So, I was passing by a table at my local farmer's market a few days ago, and I saw something that caught my eye. This isn't really all that unusual, there are lots of eye-catching lovelies at my market: gorgeous, multi-colored jars of jam and preserves, upright rows of pickles, heaping piles of greens, cheeses, cured meats, glistening radishes and carrots, golden loaves of bread......yeah, it's kind of an edible wonderland. BUT. There was something new this time, something I couldn't resist coming back and getting a second look at. Tightly coiled little green discs about the size of a silver dollar, all jumbled together in a basket.

[ Fiddlehead fern tops, along with some dark Finnish rye bread I was also powerless to resist ]

Yes, like the fern, i.e. the houseplant you may have seen adorning your grandmother's windowsill or perched on top of a doily on the back of a piano. FERNS. For eating.

I knew they were edible, but I'd never actually had the opportunity to try one before. I'd heard they were pretty delicious, with a tender, mildly grassy, 'green vegetable' flavor similar to asparagus. I scooped up a handful, along with some other ripe-right-now spring vegetables, already making plans for dinner as I went.

I decided to pair the fiddleheads with their close cousin flavor-wise, asparagus tips, further flavored by a slice or two of bacon diced into small pieces. A creamy risotto would form the base of the dish, and be the perfect vehicle for the rest of the asparagus, as well as leeks and a perfect, tender young carrot (grated finely and distributed throughout the risotto for a hint of sweet earthiness and color). Topped with a simple, savory chicken breast, and then garnished with the gorgeous combination of (seriously, they're almost modern sculpture) fiddleheads* & asparagus tips, it was spring on a plate.

[ *I should mention that fiddleheads can be a little difficult to find, as the season for them is only a short window in May--like, RIGHT NOW!--and growing zones may vary. It's sometimes possible to find them frozen, so look around. If you can't find them at all, no sweat. Just substitute an equal quantity of the much-easier-to-find asparagus, and you'll still end up with a dish that is the essence of late spring. ]

Spring Vegetable Risotto with Asparagus and Fiddlehead Ferns 
(adapted from a recipe at The Kitchn)

serves 4

1 cup fiddlehead ferns 
16 asparagus stalks 
2 tablespoons butter 
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 
2 large leeks (white and light green parts only, rinsed well & diced)
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine 
approximately 5 1/2 cups hot vegetable or chicken stock 
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 medium carrot, grated
zest of 1 large lemon
salt & pepper
4 small chicken breasts (or 2 large, sliced in half)
2 tablespoons diced bacon

Start by preparing the vegetables. Boil a medium sized pot of water, and have ready a large bowl of ice water. Remove lower 1" of each asparagus stalk and discard, peel remaining stalks. Remove the top 2" of each stalk (the tip) and save these. Slice stalks into 1/4" pieces and set aside. Thoroughly wash the fiddlehead ferns, rubbing lightly with your fingers to remove any of the feathery leaves. Cut off any brown ends. Rinse again if necessary.

Blanch both the asparagus tips and fiddlehead ferns for about 2 minutes, until bright green, then plunge into the ice water bath to stop the cooking. Set aside.

[ Asparagus tips & fiddleheads, chilling together in a water bath ]

Bring stock to a simmer in a small saucepan, then cover and keep warm over low heat. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add leeks and saute until tender and almost translucent, about 5 minutes. Add rice, and stir until grains are translucent at their edges but still opaque in the center, about 3 minutes. Add wine, and stir until liquid is almost completely absorbed. Add warm stock by the cupful, stirring until rice has absorbed nearly all of the liquid before adding the next cup. Stir frequently to develop the risotto's creamy texture and to prevent rice from sticking. Reserve 1/2 cup for the very end of the cooking process.

While risotto is cooking, add the blanched asparagus tips, fiddleheads and diced bacon to a skillet, saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes until bacon has begun to crisp. Remove everything from pan (leave behind about a tablespoon of bacon fat to flavor the chicken, remove excess if there is any) and set aside. Add chicken breasts to pan, working in batches if your skillet is not large enough. Brown chicken on both sides over medium-high heat, until cooked thoroughly (length of cooking time depends on thickness of chicken breast). Sprinkle lightly with salt & pepper, set aside.

When rice is almost done (about 25 minutes), stir in the chopped asparagus stalks, fresh thyme, grated carrot, lemon zest, and the final 1/2 cup of stock, stir well. Allow to cook for several more minutes, until the remaining liquid is absorbed. Taste for seasoning, add salt or pepper as desired. The risotto should be creamy and tender, and the vegetables cooked but with a slight remaining crunchiness.

Place several heaping spoonfuls of risotto on each plate, topped with a chicken breast and a portion of the bacon, asparagus & fiddlehead mixture. Enjoy your spring veggies!

[ This post was originally written--by me!--for the Botanica at the Farm blog on 5/19/14 ]