Orecchiette with Fiddleheads

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.

Ready time: 30 minutes
Servings: 2 as a main or 4 as an appetizer

8 ounces (250 grams) fiddlehead ferns

¼ cup olive oil

8 ounces (250 grams) orecchiette

1 teaspoon chili flakes

2 anchovies, chopped

1 tablespoon thinly sliced garlic

¼ cup chopped Italian parsley

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

½ cup shaved ricotta salata

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Wash fiddleheads in three changes of water. Pat dry. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes or until browned on the edges. Reserve.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add orecchiette and cook until al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta-cooking water.

Heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large sauce pan on medium-low heat. Add chili flakes, anchovies, garlic and half of the parsley. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until garlic is softened but not browned. Add fiddleheads and cook for another 5 minutes to incorporate the flavours.

Transfer pasta to the saucepan and toss with fiddlehead mixture, ½ cup pasta-cooking water or more if the mixture is too dry and remaining parsley. Bring to a boil for 1 minute to combine flavours. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed. Serve topped with shaved ricotta salata.