Grown Next Door: A Guide to Eating Seasonally in Ontario is a food column for the University of Toronto’s independent newspaper.
What I can only describe as “so weird looking” when I first see them, are green and slimy ferns that look like a cross between a bass clef and the scroll of an elegant violin. Only available for picking during a very short period at the beginning of spring, fiddleheads are the curled up shoots of a fern that are harvested as a rare (and strictly seasonal) vegetable, imitating the asparagus in taste but unmatched in appearance. These Pokémon-like ferns won’t be found fresh too much longer.

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I don’t see them often at farmers’ markets, which strikes me as odd due to their unforgettable shape and their presence (upon further research) in Canadian cuisine, so much so that Tide Head, New Brunswick calls itself the “Fiddlehead Capital of the World”. This is because the fiddlehead fern is found in specific wet areas in Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes, like the banks of the Restigouche River.

To use fiddleheads in any dish requires steaming or boiling prior to consumption. There is a toxin within them, the farmer at Sorauren Market sternly pointed out, that will not be good to you if eaten raw. Think of it as nature’s way of fighting back; letting us know if we want to indulge in it, we have to use our cooking skills (which Michael Pollan would assure, are what make us human). So, I accepted that challenge and, after washing them and cutting off any brown edges, steamed my fiddleheads for 20 minutes in a steamer basket, allowing them to retain a crunchy texture but removing any unwanted poisons. Fortunately, when handled safely fiddleheads are a source of nutrients similar to that of spinach, with the addition of omega-3 fatty acids and twice the antioxidants of blueberries.

Although they can be enjoyed alone with dabs of melted butter or sautéed with lemon juice, I decided to try fiddleheads in an artistic endeavor of Alfredo sauce with linguini alongside its swirly seafood counterpart: the shrimp. I simmered a creamy sauce with 1 tbsp. butter, 1 clove of garlic (minced), 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, ½ cup mozzarella, ½ cup cream and a dash of pepper. I tossed in my steamed fiddleheads, lightly sautéed shrimp, and sprinkled sun-dried tomatoes, chopped, for added colour. The result was a vibrant pasta dish with shrimp and fiddlehead matching swirls decorating my plate.

Bitter greens, salty sun-dried tomato, and juicy shrimp drenched in a creamy cheese sauce made for a pleasing combination of flavours, with bright colours adding to its geometrically-curious visual appeal. Especially because of their exclusivity and strong presence in maritime cuisine, I’m glad I was able to cook with these green curly shoots, at least as a shout-out to the Canadian east coast.

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Author Erika Simon

Freelancer from Toronto, creator of carryonkitchen.com. Working as a writer, graphic designer, and communications specialist with several Canadian companies and publications. Much love for travel, living naturally, and outside-the-box thinkers.

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