Here, on this lovely blue tray, is an array of stray Spring vegetables: fresh peas in their pod, fresh broadbeans or fava beans as they are called in North America, artichokes — and asparagus, but we won’t talk about the asparagus in this post.
The recipe for today is called: Vignarola and is typical of the area of Latium and Rome.
The sprouting of these vegetables was an annoucement that Winter was formally over, and people could look to Nature’s exuberance much like in Chaucer’s Prologue:
When in April the sweet showers fall
That pierce March’s drought to the root and all
And bathed every vein in liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower:
When Zyphyr also has with his sweet breath,
Filled again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and leaves …. etc.
You get the picture …!
Vignarola, pronounced: vee-nee-ah-rol-ah, is a vegetable dish composed of three basic Spring-time veggies that were commonly found growing in the vineyard (the word ‘vigna’ means vine or vineyard in Italian) at this time of year — peas, broadbeans or fava beans, and artichokes. And the asparagus is there because it is not uncommon to add asparagus to this dish these days. Or even salad greens.
This recipe is not a difficult one but it does call for cooking the peas, broadbeans and artichokes separately before they are brought together for a final frolic prior to serving.
And ditto for freshly shelled broadbeans …
It just so happened (! these things do happen) that I couldn’t find enough fresh fava beans or fresh peas for the amount I needed so I added some frozen ones. Fresh is naturally best and that is what I recommend. I also make the point, however, that a Vignarola can be made even with the frozen veggies.
Here, just below, you can see the fresh peas in the forefront, and the frozen just behind.
And here now are some more ingredients: an onion, a couple of spring onions, and two thick slices of pancetta. The artichokes have been trimmed and quartered and are ‘resting’ in a bowl filled with cold water and lemon juice (this prevents them from turning black/oxidising).
The artichokes will need to be chopped more finely, literally minutes before being sautéd in a saucepan. Our ingredients are all ready and waiting. Cooking can now begin!
FIRST THE PEAS
Fill the bottom of the casserole with a good drizzle of olive oil. Roughly chop the spring onion, turn on the heat and …. ssshhhh … big secret … add a teaspoon of sugar. I know peas are sweet anyway but sugar is a taste enhancer … just like salt. So a ‘pinch’ of sugar works wonders for this dish.
Add the fresh peas first …
After a minute or so, add the frozen peas and give it all a good stir.
Pour some boiling water into the casserole, enough to ‘cover’ the peas … in this instance it was just under one glass of water. Cook the peas until tender, being careful to not overcook. In my case it took about 10 minutes.
SECOND – COOK THE BROADBEANS
In another pan, add olive oil and the very thinly sliced onion. I added a couple of pepper kernels because I adore pepper. Turn on the heat and cook the onion until golden …
Add the chopped pancetta …. if you prefer guanciale (pork jowl) to pancetta, by all means use that.
Add the broadbeans ….
Use a wooden spoon to mix and make sure that all the beans are coated with the olive oil …
Again, add a glass of boiling water … and cook until tender. Please note that some people ‘peel’ the broadbeans before cooking them. I haven’t got that kind of patience myself and, what’s more, when these beans are just beginning to be in season … they are tender! they don’t need to be peeled at all.
THIRD – COOKING THE ARTICHOKES (CARCIOFI)
Drain the artichokes, slice them into thinner cuts. Heat some olive oil in the saucepan and add artichoke …
A pinch of salt and pepper …
These carciofi need about 15 minutes to cook (because they have been sliced quite thinly) … I am doing the show-offy thing of tossing the pan so that they get a good stir. But you can mix them just as well and less theatrically using a wooden spoon!
THE MIXING BEGINS
Once the artichoke is tender, add the cooked broadbeans …
Mix well …
Then transfer both the artichokes and the fave beans to the casserole which had the peas in it (i.e. transfer from a smaller pan into the bigger pan).
Again, mix well. Taste and salt and pepper if you like.
Turn the heat off. Add some fresh mint leaves.
The vignarola is very hot and there is lots of it. The casserole is very heavy. Do the sensible thing and use a slotted spoon or a ladle to transfer the vignarola from the casserole to the serving dish.
When you’ve finished, pour all the liquid from the casserole into the serving dish.
Mix well … let it cool. Vignarola is served best at room temperature. Enjoy!
And … if you have any leftovers, you can even make a vignarola pasta.
P.S. Another version of vignarola adds some very fresh and tender lettuce leaves at the very end, when the vignarola has cooled down.
PPS. You can add asparagus to the mix too …