Vignarola epitomizes Spring. This classic stew of artichokes, fava beans, peas, and potatoes is one of the most popular Italian dishes, especially in Rome, where these vegetables are cherished as Spring delicacies. With their arrival at outdoor markets, there is excitement in the air. People shake off the winter doldrums, store their winter clothes, and lighten up; smiles appear as they choose the best of these fresh vegetables. Warmth, sun, sand and sea beckon; school term ends in a few months and vacations begin. It’s Vignarola time!
The cook begins by making a quick soffritto of salumi, pancetta or guanciale, flavored with onions and garlic. Baby artichokes, fava beans, and peas are added, and sometimes tiny new potatoes. Vary proportions according to what you have on-hand. Braise together in dry white wine or water until tender making a delicate natural sauce lightly coating the mix. Some cooks prefer their dish to be "meaty" by adding chicken or vegetable broth, but for me, these spring vegetables are perfect as is.
Fresh mint adds a sweet herbaceous note and needs no other herb, although whole leaf parsley pairs well. I like experimenting so I add fresh parsley and sweet marjoram in place of mint. Some cooks add mentuccia, known as lesser calamint or nepitella, because it is so fond of artichokes. Add only that herb because of its menthol quality.
When presenting La Vignarola as an antipasto or main dish with crunchy grilled bruschetta, serve it warm or at room temperature to allow its marvelous flavors to fully blossom. It is superb as a sauce tossed with your favorite pasta. As a side dish, pair it with roasted, broiled, or grilled main dishes. With a flavor so addictive, this simple vegetable stew tastes succulent any way you wish to serve it.
Up to 8 servings as an antipasto or side dish or 4 servings as a pasta dish or main dish
2 tablespoons (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces (113 g) chopped pancetta or guanciale (1 cup or 237 ml volume)
4 small spring onions, thinly sliced (1 cup or 237 ml volume)
8 large garlic cloves, peeled, slightly crushed
2 pounds (907 g) baby artichokes, trimmed and quartered (about 16 to 20 small)
OR 8 large artichoke hearts, sliced thinly
2 pounds (907 g) fresh fava bean in their pods
OR 6 ounces (170 g) shelled fresh or frozen fava beans (3/4 cup or 177 ml volume)
10 ounces (283 g) shelled spring peas (2 cups or 473 ml volume)
12 ounces (340 g) new potatoes, peel or leave skin on, halved or quartered (2 1/4 cups or 532 ml volume) boil or steam, optional
1 cup (8 ounces or 237 ml) dry white wine or water or broth
Fresh herbs to taste (Select one or a mix of mint, mentuccia or calamint, sweet marjoram, parsley)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Fresh lemon juice and zest to taste
Preparation: * Artichokes: For edible whole baby artichokes, trim and quarter lengthwise. For large mature artichokes, trim down to the heart, then thinly slice. Immediately immerse cut artichokes in a bowl of acidulated cold water with fresh lemon juice or a splash of white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar to reduce discoloration. Reserve the edible leaves, cook and use as a trim or garnish for any platter.
* Fava Beans: Fresh Fava Beans are sold encased in their long, soft pods, or if removed from their pods, fava beans are sold fresh or frozen. Usually cooks prefer to blanch the podded fava beans and peel off the thick skin, but it is your choice. Small favas are tender and do not need to be peeled, but large ones, the size of lima beans, often do. Blanching Fava Beans: Remove the fava beans from their pods and discard pods. In a saucepan, bring water WITHOUT SALT to a rolling boil. Add the fresh fava beans and blanch for 10 to 15 seconds for small beans and up to 45 seconds for large, mature beans. Drain in a colander, immediately run cold water over to stop the cooking, drain. Optional: Peel off the thick outer skin and discard the skin. Inside is a bright green smooth fava bean which splits into halves.
*Peas: If the fresh peas are small, add them fresh to the mix. If they are large, blanch them in boiling water for up to 2 minutes. Drain in a colander, immediately run cold water over to stop the cooking, drain.
* Potatoes: Leave skin on the potatoes or remove, as you wish. Cut new potatoes in half or quarters. Either steam or boil the potatoes until al dente. Do not cook until soft because all vegetables will braise together creating the stew. If added raw to the vegetable stew, it would take too much time to cook the potatoes thoroughly and the other ingredients would overcook.
1. Soffritto: In a large non-stick pan, warm the olive oil over low heat. Slowly saute the pancetta or guanciale, with the sliced onion and garlic cloves, over low heat to infuse the oil for 5 to 8 minutes or until fragrant without burning. Stir occasionally.
2. Braising: Drain the artichokes. Add the artichokes and saute them for about 5 minutes without burning. Increase the heat to high. Pour in the white wine or water and deglaze the pan, reduce the wine or water by about half which takes 1 to 2 minutes. Partially cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer the artichokes until they are barely tender when pierced with a fork, for about 5 minutes. If more liquid is needed to keep the mixture moist and prevent burning, pour in a spoonful of water.
Add the fava beans, peas, and potatoes, saute for a few minutes until al dente. Just before finishing, add fresh herbs, they wilt quickly. Briefly stir the vegetables for flavors to blend. Remove from the heat, and remove the garlic cloves. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and allow the Vignarola to cool down. It tastes better served warm or room temperature. Usually the vegetables need a bit of acid, so squeeze two lemon halves over, then stir in the fresh lemon juice, and add some fresh lemon zest. Garnish with more fresh herbs. Enjoy every luscious bite.