For Mom: Fiddlehead Fern & Leek Tart

May 4, 2007 on 4:58 pm | By | In Recipes | 5 Comments

Tart sliceWhen I saw Allen of Eating Out Loud was hosting a food fight featuring moms’ favorite dishes, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. There’s relatively little my mom doesn’t like, and a call to her confirmed even she couldn’t name her favorite food (although when pressed she said chicken and mussels are at the top of her list). She’s gotten much more adventuresome in her cooking, so she couldn’t even be nailed down on a particular ethnic cuisine. Indian, Thai, Greek, Italian, Moroccan, Southwestern, Chinese, French — she loves ’em all!

I obviously had to rethink my game plan.

But before I tell you how I came up with the idea for my entry, I’d like to share with you a bit about my mom. She has such a passion for food and cooking, and I am blessed she passed this passion on to me. Even before I decided to make a career out of food, it was always an important part of my life.

My fondest memories of food growing up were less about specific dishes my mom made and more about the experience of preparing those dishes. Back then her culinary creations were rather basic; she had to feed a family of seven on a school principal’s salary, so we ate a lot of hamburger, chicken and pasta. However, pretty much everything was made from scratch, and we always sat down together at the table. Once we heard her dinner bell we had to be at the table within minutes. Television during the dinner hour was verboten; dinner was the time for conversation.

She also was adamant about serving a “complete” meal — salad, entree, side dish — with a glass of milk, of course (we NEVER drank pop at home and were only allowed one glass on the rare occasions we ate out). She fretted if the meal wasn’t visually appealing and full of color (I think we’ve both made all-white meal disasters!). If she served something new and we didn’t think we’d like it, her rule was “just three bites.” If we still didn’t like it then we wouldn’t have to finish it, but she wanted to open us up to new tastes. As a result there’re very few foods I don’t care for.

So, back to the tart.

I wanted to prepare something using seasonal produce and recalled a couple of grocery stores in the area carry fiddlehead ferns this time of year. Fiddleheads are a Maine delicacy, and as Mainers through and through, both my parents love them. Their taste is similar to asparagus, and they pair wonderfully with leeks. I then started picturing some sort of savory tart with leeks mixed in the filling and the fiddleheads arranged on top (I had stumbled across my rarely used tart pan while organizing my back pantry and had been thinking about ways to use it). I didn’t want to do a quiche custard, but thought whole milk ricotta would be nice.

So, while I can’t say this is mom’s favorite dish, I’m hoping it will be one she’ll want to make herself! My darling and I enjoyed the tart with a steaming bowl of mussels and some crusty bread. I think Mom would be proud.

(And Mommy — have an absolutely wonderful Mother’s Day and an even more fabulous birthday. I love you!)

Fiddlehead tartFiddlehead Fern & Leek Tart
Serves 6-8
(As this was a totally made-up recipe — aside from the pâte brisée — measurements are merely guesstimates!)

Pâte Brisée

2 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 pinches sugar
1 stick butter, well chilled
3 tablespoons shortening, chilled
5 tablespoons ice water (or as needed)

Mix flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. Cut the butter and shortening into small bits and add to the flour mixture. Pinch the butter, shortening and flour between your thumbs and fingers until it is a combination of large flakes and meal. Add 5 tablespoons of ice water and stir with a fork until it starts to form a dough. Add more water as necessary.

With the heel of your hand, smear the dough out on a marble slab or parchment paper in four directions (this is called “fraisage). Reform the dough into a flat cake, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Roll out and place in a tart pan; place the pan in the fridge while preparing the filling.


1 large leek, cleaned and sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced (I’d recommend using lemon zest in addition to the juice, but the only lemon I had was already zested!)
salt, pepper & cayenne, to taste
3/4 pound fiddlehead ferns (this will be more than you need, but it’s good to have extra so you can pick out the prettiest ones)
1 15-ounce container whole milk ricotta
2 eggs
2 tablespoons fresh chives
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sauté the leeks in the olive oil over medium-low heat until softened (try not to brown them, but it’s okay if you do). Add the lemon juice (and zest if you have it) and continue to sauté until juice is evaporated. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne and set aside to cool.

Unsnipped fiddleheads Snipped fiddles

Snip the long tails from the fiddleheads and place the ferns in a bowl of cold water. Swirl to remove the brown fuzz (you may need to do this several times; I also picked off a bunch of the fuzz. It won’t hurt you, but isn’t as aesthetically pleasing!). Steam for 10-12 minutes, or until tender, and immediately shock in cold water to stop the cooking.

Mix the ricotta, eggs, chives, salt and pepper in a bowl to combine. Add the leek mixture and combine well. Remove tart pan from the fridge and spread the ricotta mixture on the bottom. Pick out the best looking fiddleheads and arrange on top. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until set. Let cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Steamed MusselsSteamed Mussels
Serves 2-4

2 pounds mussels, washed (trim beards if necessary)
1-2 tomatoes, chopped
2-6 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup white wine (I typically use Sauvignon Blanc)
2-3 tablespoons butter

Mix the tomatoes, garlic, parsley, wine and butter in a large stockpot. Place mussels on top, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and steam until mussels open, approximately 6-8 minutes. Ladle mussels and broth into large bowls and serve with crusty bread (dip bread into the broth!)


  1. I have to laugh about the fiddleheads. I’m a native Californian, and in 1962 (I was on my honeymoon) my groom and I had dinner at the Space Needle restaurant in Seattle. It as very romantic, it was a big treat, and the waiter kindly mentioned the fiddleheads. Having never heard of them, I tried them, and have loved them ever since. Although I’ve only been able to GET them 3-4 times since 1962. They were served as a side vegetable, steamed and liberally dosed in butter, with a little salt and pepper. They were sublime.

    Comment by Carolyn T — May 9, 2007 #

  2. That’s great! I always have to buy them when I see them since I know their season is so short. I had asked Whole Foods if they were going to carry them, and the produce guy said no, but he could special order them (although they’d be about $20). I then went to my other favorite grocery and they had them for just $5/pound!

    Comment by ovens2betsy — May 9, 2007 #

  3. Hi Betsy!

    It was so nice meeting you too! Stay in touch and see you around!

    Comment by Fer — May 14, 2007 #

  4. Betsy! How gorgeous is that tart?? Jeez. I’m knitting my mom a scarf… still.

    I’m going to check these books out, as I’m trolling on Amazon and Jessica’s right now.

    Good to see you the other night, but let’s sneak in a good Chenin rouge at the next event, non?


    Comment by Lesa Sullivan — May 25, 2007 #

  5. Er, Chinon.

    Comment by Lesa Sullivan — May 25, 2007 #

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