Introduction: Spring Brunch in the Northeast
Springtime in the Northeastern climate means three things: fiddlehead ferns, morel mushrooms, and ramps. These are the three delicious wild foodstuffs that pop up in temperate forests that you can go pick yourself or watch out for in your local farmer's market.
Fiddlehead ferns are the young, unwound fronds of a fern. They have a light, asparagus-like taste and can be sauteed and combined with almost anything where you'd use asparagus.
Morel mushrooms are very distinct-looking with a conical shape and a deeply fissured surface like an irregular honeycomb. They have a rich, earthy flavor and are good with all sorts of things, but are rather strong tasting for folks who don't like mushrooms much. I tried them on pizza the other day, though...excellent!
Ramps are wild leeks (Allium Tricoccum) that are almost like a cross between onions and garlic. They are rather delicate and don't last all that long, so you often see pickled ramps. But if they are fresh, you can also saute the greens and wilt them like you would spinach.
When I found fiddleheads at the market this morning, and I knew I had morels and ramps at home, I knew I had to put them all together and make the perfect Northeastern Sunday brunch. We'll go in order of what can be made first and what can come later.
Step 1: Morel Duxelles
Last year my friend Nils went morel hunting and gathered some ridiculous poundage of morels, so he dried them out and gave some away as gifts. I've still got some left, luckily, so I'll use those (along with some oyster mushrooms) to make duxelles, a delicious paste made up with mushrooms, shallots, and a dry port or sherry. It's really good on bread or on eggs (which is how I'll use it) and it can be made ahead of time.
1/2 pound morel mushrooms (and/or oyster mushrooms)
1 medium shallot, finely minced
2 medium cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 Tbs fresh chives, finely minced
1 Tbs butter
1 glug olive oil
2 Tbs dry port wine, madeira, or sherry
1 tsp lime zest
salt and pepper to taste
1. Either with a food processor or by hand, chop the mushrooms as finely as possible (If mushrooms are dry, reconstitute them first). NB: Morel mushrooms are ok to wash in water, as they don't absorb water like other mushrooms, but in general, never wash your mushrooms! Just wipe them with a damp cloth to remove the dirt. If you wash them, they will contain far too much water and end up rather rubbery.
2. Put the mushroom paste into the cheesecloth and squeeze all the liquid out. This will remove any bitterness in the mushrooms. When well squeezed the mushroom paste will be a solid clump. Squeezing the paste in smaller amounts will make it easier to get all the liquid out.
3. Heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat until it stops bubbling. Add the shallots and garlic and cook until translucent but not browning.
4. Add the mushrooms. Break up the mushroom paste and mix well with the shallots and garlic.
5. When it starts browning slightly, turn heat to medium-low and add the chives, lime zest, and salt and pepper. Also add the port wine and cook, stirring, until the wine is absorbed/boils off.
6. The duxelles is now complete. You can put it in a bowl and save for use any time either that day or that week.
Step 2: Fiddlehead Ferns
Fiddleheads on the plant have a brown, papery chaff covering the head. They are generally removed when being sold at the market, but if you pick your own or they are not thoroughly cleaned, you might have to clean them a bit more. Either way, rinse them three or four times in water, changing the water each time. They may be gritty and sandy and you want to make sure you get all the grit out. Some places tell you to boil them for 15 minutes to kill any bacteria. You can do this, but they'll be mushy and not all that tasty.
I went back and forth on just making the fiddleheads on their own, but I like how small slices of red potatoes repeat the shape to make an entirely circular dish. This dish only takes about 10 - 15 minutes to complete, so make close to when you want to serve brunch.
1/3 Lb Fiddlehead ferns, washed several times and brown ends trimmed off
1/3 Lb small new potatoes, sliced in rounds
Garlic to taste (2 cloves for me...), sliced
1 glug of oil
1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add potato rounds and stir til coated in oil. Cover the pan and cook until soft and beginning to brown, about 5 - 10 minutes depending on how thin you sliced the potatoes.
2. Add the ferns and garlic and stir, cooking uncovered for another 5 minutes or until the garlic is just beginning to brown.
Step 3: Round Egg Sandwiches
Ok, this is a bit silly, but I love making eggs that fit perfectly on english muffins. It's a bit fussy, so if you don't feel like doing this step, this brunch is still perfectly lovely even without the perfect-sized eggs. However, it's easy to do make these eggs provided you have a round cookie cutter.
Round cookie cutter
Small, thin knife
Potholder (preferably the kind that goes over your hand like a mitten
1. Lightly oil a pan and the inside of a cookie cutter.
2. Heat the pan with the cookie cutter in it over medium-high heat. When the pan is warm, turn the heat down to medium and crack the egg into the cookie cutter.
3. Put the english muffins in the toaster.
3. Cook the egg in the cookie cutter until the white is looking fairly solid and the yolk is still uncooked. Slide the knife around the inside edge of the cookie cutter to release the egg in case it is attached to the side.
4. With the potholder (or, if you are quick, your fingers) lift the cookie cutter up, releasing the egg. The egg should hold its shape. Flip the egg and cook for maybe 30 more seconds.
5. Spread the duxelles on one half of the English muffin. Transfer the egg to the English muffin on top of the duxelles.
6. Top with a couple of pickled ramps.
Step 4: Assemblage
1. Duxelles, egg, and pickled ramp sandwiches.
2. Potatoes and fiddlehead ferns.
3. Toss up a salad. Mesclun greens with fresh spring strawberries and a light balsamic vinaigrette is a nice addition.
And you have the perfect Northeastern spring brunch!