Set the Net

Recipes and snapshots of life in Bristol Bay, AK

Ostrich ferns cover the woods in thick undergrowth here in Bristol Bay by mid-June but as they peek out of the ground in spring wound in tight curls called fiddleheads, they are perfect for harvesting. With a taste comparable to fresh asparagus these beautiful fern heads are lovely sautéed in butter and garlic, tossed in pasta, or served in a omelet with feta and fresh tomato. The fiddleheads are especially tasty pickled garnishing Bloody Mary’s too!

Ahhh and Fiddlehead pesto…. well that is magic!

To eat the fern it must be picked before it begins to unfurl and the task of cleaning off the papery brown leaves is a bit tedious but you’ll be glad you did. Beware if eaten raw the ferns can give a wicked stomachache so be sure to blanch, sauté, pickle, or otherwise cook them before serving.

Our harvest of a gallon took roughly an hour to clean, but with a glass of red wine in hand, sitting on the sun drenched porch one does not dare complain of such tasks. The easiest method I have found for cleaning the ferns, is to use a paring knife. With the knife and my thumb I pinch off the papery leaves. Cleaning fiddleheads dry is far easier than trying to wash off the leaves….. just take my word for it.

For the Pesto: 
~Note this is a huge amount of pesto with imprecise measurements, just wing it, the beauty of pesto is you can keep building upon the flavors until you love it, I used:

A gallon of cleaned fresh picked fiddleheads, blanched
A few large handfuls of almonds
The juice of 3 lemons
Several cloves of garlic
A few fresh basil leaves (I just happened to have some growing on hand, skip if you don’t)
Several healthy glugs of extra virgin olive oil
A few large handfuls of shredded parmesan cheese
Several cracks of fresh pepper
A few healthy pinches of good salt (Lately I’m obsessed with Himalayan Pink Salt…)

Blanch the fiddledheads for several minutes by tossing the cleaned ferns into  boiling water, allow to cool or shock them with cold water after blanching.

In a food processor, crumb the almonds and empty them into a large bowl, then blend together the olive oil, basil leaves, garlic, and lemon juice until smooth add back in your almonds along with the parmesan cheese and pulse to mix. Pulse in the fiddleheads until you like the consistency adding more olive oil for moisture. [At this point I had so much in my processor I worked in batches mixing the fiddleheads and the sauce with a 2-1 ratio until all was blended, then I stirred the whole batch by hand in a large bowl slowly adding in more olive oil to get the moisture level I wanted.

Fiddlehead Pesto

We had some on pasta for supper last night, more on crackers later in the evening, and for breakfast I’m envisioning toad in a hole with pesto toast…

2 thoughts on “Fresh Picked Fiddlehead Pesto

  1. Mark Stopha says:

    Hi Susie: I searched and found your pesto recipe, which I’ll make today. Also, I just tried this and it worked like a dream to clean my fiddleheads. The pain in fiddleheading was always the cleaning, and the lady ferns we have here in Southeast seem even harder to clean than the otstrich ferns out there. I filled a pillowcase about a 1/3 full of fiddleheads (5 Costco nut jars full of fiddleheads), then tied an overhead knot in the case. I put it in the clothes dryer and turned it on. I checked after 5 minutes. The pillow case was warm and I didn’t want to cook the fiddleheads, so I put the dryer on air fluff and ran it another 15 minutes or so. It works like a dream. I dumped the bag into one of those salmon egg baskets they use at the cannery that have holes in the bottom and sides, and winnowed the chaff away. Those baskets allow the chaff to fall through but not the fiddleheads I then rinsed them in a bowl and cleaned the odd one that didn’t clean in the dryer. No more hour or more cleaning!

    I used to work out there and have great memories. Mark Stopha, Juneau

    1. SusieBrito says:

      Amazing cleaning suggestion I am most certainly going to try this this year! Thank you Mark I hope you enjoy the pesto!

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