Grilled Fiddleheads with Vegan Walnut Pesto

Grilled Fiddlehead Ferns with Vegan Walnut Pesto l

Some say to stop and smell the roses. I say to stop and admire the vegetables.

I love to grocery shop, and my favorite part is staring at shelves of fresh vegetables at Whole Foods or seasonal freshness at farmers market stalls. I gaze at the mixed colors and textures almost as if I’m admiring a painting, potential recipes churning in my mind. (Tell me honestly, is that totally weird?)

You know what’s even more fun than staring at vegetables? (If you’re into that kind of thing). Picking out a vegetable you’ve never worked with before. For me, that was recently romanesco and dinosaur kale. With fiddleheads still in season in New England, it was time I picked up a bag…mostly so I can rightfully call myself a proper New Englander.

Grilled Fiddlehead Ferns with Vegan Walnut Pesto l

Fiddleheads are commonly described as a “New England spring delicacy.” There are many varieties of fiddleheads, but the variety considered safest for human consumption is the fiddleheads of the ostrich fern. The fiddleheads are actually the fronds of the fern, and they get their name from the coiled frond that looks like the end of a fiddle (how lovely is that?)

Fiddleheads are said to taste like a cross between asparagus and spinach. I personally get more of a mild, spinach-like flavor. Very subtle considering the exotic look of these fern fronds.

Fiddleheads are traditionally cooked simply, either by steaming or boiling then lightly sautéing with butter, salt, and pepper. Even though it’s not quite summer, I opted for the flavors of summer – grilling and pesto.
Grilled Fiddlehead Ferns with Vegan Walnut Pesto l

Really, is there anything better than the smoky, charred flavor from the grill and summery basil overload of pesto?

I adapted the classic pine nut and Parmesan based pesto for a healthier approach to the grilled fiddleheads. I omitted the dairy, swapped out pine nuts for walnuts, added fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, and a lot of lemon. The additional acid adds a layer of brightness to the dish, complementing the earthy nuttiness of the fiddleheads.

And that smoky, charred flavor? That goes really well with the rustic, straight from the farm essence of fiddleheads.

Grilled Fiddlehead Ferns with Vegan Walnut Pesto l

A word of caution about cooking and consuming fiddleheads (bet you didn’t expect I would say that). When reading up about fiddleheads, I was surprised to learn that they’re not all good clean fun.

Consuming raw or undercooked fiddleheads has been linked to foodborne illness. Lame. Fiddleheads should never be eaten raw. They should also be thoroughly cleaned before cooking. Rinse the fiddleheads and submerge in cool water, cleaning them gently with your fingers to remove any dirt bits and the brown papery coating around the coiled heads. (I had to drain, rinse, and submerge a few times to get the fiddleheads clean enough).

Sautéing, grilling, or stir-frying fiddleheads as the sole cooking method is not recommended to cook them through safely. You should always steam or boil the fiddleheads first. If you’re concerned or ever in doubt about how to properly cook fiddleheads, steam for 10-12 minutes or boil for 15 minutes.

For more information on safely purchasing and preparing fiddleheads, check out the University of Maine’s Facts on Fiddleheads.

Grilled Fiddlehead Ferns with Vegan Walnut Pesto l

I would love from you and your experiences with fiddleheads. How do you prepare them? Please share in the comments!

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Grilled Fiddleheads with Vegan Walnut Pesto
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Grilled fiddleheads with a gluten-free and vegan walnut pesto. Perfect as a side dish or tossed with pasta.
Serves: 4 servings
  • 8oz fresh fiddleheads (about 75 fiddleheads), thoroughly cleaned
  • 4oz package fresh basil, stems removed (about 3 packed cups)
  • ½ cup fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup crushed walnuts
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Rinse the fiddleheads under cool water in a colander or strainer. Place in a bowl filled with cool water and let soak for one minute. Gently massage with your fingertips to remove the papery skins and any dirt. Drain and rinse. Repeat 2-3 times, until fiddleheads are cleaned. Trim the ends and set aside.
  2. Fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the fiddleheads and boil for 10 minutes.
  3. While fiddleheads are boiling, fill a large bowl with cold water and ice. Drain the fiddleheads and place in the ice water bath to "shock" them, stopping the cooking.
  4. Drain and pat dry with a paper towel. Set aside as you prepare the pesto.
  5. In a blender or food processor, pulse the basil, parsley, and garlic cloves a few times until finely minced. Add the walnuts, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, and water. Pulse until combined. Slowly add in the olive oil until the pesto turns creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Heat the grill on high. Gently toss the fiddleheads with ½ of the pesto until coated. Place fiddleheads in a grilling veggie basket. Grill for about 3-4 minutes with the grill lid closed. Flip once then grill for another 3-4 minutes. Fiddleheads will be done with they are tender.
  7. Remove fiddleheads from the grill and place in a bowl.
  8. Toss grilled fiddleheads with additional pesto, either a spoonful or two or the remaining amount of pesto. Serve immediately.
Consuming raw or undercooked fiddleheads increases your risk of foodborne illness. Be sure to thoroughly clean and cook the fiddleheads through before consuming.


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    • says

      I’ve seen quite a few recently, too. The season for them is wrapping up so folks are getting fiddleheads in while they can (myself included). Hope you find them!

  1. says

    I am crazy about fiddleheads and I haven’t been able to find them in my area this year! I wonder if it’s too late…I would love to be able to try this – I bet pesto is the perfect way to flavor them!

    • says

      I know! You think eggs, meat, and fish undercooked would be the only cause of foodborne illness – not a veggie like fiddleheads. Crazy. Hope you’re able to find some to try!

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