Most weeks, when I sit down to write Maine Course, the ideas are already there, just waiting to flow onto the screen. They come from my time in the kitchen, the community and life. I share bits of myself through stories about family dinners, memories of dear friends and confessions of wanderlust.
That’s the fun of food writing for me — exploring the reflections, lessons learned and thought processes that go into the ingredients we choose, recipes we make and foods we share. The individual experience is so important. The way I see something isn’t necessarily the way another writer will, tapping into the things that pique our interests and fuels our passions in the kitchen.
Take fiddlehead greens, for instance. These wild growing veggies aren’t part of my history. Until recently, I’d never seen them in the wild and I still haven’t ever foraged for them. Fiddleheads are something I discovered as an adult, and tried with a sense of curiosity.
When I look at a fiddlehead, I see a tightly wound baby fern — unfamiliar and different. I see something that needs to be cleaned, trimmed and cooked properly (hint: steam for 10-12 minutes, boil for at least 15 minutes). Those are the most important elements of anything I’d write about them because I have a limited personal connection with this veggie.
The fiddlehead green is the odd plant I found wrapped in shrink wrap on a produce aisle shelf nearly a decade ago. It’s unusual, an unfamiliar and relatively new (to me) food. I find them fascinating because those that love them have such a devotion to procuring and enjoying them.
For other writers though, the experience is vastly different. Take L.E. Barrett, author of “Fiddlemainia,” for instance. To him, fiddleheads are part of the Maine landscape — something that’s been a part of his eating life since childhood. They’ve brought him together with neighbors and given him something to share with the public at large.
That’s one of the things that I’ve loved seeing happen here in Maine. Neighbors share with neighbors. Families share with each other. Friendships and relationships are forged and nourished.
“Fiddleheads are sort of iconic. They are symbolic of the beginning of summer and spring,” Barrett told BDN reporter Natalie Feulner recently. And they are.
Although you can find fiddleheads at roadside stands, some farmers markets and even in grocery stores, these short-run plants are most often found through foraging, as Barrett does on his own property. They are a wild organic that he wants others to know can be part of a well-balanced diet. That’s why he and longtime friend Lin Diket wrote the book on them.
When I decided to write about fiddleheads this week, I decided to blend a favorite dish of mine — risotto — with this iconic Maine ingredient. Risotto is something I love to make because it forces me to slow down, to stop multitasking and to instead focus solely on the process.
Something in that is inherently relaxing to me.
Risotto is traditionally arborio rice that’s slow cooked with small additions of wine, then chicken stock. The slow-and-steady process yields a creamy rice dish — without the addition of any cream. This version begins with sautéed shallots and is seasoned with Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper before being finished off with tender garlicky fiddlehead greens.
And much like the fiddlehead greens that star in this dish bring people together for foragers like Barrett, so does this column for me. When I share these bits of myself, I hope that on some level someone is on the other side, reading this and nodding along. Writing, much like the foods we forage and gather, can be a community-creator. And that’s why I do this.
- 2 cups fiddlehead greens, trimmed and washed
- 2 tbsp olive oil, plus 1 tbsp, divided
- 3 shallots, chopped
- 1 cup arborio rice
- ½ cup white wine
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock or broth, warmed
- ¾ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the fiddleheads and boil for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- In a heavy stockpot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped shallots and saute until softened and lightly golden brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add the arborio rice and toast, stirring, for 1 minute.
- Stir in the white wine and allow to cook until fully absorbed. Add the chicken stock or broth, one ladle at a time, stirring well and allowing it to completely absorb before adding more. Continue until all the stock or broth has been used.
- Remove from heat and stir in parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the garlic and saute for about 1 minute -- until softened. Add the drained fiddleheads and toss well to combine. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until warm and fragrant.
- Stir the fiddleheads into the risotto. Adjust seasonings as desired. Enjoy.