden lighter than air batter. So light in fact that instead of weighing down the tiny spring parsnip, mushroom or ramp it somehow brought out the succulent flavor of each. And on that plate were also a few perfect fiddle heads – tasting of fresh spring earth, bright and citrus like asparagus but deeply earthy like spinach. I was elated and intrigued having tasted something I hadn’t known before and queried the server about them. He graciously gave me the explanation of their origins, young unfurled fern fronds foraged from the Vermont woods. His own affection for these rather unusual spring vegetables pronounced in his wide grin and excited tone. Since this meal I often though of our server that night as I too excitedly awaited the arrival of fiddleheads each spring. They have become something of a harbinger of spring and feel like a great reward after winter’s limited produce. I regularly find myself overcome with a feeling of elation and excitement when standing in front of a stall at the farmers market and seeing fiddleheads for the first time in spring.
The key to this recipe is to use the freshest and most delicious ingredients possible. As with all simple things, it is the quality which makes this humble omelet extraordinary. Try and find the freshest eggs and the most plump green fiddleheads you can. Of course this omelet is wonderful for breakfast but I think of it more as a meal or lunch or dinner. It is especially lovely served with a simple mescaline salad and a cold glass of white wine.
The fiddleheads need a little tending to before they are ready for the pan. With a small knife cut away the dried ends where they have been previously cut from the plant. I usually trim away any larger dark portions on their stems too. In a strainer rinse the fiddleheads under cool running water, taking care to rub away any bits of grass or dirt. Shake off the excess water and turn them out on a clean dish towel. Allow them to air dry almost completely before using in any recipe. They release their own water when cooking so I like to ensure they are nearly dry before they go into the pan.
Fiddle Head Ferns and Dill Weed Omelette
- 5 fresh eggs
- 1 1/2 cups fiddle head ferns
- 1/4 cup thick natural yogurt
- 1 tbsp water
- scant 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill weed
- 4 tsp butter
- generous pinch of salt
- fresh cracked black pepper
- add 2 tsp butter to a small saute pan which has been heated for a minute or so over medium heat
- when the butter has melted and begins to bubble slightly add your prepared fiddleheads to the pan
- turn the head up to medium high and saute your fiddle heads until they turn bright green. About 3-4 minutes.
- At this point they should release a bit of water, just as mushrooms do when cooking. If they have not add a tablespoon of water to the pan otherwise reduce the heat to low cover and continue cooking until crisp tender. About another 5 mins or so
- When done, remove the fiddleheads from the pan and set aside
- In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, yogurt, 1 tbsp water and pinch of salt. Making sure to whisk in a good bit of air into the eggs, there should be nice foamy bubbles at the side of the bowl
- Using a clean 6″ skillet or other small pan place it over medium low heat and melt in 1 tsp butter
- When the butter is bubbling slightly add half the egg mixture to the pan
- When the bottom has set, about 1 min, reduce heat to low and begin to gently lift up the edges of the omelet allowing the uncooked egg to run underneath. this helps the omelet set and cook faster
- when the omelette is nearly cooked (there should still be a bit of runny egg mixture on the top) add to one half of the omelet a dash of cracked black pepper, half the cooked fiddle heads and half the chopped dill weed.
- Fold the plain half over the top of the dill weed and fiddleheads and cook 30 seconds/1min longer
- Gently slide the omelet from the pan onto a plate and set aside
- In a clean pan repeate for the second omelet
- Serve immediately