Fiddlehead Risotto! Fiddlehead ferns are beautiful, but actually quite bland on their own. That’s why you have to pay careful attention to the spices you add. I’ll be honest, it’s not very easy to make a good fiddlehead risotto. But with my help, you’ll have the best chance at achieving it.—Queen of Sauce, 28 Fall, Year 2
I don’t care what this game says, homemade risotto is anything but bland! You get springy and grassy tastes from the fiddleheads, fresh tang from the lemon, and nutty, chewy rice in a savory sauce. The flavor may be mild, but it is pure spring comfort food. It definitely explains why Clint and Kent love this recipe.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First we have to answer the question: what is risotto?
What is risotto?
Risotto is an Italian rice dish. The rice is cooked in broth until creamy, and it often includes wine, parmesan cheese, and aromatics; it’s flexible enough to be served as a main, a side or a first course. Arabs first brought rice to Europe during the Middle Ages and Italian cultivation began by the 14th and 15th centuries. While there’s a myth suggesting the invention of risotto alla Milanese back in the 1500s, more modern versions of the dish don’t appear in cookbooks until the 1800s. I altered my version of risotto to fit the aesthetic of the video game Stardew Valley and it’s actually not that hard to make. There is a fair amount of stirring, but other than that all you have to do is make sure your ingredients are all prepared before you start.
Once they’re ready, the whole thing comes together pretty easily.
What kind of rice can I use for risotto?
Risotto requires a high-starch rice because it can absorb liquid and release starches in the process; stirring is what releases the starch, and that starch is what makes the sauce so velvety without using a roux or heavy cream. You can even make a vegan risotto with minor adjustments.
Most high-starch rices are short or medium-grain, and popular types for risotto include Arborio and Carnaroli. Unfortunately long-grain rice is generally unsuited to this kind of dish and is not recommended.
Good to know! But what are fiddleheads?
Fiddleheads are the coiled tips of ostrich ferns, usually foraged in spring. They’re an early herald of warm weather food but like many spring delicacies have a short season and limited supply. You can forage for them yourself, but it’s not recommended since ferns can be poisonous. If they’re available in your area they’re often at farmers’ markets and specialty food stores. The first ones I saw were at a Whole Foods in Boston years ago.
Raw fiddleheads need to be cooked at least 6-10 minutes, otherwise they can cause stomach upset or carry foodborne illness. If fiddleheads are too expensive, unavailable, or too risky for you to eat, try substituting with chopped asparagus. You don’t even have to parboil it!
What if I want to make other substitutions in my risotto?
You absolutely can! Take the ramps, for example. Ramps are seasonal foraged wild leeks with a pungent, springy flavor. Unfortunately they’re not widely available, so if you want you can replace them with garlic scapes, green garlic, or fresh herbs of your choice.
If you replace the ramps, upgrade your garlic clove count to at least 2 or 3. Garlic is one of the main flavors in this dish besides lemon and fiddleheads.
Don’t drink alcohol? Just replace the white wine with more broth.
Want to make this vegetarian? Use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth; your choice even keeps within the ovo-lacto-pescatarian spirit of the Stardew Valley diet! Go one step further and make it vegan by leaving out the cheese and substituting it with a tablespoon or two of nutritional yeast.
Risotto is a flexible recipe meant to embody the creativity of whoever makes it with whatever they have on hand.
Would you consider making risotto? What would you put in it? Leave a comment and consider supporting the blog on my Patreon.
⅓ lb fiddlehead ferns, washed and trimmed
4 cups warm low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons olive oil plus 1 tablespoon, divided
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1 clove of garlic (2-3 if leaving out ramps), minced
3 ramps, washed and finely chopped (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
- In a small pot, bring water to a boil. Add fiddleheads and boil them for 10 minutes, then drain and set them aside.
- Warm up the broth in a small saucepan, keeping it on a low to medium-low heat. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat and saute chopped onion until soft and translucent.
- Add Arborio rice and toast for 1 minute, stirring until translucent. Add the white wine. Let cook until the rice fully absorbs the liquid.
- Begin adding the chicken or vegetable broth one ladleful at a time, stirring frequently to bring out the starch and letting the rice absorb the broth before adding more. Continue until all the broth is used up or the rice is tender and creamy to your liking, roughly 20 minutes. Add the lemon juice with the last ladle of broth.
- Remove risotto from the heat and mix in the lemon zest and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
- In a separate skillet heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, finely chopped ramps, and fiddleheads. Cook until everything is warm and fragrant, about 1 or 2 minutes.
- Stir the fiddleheads into the risotto mixture and season to taste. Enjoy warm, garnished with extra cheese and/or fresh herbs of choice.