I've seen young furled ferns while hiking and I have always admired their beauty, but never had any idea if they were edible. I did know some people ate a fern called fiddlehead, so when I, always interested in experimenting with a new fruit or vegetable, saw them at the farmers market, I snatched them up immediately and took them home.
Once I got home, things became a bit more complicated. I tried to do some research online, but as is often the case, there were a variety of opinions, and I wasn't sure who to trust. For instance, it wasn't exactly clear how I should clean the fiddleheads—which cleaning specifics I should classify as necessary and which I could write off as too precious. Each fern was heavily decorated with brown papery threads. I didn't know if the threads were only undesirable from a textural perspective, or inedible.
I also learned quickly that the fiddlehead eaten raw or undercooked could make a person sick. I saw the word toxins, I saw carcinogenic, and I saw clear instructions to thoroughly boil them to make them safe to eat. The amount of boiling varied. I started wondering if I should eat them at all, but that went away quickly. Maybe I've spent too much time with my daredevil father. I moved forward.
I cleaned them up, still unsure if they were quite right, and boiled them for 15 minutes. Unfortunately, the boiling meant that they lost their bright color, the vibrant green you see in so many photos, but I'd decided that I wouldn't risk poisoning myself for aesthetic purposes.
While my penne boiled I made a new mess by trying to clean up my now boiled fiddleheads a bit more. Then I trimmed the bruised ends (I surely could have done that earlier, but...) and cut them into bite-size pieces (I thought some of the unfurled parts were too long. I'm one of those people that isn't fond of huge lettuce leaves in my salad, or giant pieces of broccoli I cannot fit into my mouth in my stir-fry.) The second cleaning and trimming was followed by a sauté in olive oil with garlic and capers. I tossed the fully prepared fiddleheads with al dente penne and squeezed fresh lemon juice on top.
It really was a delicious lunch, but I'm not sure fiddleheads are worth the worry and preparation time. Wouldn't I have been pleased with any vegetable prepared with olive oil, capers, garlic, and lemon? I think so. I know so.
Still, I might try preparing them again. As with most things in life, listening to advice, reading instructions, and watching what others do will only get you so far. There is no substitute for hands-on experience. Learning, and the comfort that follows, takes time.
My bowl is empty. At the moment I appear to be alive, and not feeling at all woozy. Cross your fingers for me.