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.