Stewed Spring Vegetables (La Vignarola)
In springtime, la vignarola is a veritable cult food when, for a few magic weeks, young, tender fava beans, sweet shelling peas and locally grown globe artichokes are available simultaneously in the markets. Many Romans insist that the ingredients be cooked together, while others maintain the vegetables must keep their separate identities until near the end, as in this version. Some feel that favas without guanciale is sacrilege; others tout the vegetarian version. Yet all agree that la vignarola fits in nearly anywhere in the meal, as a primo, a light main course or a contorno.
- 3 artichokes
- 2 lb. young, tender fava beans in the pod
- 2 lb. young, tender English peas in the pod
- 2 oz. guanciale, pancetta or prosciutto, cut into small strips (optional)
- 1 or 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
- 4 green onions, white and light green portions, thinly sliced
- 1 cup water, plus more as needed
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Prepare the artichokes as directed for Braised Whole Artichokes, omitting the garlic (see related recipe at left) Set aside.
Shell the fava beans and peas and set them aside in separate bowls. If using larger, older fava beans, bring a pot three-fourths full of water to a boil over high heat. Add the fava beans and blanch for 20 seconds. Drain and let cool. Split open the skin of each bean along its edge and slip the bean from the skin. Discard the skins. If using small, new favas, leave the skins on.
If using guanciale, place in a pan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to brown and render some of its fat, 2 to 3 minutes. If using pancetta or prosciutto, warm 1 Tbs. of the olive oil in the saucepan over medium heat, then add the pancetta or prosciutto and cook as described for guanciale. Add half of the green onions and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the fava beans, stir a couple of times, and add about 1/2 cup water, a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the beans are just tender, about 20 minutes; the timing will depend on their size and age. Check the water level occasionally and add more as needed to keep a little liquid in the pan.
Meanwhile, in another saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil. Add the remaining green onions and sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in the peas and add about 1/2 cup water, a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the peas are just tender, about 15 minutes; the timing will depend on their size and age. Be careful not to overcook the peas to the point where they lose their lovely green color.
When both the favas and the peas are cooked, combine them and their cooking liquid in a single saucepan and set aside.
Cut the braised artichokes in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 4 or 6 wedges and scrape away any sharp leaves or choke in the center of each wedge. Chop the wedges coarsely and add them to the peas and favas.
Place the saucepan over low heat, cover and simmer until the vegetables are heated through, 10 to 15 minutes. Uncover, drizzle with a little olive oil, and transfer to a warmed serving bowl or individual plates and serve immediately. Or let cool, cover and refrigerate; the vegetables are even better reheated the next day. Serves 4 to 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Rome, by Maureen B. Fant (Oxmoor House, 2005).