Nothing says "Spring" quite like fiddlehead ferns! They look a bit like they belong in a fairytale (which is one of the things I love about them) but they also taste wonderful. If you've never tried them, fiddleheads are a little bit like asparagus only more mild and sweet. Asparagus is also at it's peak right now, which is the only way I like to eat it. Although it is available shipped from South America year-round, you can often find locally-grown asparagus this time of year and it is much tastier! Look for slender-looking stems with tight, green buds at the tip.
The pasta I used is Maestri Pastai's Foglie di Carciofo (meaning "artichoke leaflets"). It is a bit of a specialty item (you can, of course, find it at Marczyk's if you are lucky enough to live in Denver) but it is also one of my favorite pastas ever. It is an Italian import made with semolina and dehydrated artichoke and looks like pale green petals. Not only is it rather pretty but it's also wonderfully toothsome and delicious. If you can't find this particular product, though, you can certainly substitute for just about any good pesto-grabbing pasta shape you can think of such as orecchiete or penne.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is the pesto. I absolutely adore pesto, not only because it makes everything taste amazing but also because it is so quick to put together! This one calls for equal amounts of mint and basil for a brighter, "springier" flavor. Other than that, and the welcome addition of fresh lemon juice, it is a pretty typical pesto. Make sure to set aside a few leaf clusters for a pretty garnish.
Spring Has Sprung Pasta and Pesto
serves 4 as an entree, 6 as a first course
1/3 cup pine nuts
2/3 oz basil leaves (one small clamshell container's worth)
2/3 oz mint leaves
3 small cloves garlic, roughly chopped
zest and juice of one lime
generous tsp kosher salt, or to taste
generous tsp freshly ground pepper, or to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup parmiggiano reggiano, freshly grated
Pasta and Vegetables:
1 package (17.66 oz) Maestri Pastai Foglie Di Carciofo
1 T olive oil
1 bunch asparagus
1 cup fiddlehead ferns
juice of 1 lemon
Begin by cooking the pasta. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil and add pasta. Boil, stirring occasionally, until al dente.
In a food processor, pulse the pine nuts, herbs, garlic, lemon, salt and pepper until evenly chopped. With the blade running, slowly stream in the olive oil. Turn power off and remove blade, then mix in the parmiggiano reggiano with a spatula to combine.
Prep your asparagus by cutting the woody part of the stem (the bottom half, usually) and setting aside for use in stock or soup. Cut the asparagus ends into 1-inch pieces. In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium-high for about a minute or two, until just barely smoking. Reduce heat to medium and add asparagus and fiddleheads. Stir-fry until just heated through, about three short minutes. Remove pan from heat immediately.
In a large serving bowl, toss pasta, vegetables, pesto, and lemon juice together until combined. Adjust salt and pepper if necessary. Serve immediately.