Fiddleheads and Fava Beans

If these vegetables are in the market, you know spring has arrived!

By FamilyTime


Fiddlehead ferns and fava beans taste of springtime -- fresh, green, grassy, light. Along with asparagus and English peas, they herald spring as only fresh, tender vegetables can.

What?! Ferns and favas? What are they? Who has heard of these so-called harbingers of spring? Who knows how to cook them?

All good questions, and while many home cooks treasure these vegetables, many more don't have a clue how to buy or cook them. Consequently, they are missing out on some great flavors and textures.

Fiddlehead Ferns
Fiddleheads are the furled shoots of the ostrich fern. Most commonly, they poke up through forest floors in New England and Eastern Canada, although they can be found as far south as Virginia.

They got their name because they resemble the spiraled end of a fiddle's handle.

For about two weeks, the little coils are edible. Once they unfurl into ferns, they are not. Look for them in specialty food markets and early-opening farmers markets. Do not harvest them in the wild by yourself.

The flavor of fiddleheads has been described as a cross between asparagus and artichokes. Mainly, they taste green and fresh and have a lovely, gentle crunch.

Fiddleheads don't last long and so should be cooked soon after purchase - although they will last for a day or two in the refrigerator. They won't spoil with longer storage but they will lose their texture.

Trim the tails to the edge of the coil and then swirl the fiddleheads in cold water to remove the fuzzy brown outer coating. Rinse well.

They are best simply prepared: boiled or steamed just until tender when pierced with a fork. Serve them with lemon juice, butter, salt and pepper

Fava Beans
For much of the world, fava beans are familiar, but for some reason, they are not well known in the United States.

This is changing, particularly in regions of the country where the population is familiar with fava beans - Italian and Chinese home cooks being among those who champion them. The long, gray-green pods can be found in supermarkets and specialty food markets from April through early July.

Fava beans, also called broad beans, have a fresh, slightly bitter flavor, which, once you develop a taste for it, will have you looking forward to fava bean season with anticipation. Their texture is pleasingly soft, never starchy.

It's likely many home cooks avoid fava beans because they don't know how to get them out of the pod and onto the table.

Liberating the beans from the pods and their outer skins is time consuming - although not much more troubling than shelling peas. About two pounds of fava bean pods yield a generous cup or so of beans.

Choose small, crisp, green pods with minimal discoloration. Some are as long as a foot and the large, overgrown beans inside them make the pods heavy. Although these giants are perfectly edible, smaller pods are the more desirable.

Slit the pods open or snip off the ends. Remove the fat beans and trim any tiny stems. Blanch them in boiling, salted water for no more than 30 seconds, drain, and immediately refresh them in ice water.

Drain again, cool, and then use your fingernail to slit the outer skin and then pop the beans from it. With practice, this will become easy.

Like fiddleheads, fava beans do best with simple preparations: gently cooked in butter, cream, and fresh herbs; steamed and then tossed with hot pasta, olive oil, garlic, and lightly sautéed mushrooms; sautéed with shrimp or chicken breasts.

Next time you see fiddleheads or fava beans in the supermarket, smile. Spring is here!