Petey’s question: “Did you try to poison us?”
I was thrilled to find fiddlehead ferns at Whole Foods in Chapel Hill. I’ve wanted to try them for years. But while they are everywhere in New England in the early summer, they don’t travel well, and are pretty much impossible to find at grocers in the south.
It was actually The Kid who spied them in the produce section.
I researched recipes online. I decided to blanch them, and then sauté in butter with garlic, and finish with lemon juice.
They were OK -- they tasted very green, and kind of like asparagus. At $5 for a small box, I was glad to have tried them, but decided they weren’t so delicious that they would be a mainstay on our table (even if I ever found them in a store again).
That night the tummies at the Matthews house were not happy. Petey, not so much, but The Kid and I suffered quite a bit.
The next day, still interested in recipes for the ferns, I hit google again. All of a sudden I started getting some funny results; ‘Are fiddlehead ferns toxic?’, ‘Restaurant patrons sickened by fiddlehead ferns’.
That’s right, fiddlehead ferns can be toxic if they aren’t cooked for at least ten minutes. Our side dish was blanched for two minutes, and then sautéed for just a few more.
But there are all kinds of yummy veggies available this time of year, so to keep us from dying of boredom, I’ve come up with a few twists on them.
Beets: Peel, clean, halve, and place in foil pouch. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt & pepper. Place in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, pour the juices over them, and serve.
Broccoli: Cut florets off head, leaving 1 ½ inches of stem. Cut vertically right down the center, so you get two pieces that can lie flat. Toss with a dressing of 1/3 cup olive oil, juice of one lemon, 1 tablespoon dijon mustard, and salt & pepper. Bake at 425 for 20 minutes.
Carrots: Peel and slice into ½ inch coins. Place into pan with a couple of splashes of chicken stock, a pat or two of butter, and salt & pepper. Cover and cook at medium low until they are almost fork tender. Remove cover, and add 1 tablespoon of sweetener (I like barley malt, but honey, golden syrup, or any liquid sweetener will work). Cook on low until the liquid’s gone, and carrots are tender and glazed.
Cauliflower: From my Aunt Polly comes this delicious, decadent béchamel version. In a saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and whisk in 2 tablespoons flour. Add 1 ½ cups whole milk, and gently stir until it comes to a low boil. Season with 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper, and a few gratings of fresh nutmeg. Pour over cooked cauliflower.
Corn (fresh): Remove husks and clean silk off six ears. Cut off kernels, and with the back of the knife, scrape the juice off the cob. Place corn and juice into frying pan with 2 tablespoons butter and 1/3 cup cream. Season with 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Cook on medium-low for about 10-12 minutes, or until thick and creamy.
Summer Squash (yellow or green): Cut into 3/8 inch rounds and put into pot of water in which is a 3 tablespoons of salt, a very healthy pinch of pepper, and a teaspoon of sugar. Boil until the squash has completely cooked. Drain, and put back into pot on low heat for a minute or so to dry it a bit more. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter and gently toss with squash.
Cherry or grape tomatoes: Wash 2 pints, and then coat with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until skins start to shrivel, but before they burst. Remove from oven and stir in a tablespoon of fresh chopped herbs of your choice.
Next time you’re at the produce section or farmers market, check out what is gorgeous, and let your imagination soar.
And, no Petey, I didn’t try to poison us. Not on purpose, anyway.
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.