Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Spring Harvest

Right about now, and only briefly, you may find fiddlehead ferns, wild morels, and fresh tarragon in markets. If you haven’t tried them, you’re in for a treat. Chef Jean-George Vongerichten (who masterminds some of New York’s top restaurants) says, “Fiddlehead ferns taste like a walk in a moist forest, especially paired with their seasonable companions, morels.”

Fiddleheads aren’t a special kind of fern. They’re just the coiled-up, as yet-unfurled head of any new fern, and they’re only in season for about two weeks. They’re not good raw, but should be prepared and served like asparagus. So steam and serve them with cheese or other sauce, or parboil them, refresh in cold water, drain, and serve at room temperature with a vinaigrette.
Inspired by Jean-George, you might add fiddleheads to the simmering liquid of partly-cooked morels, drain them, add butter, and toss them with pasta. Though a cultivated version appears year-round, wild morels are a mild-flavored mushroom that appears in early spring or summer. The smallest are berry sized, the largest as big as a fist, and they’re excellent in all kinds of sauces.
Morels are also frequently paired with tarragon. Though you may know tarragon as a dried herb, you can sometimes find the stalks in spring markets, to cook like asparagus. Fresh leaves added to chicken stew, or a fresh stalk placed inside a roasted chicken, gives a faint flavor of anise that the dried herb doesn’t have.