Though asparagus is the first locally grown vegetable I look for when the weather starts to warm, it's in grocery stores here all year long so it's the appearance of fiddlehead ferns that truly heralds the start of spring for me. Available at the end of April through to June, the unfurled fronds of the ostrich fern, which grow wild in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes and are harvested by hand, have a mild grassy flavour not unlike asparagus and can be substituted for the vegetable in many recipes.
Jamie Oliver's Minted
Asparagus and Pea Risotto from his book The Naked Chef looked like the perfect recipe to feature fiddleheads. The
base of the recipe is Basic Risotto from the same book, a really flavourful version that includes shallots, garlic and celery and one that is broken down into cooking stages with clear instructions for each, great for anyone making risotto for the first time. The recipe calls for a fair amount of butter to be added at the end, which I generally avoid, but very little fat at the start so I used one tbsp butter in addition to the tbsp of olive oil for sautéing the vegetables and rice and skipped the rest.
Fiddleheads need to be properly cooked before eating to avoid possible illness; blanching isn't good enough and of course they should never be eaten raw. It's not certain what it is that causes illness, but it's been determined that steaming or boiling them thoroughly reduces the problem. So rather than adding partially cooked fiddleheads to the risotto at the end of stage 1 to continue cooking in the rice, I steamed them separately, adding the peas part way through, before stirring them in at the end with the Parmesan cheese.
The flavour of the risotto was wonderful! Mint and peas is a perfect combination but the herb goes equally well with fiddleheads.
This week is potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs so I chose to cook with a previously featured chef. Next week, I'm back with Nigel Slater for some Mediterranean Magic. Visit IHCC to see what other dishes were brought to the potluck.