If you can’t find fresh fava beans, you can substitute edamame. Morel mushrooms or chanterelles would be perfect in this dish if they are available. Hon shimeji don’t have quite as pronounced a flavour, but they are available at this time as they are grown indoors. If you have a herb garden the chives are probably peeking out by now.
This sauté highlights some of the earliest spring vegetables, which you can interchange as they become available; try asparagus, early mushrooms like morels or spring greens. If you feel like adding a salty crunch, sauté 1/3 cup pancetta in with the garlic mixture.
Pasta shapes matter: Orecchiette are cup-shaped and act as receptacles for the nutty-tasting fiddleheads, while asparagus cut in 2-inch lengths are the right size for penne.
The tightly coiled fiddleheads must be washed well. Before washing, place them in a paper bag and shake well until all the brown skin comes off. Cut off any brown tips and the tough brown part at the base of the fern so they are completely round. Before using, rinse the fiddleheads in about three changes of water to remove any more brown skin and dirt. For a quick dish, roast the fiddleheads for 5 minutes longer than in this recipe, then eat like french fries.
Ricotta salata is a slightly salty, dry version of ricotta. If unavailable, use the more easily accessible Italian Grana Padano.
It was at Enoteca Sociale in Toronto that I first tried a dish similar to this one and I was blown away by the intensity of its flavour. The slight bitterness of radicchio is offset by the sweetness of the grapes, which become even sweeter through roasting. In the version here, a pistachio crumble provides the final salty touch and rich pecorino biscuits served as an accompaniment are always a big hit. They can be made up to a day ahead of time and reheated in a 350 F oven. (Use pecorino Romano, a salty hard cheese made from sheep’s milk. Another type, pecorino Toscano or sardo, is sweeter, softer and nutty-flavoured. It’s wonderful served with pears but it’s not for cooking.)