After two weeks away from our kitchen, we returned last week to find the market positively brimming with spring vegetables. When we'd left there were only the first signs of ramps, but now there was an abundance of asparagus, rhubarb, peas in the shell, and even fiddlehead ferns.
After filling our basket, we quickly started dreaming of recipes that would show off our bounty to its best, especially those rare fiddleheads. The resultant risotto was bright and springlike, while still being warm and hearty enough to enjoy outside in the cool evening air. We enjoyed it so much that we've made it twice since then, tweaking and improving until it was just right.
Fiddlehead ferns have a grassy flavor that marries well with asparagus, and their firm texture provides a nice contrast to the creamy risotto. If you can't find fiddlehead ferns, you could substitute extra asparagus, or use another spring green vegetable.
Spring Lemon Risotto with Asparagus and Fiddlehead Ferns
serves 4 to 6
1 1/2 cups fiddlehead ferns 1 1/2 cups asparagus tips 3 tablespoons butter, divided 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, washed well, and diced. 2 scallions, white parts only, washed and minced. 1 clove garlic minced 2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice (also called risotto rice) 1/2 cup dry white wine approximately 5 1/2 cups hot vegetable or chicken stock zest of 1 large lemon 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Start by preparing the vegetables. Boil a medium sized pot of water, and have ready a large bowl of ice water. Thoroughly wash the fiddlehead ferns, then rub them in a kitchen towel to remove any of the brown paper-like chaff. Cut off any brown tips or blemishes. Rinse again if necessary.
Blanch both the asparagus and fiddlehead ferns for about 2 minutes, until bright green, then plunge into the ice water bath to stop the cooking. Set aside.
Bring the broth to a simmer, then cover and keep warm over medium-low heat.
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil and 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Add the leeks, scallions, and garlic, and saute until tender and almost translucent -- about 5 minutes.
Add rice, and stir until grains are translucent at their edges but still opaque in the center, about 3 minutes. Add wine, and stir until liquid is almost completely absorbed. Add the warm stock by the cupful, stirring until rice has absorbed nearly all of the liquid before adding the next cup.
When rice is almost done (about 15 minutes), stir in the blanched and drained vegetables and the lemon zest. Stir in the last 1/2 cup of stock, then add the cheese and remaining butter.
The risotto should be creamy and tender, and the vegetables cooked but with a remaining firm bite. Serve immediately.
Note: fiddlehead ferns have a toxin that can cause stomach distress when eaten raw. This recipe lightly cooks them, leaving them with a toothsome crunch. The health department recommends cooking them for longer (10 to 15 minutes); while we've never had a problem eating them in this state, those with stomach problems may wish to add the fiddleheads earlier.