Fiddlehead ferns, ramps or wild leeks, and other short-season greens have a certain air of mystery. These brilliant greens of spring are characteristically high in vitamins C and A, as well as minerals such as iron, and are often considered to be a spring “tonic.” Regarded as weeds by some, and once known only to those who foraged for them, they are available in the Produce section at the Co-op for a limited time each spring.
Ramp or Wild Leek. These members of the onion family are full of healthful minerals with the same cholesterol-reducing capacity found in garlic and its relatives. “Ramp” and “wild leek” are regional names for the same plant, a type of wild-growing onion that resembles a scallion with broad green leaves.
Choose those that are firm with bright-colored greenery. Wrap tightly in a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to a week. Trim the root ends just before using. Though the flavor of a ramp is stronger than the leek, scallion, or onion, it can be used—raw or cooked—in many dishes as a substitute for any of those three.
Dandelion. People prize the tiny shoots of the dandelion weed, though one can buy cultivated dandelions in the market. They are cooked like other greens or they may be sautéed in oil with garlic, mint, or bacon. Dandelion, with its refreshingly bitter taste, is excellent in salads.
Fiddleheads. These emerging shoots of the ostrich fern are considered a great delicacy. Use them as you would any firm green vegetable such as asparagus or broccoli florets. They are delicious cooked in a small amount of boiling salted water and eaten with butter or Hollandaise sauce.
Choose small, firm, brightly colored ferns that are tightly coiled. Refrigerate, tightly wrapped, for no more than two days. After a fiddlehead is removed from the stalk, the cut end starts to turn brown. Be sure to trim back the stem (about ¼ inch) to the healthy green section before cooking, and remove any papery brown chaff that may be clinging to the coil.
Fresh fiddleheads must be cooked before being consumed as they may cause stomach upset if eaten raw in quantity. Boil them in hot water for at least 10 minutes, or steam for 20 minutes, including when sautéing or stir-frying, but do not overcook. Fiddleheads are best when crunchy and bright green.
Sorrel. Sorrel is a perennial herb eaten as a vegetable. Nowadays we use the domesticated sorrel, but a limited quantity of wild sorrel can be found. Its acidic taste is a result of oxalic acid and increases with the age of the plant. Use sorrel in salads, soups, or cooked with spinach.
The amount of water to use for cooking greens is variable, but not really tricky. For sturdy-leaved bitter greens, such as dandelion, collard, turnip, or kale, add enough water to cover
the greens so that they boil until tender. For more delicate-leaved greens such as spinach, arugula, chard, watercress, beet greens, or sorrel, the water clinging to the leaves after washing will suffice. Asian greens, the choys, and other stiff-leaved, though not bitter, greens lie in-between; add several splashes of water but not enough to float them.
Victoria will be sampling the Strawberry Arugula Salad on June 2 in Hanover, on June 9 in White River Junction, and on June 16 in Lebanon.
Strawberry, Orange and Arugula Salad with Feta and Pine Nuts
Fresh summer strawberries are wonderful in salads and also in this vinaigrette. Simply puree fresh strawberries with white balsamic vinegar, oil, garlic, honey for sweetness, mustard for tanginess, soy for saltiness and a kick of sriracha for heat, along with the poppy seeds. It goes great on salads of all kinds and it works well with shrimp, too. Try it with this Strawberry and Arugula salad.
1 cup orange wedges (or any other citrus fruit that you like)
1 cup sliced strawberries
4 cups baby arugula leaves
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs. julienned basil
In a large bowl, lightly mix the arugula with orange wedges, strawberries, feta cheese, pine nuts, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss salad with some of the dressing, using only what you need, or drizzle the dressing over individual servings. Sprinkle with basil.
Strawberry Poppy Seed Vinaigrette
Makes 1 cup
½ cup strawberries, coarsely chopped
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. honey
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sriracha (or to taste) (optional)
1 large clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbs. poppy seeds
Puree everything but the poppy seeds in a food processor or blender, optionally strain, and stir in the poppy seeds.
Dressing will keep in the refrigerator for three days.
—Adapted from Closet Cooking
Greens with Lemon Oil Dressing
Heaping platefuls of simmered greens are served two ways in Greece: steaming hot straight from the cooking pot or cooled to room temperature, almost like a salad. Greeks often dress them with a classic lemon and olive oil dressing called ladolemono. Although they commonly gather wild greens in the countryside, cultivated greens are equally delicious prepared this way. Recognizing how good greens are for you, Greeks drink the cooking water as a healthful beverage. Add a little salt and fresh lemon juice to this drink.
2 lbs. mixed, young, tender greens such as arugula, sorrel, dandelion, beet greens, escarole, kale, collard greens, curly endive, or frissee, in any combination.
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper
Whisk together the oil and lemon juice, and season to taste.
Trim, wash, and drain greens. Simmer until tender, just a few minutes.
Serve at room temperature. Toss with the ladolemono at serving time.
—Adapted from Mediterranean: The Beautiful Cookbook
Fry squares of bacon in a heavy skillet until the fat has been drawn out. Add washed and dried dandelion greens and toss in the fat with the bacon, a little chopped garlic, finely chopped fresh mint, and a touch of vinegar until wilted, about 5 minutes.
—Chef James Beard
Roasted Chicken, Ramps, and Potatoes
¾ lb. ramps
1 (3- to 3½-lb) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 lb. small red or fingerling potatoes, halved
2½ Tbs. olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken broth
Preheat oven to 475°F. Trim roots from ramps and slip off outer skin on bulbs if loose. Cut off and reserve leaves, leaving white bulbs attached to slender pink stems. Put leaves and bulbs in separate bowls.
Pat chicken dry. Put in a flameproof large shallow roasting pan, without crowding, and surround with potatoes. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil and rub all over to coat evenly.
Arrange chicken with the skin sides up and season with salt and pepper. Roast in upper third of oven 20 minutes.
Toss bulbs with remaining ½ tablespoon oil and season with salt. Scatter bulbs around chicken and roast mixture until breast pieces are just cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer breast pieces to a platter and keep warm. Roast remaining chicken and vegetables 5 minutes more, or until cooked through. Transfer to platter and keep warm, loosely covered with foil. (If crisper skin is desired, broil chicken only, skin sides up, about 2 minutes.)
Pour off fat from roasting pan and straddle pan across 2 burners. Add wine and deglaze pan by cooking over high heat, scraping up brown bits.
Boil wine until reduced to about ¼ cup and add broth. When broth boils, add ramp leaves and stir until wilted and tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with tongs and add to chicken. Boil pan juices until reduced to about ½ cup and pour around chicken.
—Adapted from Gourmet, April 2000
Vermont Fiddlehead Pie
The fiddleheads in this recipe will not need to be precooked. You can also substitute broccoli or zucchini for fiddleheads.
1 uncooked 9-inch pie crust
2 cups fiddleheads, coarsely chopped
1 small chopped onion
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 cup shredded Vermont cheddar cheese, sharp or mild
1 cup evaporated milk or half & half
1 Tbs. coarse mustard
2 Tbs. flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake pie crust for about 8 minutes. Sauté fiddleheads and onions in olive oil. Put in precooked crust followed by cheese. Blend eggs, mustard, flour, and half and half, and pour into pie crust over other ingredients. Bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees. Pie is cooked when a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let set for at least 5 minutes before cutting. Serve hot, warm, or cold as you would a quiche.
—Adapted from Combes Family Inn, Ludlow Vermont
Fiddlehead Ferns with Brown Butter and Prosciutto
2 pounds fiddlehead ferns, trimmed and washed
24 paper-thin slices prosciutto
6 Tbs. brown butter
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
In a large pot bring 2 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Fill a medium bowl halfway with ice water. Drop the fiddleheads into the pot and cook for 10 minutes. Drain the fiddleheads in a colander, then submerge in the ice water until completely cool. Let the fiddleheads drain well again, then wrap them in a clean kitchen towel to dry.
Arrange 2 slices of prosciutto on each of 6 room-temperature plates.
Put the brown butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the fiddleheads and toss gently, adding ½ teaspoon salt and the pepper. Heat for a minute or two until they are warm, then divide the fiddleheads among the 6 plates and serve.
—Adapted from Arrows Restaurant, in Ogunquit, Maine
Leek and Pea Soup
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 leeks)
1 cup chopped yellow onion
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
5 cups freshly shelled peas or 2 (10-ounce) packages frozen peas
2/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, loosely packed
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup crème fraiche or Greek yogurt
1/2 cup freshly chopped chives
Heat the butter in a large saucepan, add the leeks and onion, and cook over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the onion is tender. Add the chicken stock, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Add the peas and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the peas are tender. (Frozen peas will take only 3 minutes.) Off the heat, add the mint, salt, and pepper.
Puree the soup in batches: place 1 cup of soup in a blender, place the lid on top, and puree on low speed. With the blender still running, open the venthole in the lid and slowly add more soup until the blender is three-quarters full. Pour the soup into a large bowl and repeat until all the soup is pureed. Whisk in the crème fraiche and chives and taste for seasoning. Serve hot or cold.
-Adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home
Steamed Fiddleheads With Wild Leek Greens
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound Fiddleheads, cleaned
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice, or to taste
3 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
3 Tbs. finely chopped Wild Leek greens (ramps)
Steam the fiddleheads over boiling water for 5 minutes, or until they are crisp-tender. Drain, then chill in a bowl of ice and cold water to stop the cooking. When they have cooled transfer to colander to drain.
In a small bowl whisk together the yogurt, mayonnaise, lemon juice, mustard, wild leek greens. Add salt and pepper to taste, whisking until the sauce is smooth. Serve the Fiddleheads topped with the sauce.
-Adapted from Gourmet, May 1992
This rich leek-and-cheese pie from Greece can also be served in small portions as a first course.
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, plus 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled, or as needed
2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh dill
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
1 lb ricotta or mizithra cheese
1 lb filo sheets
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and wash well to remove all traces of sand. Cut crosswise into thin slices including some of the pale green, tender tops. You’ll want 3-4 cups.
In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the 6 Tbs. butter. Add the leeks and sauté until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the dill, garlic and tomatoes and simmer until all the liquid evaporates and the leeks are tender, 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
In a bowl beat the eggs until blended. Mix in the cheese and then the leek mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add the nutmeg. Butter a 9-by-13-by3-inch baking pan. Lay about 10 filo sheets in the pan, lightly brushing each one with melted butter before adding the next. Spoon the leek mixture atop the filo and spread it evenly. Lay the remaining filo sheets on top, brushing each one with butter before adding the next. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours.
Preheat oven to 375°. Using a sharp knife, score the top few sheets into 12 large or 24 small squares. Bake until golden, 30-40 minutes. Let rest for 5-10 minutes, then cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature.
Cook’s Note: You may omit the tomatoes, and use the sharper feta and kefalotiri cheeses (1/2 lb total) and season the leeks with nutmeg and allspice.
-Adapted from Mediterranean: The Beautiful Cookbook
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