One the one hand, a couple weeks of indulgent eating usually requires a week of boring super light meals to compensate for the excess of the last week or so. If included in this vacation series is a week of visiting family and a spectacular array of favorite meals, trips to favorite restaurants and of course a few infamous donuts however, it's probably time to lighten things up a bit. On the other hand however, after sampling dishes from Philadelphia's finest and rediscovering some of the dishes responsible for our love of all things food however, who wants a bland-boring-tasteless low calorie dish. No one. Your still holding on to the adventures undertaken by your palate and the memories you've just made. Hence, instead of a boring-back-from-vacation salad, we offer you instead a plate of these two dishes--a combination of vegetables and protein packed legumes to help you feel satisfied and a nice way to reminisce about recent adventures.
In case you are unfamiliar with the green snail shaped vegetable, these are the elusive fiddlehead ferns. In the US, fiddlehead ferns are typically found throughout the north east and new england states and harvested in early spring. How we managed to stumble across an abundance of these beauties in July I'm not entirely sure, but we wont complain! The fronds supposedly have a number of health benefits, including twice as much antioxidant power as blueberries. Be warned however, when undercooked they can not only be exceptionally bitter, but can also cause stomach troubles. Taste wise, they have a texture similar to asparagus, and while some describe the taste as similar too, we actually found the taste to be somewhat earthier. Most sources recommend blanching them in boiling water for two minutes twice if possible, but at least once. Once you've blanched them, quickly sauté with a little fat or oil, and season appropriately. Naturally, when trying to eat healthier or lighter we decide to use bacon for the oil or fat component and flavor. Maybe it all evens out in the end, but even if not the bacon provides a delicious depth of flavor somewhat reminiscent of southern style green beans and bacon that taste best only from a grandmothers table.
Sautéd Fiddlehead Ferns
1/2 lb Fiddlead ferns, washed, long woody stems and dark spots removed.
2 Pieces of thick cut bacon
Salt & Pepper to Taste
Sufficient Water and Ice Water for Blanching
1. Clean fiddlehead ferns while bringing a large pot of water boil. Prepare ice bath.
2. Once water is boiling, place fiddlehead ferns in water and return to a boil. Allow to cook for two minutes.Quickly drain and place ferns in ice bath to stop cooking.
3. Change water and bring a second pot of water to a boil. Prepare second ice bath. Repeat step2.
4. Once ferns are in second ice bath, fry bacon in heavy frying pan until crisp. Remove bacon and approx 1/3 of bacon grease and reserve and allow pan to cool slightly. Place ferns in warm grease and sauté over high heat until brown spots begin to appear. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Our other tastier dinner choice was a cheesy bacon and lentil dish reminiscent of mac & cheese. I know, you see bacon and mac & cheese and lighter options are not high up there on you initial thoughts. But, we consider this a better alternative. Instead of filling up on pasta, you get to feel up on the protein from the lentils with the smoky rewarding flavors of a bacon mac & cheese. For us, this dish reminded us vaguely of the truffled mac & cheese we devoured from Varga while in Philly.
Faux Mac & Cheese
1/2 Cup Split Orange Lentils, picked over and rinsed
3/4 Cup Water
2 Pieces of Crisped Bacon and approx 1 Tbsp of reserved bacon grease
1/2 Small Shallot, Minced
1 Garlic Clove
1/4 Onion Chopped
1/4 Cup Sharp Italian Cheese (i.e. Pecorino)
Salt & Pepper to Taste
1. In small saucepan, bring water to boil over medium high heat. Add lentils and bring to a boil. Cook for two minutes and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer 15-20 minutes until tender.
2. Meanwhile, in skillet, sauté garlic, onion, and shallot in bacon grease until tender.
3. Once lentils are tender, quickly add to skillet with garlic and onions and gently stir over low heat to combine. Add bacon, cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.
No matter where your summer adventures may have taken you or may take you soon, consider keeping the adventures going when you return to your home kitchen! Enjoy!