Friday, June 1, 2007

NEXT STOP, HEIRLOOM TOMATOES AND ARTISANAL SUMMER SQUASHES: For years, I've been hearing all the foodies gushily waxing about those special little treats of springtime: ramps and fiddlehead ferns. Because spring is always a ragingly busy time in my household (suffice to say that a disproportionate fraction of the extended Cosmopolitan clan has their birthdays in May), I never manage to get myself to any of the restaurants that pride themselves on cooking with the freshest seasonal ingredients blah blah blah during fiddlehead/ramp season. This year, however, I decided to tackle the issue head on. Thanks to Mother's Little Helper, a/k/a FreshDirect, both fiddleheads and ramps arrived at my apartment over the weekend.

I am an advocate of the Let Vegetables Be Vegetables school of cooking, and so prepared both in the simplest manner possible. For the ramps, I roasted them with grapeseed oil, salt and pepper. Easy breezy Cover Girl -- and quite tasty, to boot. They have a similar flavor to the leek (which makes sense, given that the ramp also goes by the less glamorous name of "wild leek"), minus all the pain-in-the-butt cleaning that accompanies the cooking of leeks, plus a little dollop of outdoorsy flavor. Roasting them added a nice veneer of crispiness as well, which is always fun. Nothing earthshattering, but perfectly yummy.

If ramps represent the Easy-Bake-Oven version of leeks, then fiddlehead ferns are the high-maintenance cousin of . . . well . . . every other vegetable on the planet. A scan of google hits on the subject of fiddleheads tells you to run them under a shower of water to get them really clean, then to swish them around in a big bowl of water to remove the chaff, then to rub them in a towel to remove more chaff, then to ask them very nicely to please shake off any chaff that may not have been appropriately excised during the shower, the swish, or the rub. The problem here is that I really don't have any idea what chaff looks like in the fiddlehead context, and none of the websites offered "before" and "after" photos. So after 20 minutes of messing around with these little green spirally things, I either (a) left about half the chaff on the ferns or else (b) chafed away lots of fern fronds along with the chaff, leaving myself with somewhat denuded fiddleheads. In any event, I was a little concerned.

Most of the articles I read talked about blanching the fiddleheads before sauteing them, except for a couple that preferred to skip the blanching and go straight to the saute pan. Given both that my fiddlehead experience was already taking up way more of my evening than I'd planned and that I am not normally a fan of blanching (cf. Let Vegetables Be Vegetables), I tossed my either naked or overdressed fiddleheads into a pan, sauteed them with olive oil for about 6 minutes, swirled in some butter and salt, and sat down to give my cute little high-maintenance friends a try.

YUM. Ok, I get the joke on fiddlehead ferns. They are crunchy and unique and delicious. The flavor is somewhere in the green bean / okra / asparagus family, but unlike any of them. (Only after consuming a bowlful did I read that part of the reason for blanching the little buggers is that raw fiddleheads have some sort of tummy-upsetting toxins that need to be cooked away. I suffered no adverse effects, so apparently the extended cleansing process and the sauteeing were sufficient.)

I have a feeling that Tom Colicchio's versions of fiddleheads and ramps will far outshine my own, and one of these years I'll make it to Craft during the brief season, but for now, I am pleased to report that I am now a full-fledged participant in the springtime ritual of pretentious quacking about the glory of ramps and fiddlehead ferns.

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