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Basic Fiddlehead Ferns

Elizabeth Schneider's Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables: A Common Sense Guide (Harper and Row 1986) is a wonderful reference book on unusual fruits and vegetables. What follows is her guide to preparing fiddlehead ferns for sauces, sauteing or salads. She says boiling is the best way to retain the texture and color of the fiddleheads while eliminating any bitterness.

1 pound fiddlehead ferns, each about 1-1 1/2 inches in diameter

Trim the base of each fern to leave only a tiny tail beyond the circumference of each circular form. If furry brown covering remains on ferns, rub it off with a paper towel. (This procedure can be quite time-consuming). Rinse briskly under running water.

Drop ferns into a large pot of boiling, lightly salted water. Boil until tender throughout -- about 5 minutes -- testing often. Undercooked, the full flavor will not develop.

Drain well and serve at once, with melted butter. Or try these alternatives:

· Drop cooked ferns into ice water to cool. Drain and refrigerate until serving time, covered. When ready to serve, heat 3 tablespoons butter in a large skillet and saute until ferns are heated through.

· Drop the drained ferns into ice water to cool. Drain and dry well. Combine with 3/4 cup light mustard vinaigrette.

· Cool in ice water, drain and dry. Serve with Hollandaise or another cream sauce.

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