Vignarola is a traditional spring dish from Rome. It’s not very common, and is, in effect a vegetable stew, but it brings with it all the freshness and flavours of spring. From outside it’s a dish that is difficult to understand because it doesn’t really fit as an accompaniment to a main course of meat or fish (a secondo we’d call it in Italy), but by itself it would not be eaten as main course. To understand this dish is to understand why in Italy your secondo does not come with vegetables (traditionally, now things are changing): vegetable dishes are to be eaten separately, either before or after your secondo, and certainly not spooned together on the same plate (roast potatoes is however one of the notable exceptions to this). So I would serve vignarola between a pasta dish and a secondo – also a very good way to introduce a new wine to the table (if you find one that you like to pair with artichokes – not all that easy!)
Vignarola is fairly easy to make, but you have to give it time – like any stew – stirring, tasting and checking the right level of liquid in the pan. The key, as ever, is the fresh spring ingredients, during the short window where you can buy fresh artichokes, peas and fava beans at the same time. You could buy the latter two frozen, but the flavour will be slightly flat. Get podding instead, and enjoy the labour of love that is prepping fava beans for cooking. The final dish can be more chunky (like Rachel Roddy’s excellent version here) or (and my favourite version) cooked for longer, and more broken down, almost going towards a mush, similar to the version served at one of Rome’s best traditional restaurants, Piperno. Variations include adding thin slices of pancetta at the start of the cooking process or lettuce cut thinly towards the end.
The olive oil you choose to drizzle on the final dish is influenced by its full and complex flavour – but still retaining freshness and the sense of spring. Try one of the central Italian monocultivars, particularly VIOLA Il Sincero, which is made of moraiolo and has a wonderful peppery and artichoke complexity.
Makes 4 small potions for an in between course spring surprise.
1/2 kg of fresh fava beans (broad beans)
1/2 kg of fresh peas
2 large artichokes
1 large fresh onion (like a cipollotto or a few spring onions), sliced.
1 large glass of white wine
Seasoning to taste
Which EVOO to use?
VIOLA Il Sincero, which is made of moraiolo and has a wonderful peppery complexity that brings all of the textures and flavours of broad beans, peas and artichokes to life.
1. In a large bowl of cold water, squeeze in your hand half the lemon and drop what remains of it in the water itself. Cut the artichokes in small chucks, by pulling off the hard outside leaves, cutting off the stem and the top, cutting the whitish bits that are around the base of the artichoke. Cut in half, then again and again until you can’t make a solid cut through (should make 8 wedges, but size varies, so you could end up with more or with less). Put the wedges in the water bowl.
2. Pod the peas and set aside. Pod the the fava beans and wish you bought frozen ones. Any fava bean that is bigger than a lady sized finger nail need their skin taken off, otherwise they will retain a bitter taste in cooking. Blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds, cool down in running water, then snap or cut the top off and squeeze out the middle bean of each one, and set these aside (you can discard the skin of the fava bean).
3. Pour a very generous amount of olive oil in your Le Creuset – enough to nearly drown the sliced onions, and cook these slowly (don’t burn, under any circumstance) until they are nicely translucent and have a green shine (the green is from the olive oil). Put the drained artichokes and allow them to absorb some of that olive oil goodness and glow. Pour the wine and a generous pinch of salt, and leave cooking with a gentle bubble for about 20 minutes (more if you find that the artichoke is a bit firm and needs breaking down further). Add more water if you find it is drying out.
4. Fava beans need 15 minutes cooking time, peas never more than 10, so add them at the right moment, considering that the chunky version will take about 45 minutes cooking in total, while you will need the full hour for the smoother version.
5. When everything has the consistency that you prefer, serve in starter sized portions, with a drizzle of fresh olive oil and a squeeze of lemon from the remaining half lemon to enhance the flavour, as well as more salt, if you haven’t added it during the cooking process, and some pepper. Make sure there is some bread still on the table, as it helps the forking.