Celebrate Spring with Vignarola
Vignarola is an Italian vegetable stew that gloriously celebrates spring in all her glory. It’s comprised of young, tender artichokes, fava beans, sweet peas, spring onions and lettuce braised in a light broth punctuated with fresh mint and lemon. After reading several variations of Vignarola, also called Frittedda in Sicily, I concluded Italians are a lot like people from Provence: everyone will argue about what is authentic and what is blasphemous concerning recipes. With vignarola, the arguments seem to center around: do you add guanciale or not; is fennel accepted or not; is it even legal to add potatoes?
I am reminded of my own heated conversations with my Marseille born mother Mishou over how to make a proper ratatouille. She advocated cutting everything larger than I usually do, and slowly stewing it together. She correctly points out that my version is more a restaurant one than a home styled one, as all the ingredients are cut finely, cooked separately, then mixed together at the last moment.
People don’t eat methods, they eat results
Don’t feel constrained by someone elses recipe, life’s too short for rules. Louis Szathmary, one of my most influential mentors, always said ‘people don’t eat methods, they eat results.’ Make your own rendition, just make sure it tastes great. I would counsel you to use your farmers market as a guide by only buying things at their peak season. Like ratatouille, vignarola is best three days later when the flavors have married together. It is wonderful served on it’s own, but will benefit greatly being served with everything from freshly made pasta, seafood, lamb and chicken.
We ate our vignarola with sauteed Petrale sole simply cooked in butter with a squeeze of lemon. I am confident my version will surely offend some purists, nonetheless, here it is. Hashtag us at #PistouAndPastis to show us your efforts!
A Roman springtime vegetable stew made with artichokes, fava beans, sweet peas and lettuce.
- 3 ounces pancetta or guanciale optional
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 8 baby artichokes trimmed and cut in half
- 2 spring onions sliced
- 2 cloves garlic rough chopped
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 cup water
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup fava beans shucked
- 1 cup English peas shucked
- 1 head romaine lettuce sliced
- 1 bunch red veined sorrel sliced
- 1 lemon zested
- 1 tablespoon mint chopped
- 1 tablespoon parsley chopped
Slowly cook sliced pancetta in olive oil until it starts to turn golden on both sides, about five minutes.
I am not a 'rub the artichoke with lemon' kind of guy. I base this on 20 years of cooking lots of artichokes without one turning the dread black. Trim the outer leaves off, cut the top quarter off and peel stem. Cut in half, and toss into the hot oil and pancetta.
If the artichoke is small enough you can eat the choke and most of the outer leaves. I once made a video of me peeling artichokes with my little boy. https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=q--t1Qe5I6Q
Add two sliced spring onions, and continue cooking for 5 minutes over moderate heat. I eat every part of spring onions, including the greens.
Add garlic and cook till your kitchen is very aromatic.
Add white wine, water and bay leaf and simmer for 15 minutes till the artichoke is tender.
In another part, bring salted water to a boil and blanch shucked fava beans. Dip into ice water and peel away outer membrane. Peeling favas is another controversial restaurant move. Purists say if the fava is young enough you eat the membrane. I prefer them peeled because they are sweeter, better flavored and more vivid green.
When artichokes are cooked, add the peas, favas, sliced romaine and sorrel and lemon zest. You may need to add a splash of water as well. Cook for two or three minutes till peas are done.
Add chopped mint and parsley, adjust seasoning, perhaps add a splash of flavorful olive oil and eat.