The Great Pohole Challenge

Five award-winning chefs share recipes—and oh, how far the humble fern can go!

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Story by Becky Speere | Photography by Mieko Horikoshi

Great Pohole ChallengeIn the Hawaiian language it’s called pohole, in Japanese warabi, in Filipino pako, and in English fiddlehead fern. I feel a bio-culinary kinship to this plant that fed and nurtured our family during hard financial times. As a seven-year-old growing up in the tiny community of Wainaku on the island of Hawai‘i, I’d disappear into the lush patch of green with my mother, Fumiko, breaking the tender stems of the edible fern. That night, dinner would consist of a simple preparation of plantation food: sliced onion sautéed with canned sardines, glass noodles, and tender pohole shoots seasoned with shoyu and sugar. It was savory and delicious served over rice with a salty red ume (pickled plum).

With so much talk about food sovereignty, sustainable agriculture and buying local, I was surprised to learn recently that tons of pohole are shipped off-island for sale. Meanwhile we import asparagus, trading a fern for a fern . . . huh?!?

So I decided to challenge a few Maui chefs to create an original recipe using locally grown pohole. To my delight, they did. Check it out. And as the locals say, “Go try ’em!” Then challenge yourself with these great recipes and go buy ’em!

Pohole Pancetta and Roasted Tomato Pasta

Sale Pepe

Michele De BariWhen I reached out to Qiana Di Bari, co-owner of Sale Pepe Pizzeria e Cucina, she texted back: “Michele is so excited! He loves that vegetable!” Today Chef Michele is at the stove, blanching pohole and exuding excitement. “I’m going to make a pohole dish with pancetta, tomatoes, ricotta salata and our fresh pasta.” He asks, “Have you ever tasted ricotta salata?” and slices a piece of the limestone-white Italian cheese for me to taste. It’s medium-dry and crumbly with a pronounced cow’s-milk flavor. Michele says, “It’s really good in pasta dishes because it melts and will add a creamy finish.”

He dices the fern, musing, “I can use pohole in risotto or as pizza topping. . . .”

With the prep done, the dish comes together in five minutes. The aroma of simmering garlic, cherry tomatoes and pancetta fills the tiny kitchen. A true Italian, Michele asks while plating the dishes, “How about a little glass of prosecco to go with the pasta?” As I bite into the al dente pasta and pohole, I’m thinking I can’t wait to come back for the pohole risotto. Insieme mangiare!

Pohole, Pancetta & Roasted Tomato Pasta with Ricotta Salata

Servings: 2–3
Prep time: 30 minutes

  • ½ lb. pohole
  • 4-5 roasted garlic cloves
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil + 2 Tbsp
  • 1 c. oven-roasted tomatoes (baked in EVOO, salt & pepper for 10 minutes in a 400° oven)
  • ½ c. chicken stock
  • 4 oz. pancetta, thinly sliced and cut into 1” ribbons
  • 2 Tbsp. Parmesan, grated
  • 4 Tbsp. ricotta salata
  • 1 10-oz. package of Bu’Ono pasta*
  • 4 qt. water: 2 Tbsp. salt

Blanch pohole 1 minute, then cool in ice water. Drain and cut pohole into ½” pieces. Add 3 Tbsp. EVOO to a medium-hot sauté pan, add roasted garlic cloves and sauté for 30 seconds. Add pohole, roasted tomatoes and sliced pancetta. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sauté 30 seconds. Add 1/2 c. chicken stock. Reduce sauce, about two minutes.

Cook fresh pasta in salted boiling water for two minutes, or al dente. When the sauce is reduced, add pasta directly from the boiling water (using tongs to drain slightly). Sprinkle with Parmesan and toss well to coat pasta with sauce. (The juices will absorb into the pasta.) Divide pasta onto dinner plates and garnish with finely grated ricotta salata. Drizzle with EVOO. Serve with your best Italian prosecco or malvasia wine from the Piedmont region.

*Sale Pepe’s house-made Bu’Ono Pasta is for sale at the restaurant, and at Foodland Farms in Lahaina, Foodland Kehalani in Wailuku, and Down to Earth in Kahului.

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