There is never a bad time to dine in Rome, but spring is a particular highlight. Your local farmer’s market will soon offer up just about all of the ingredients to prepare the classic Roman stew known as Vignarola. This fresh and exceptional dish is best only for those several weeks when fava beans (or shelling beans), spring onions, shelling peas, and tender artichokes are all at their sweetest and their best. While artichokes do not thrive in our Hudson Valley spring, just about every other ingredient can been found locally. Either omit the artichoke or say, “so what if one ingredient is not home grown?” The traditional version uses pancetta or guanciale (or both), but this can easily became a vegetarian dish on its own or even a base to toss into a springtime pasta or stirred into a Parmesan risotto.
This easy to prepare “stew” really isn’t what you’re accustomed to with the thicker more liquidy winter versions – it’s much more about the vegetables than the braising juices. The vegetables cook in water, a splash of white wine, and their own juices until only just softened and brightly colored. Mentuccia (calamint) may be added in Rome. Mint, fresh Italian parsley, or spring chives are a great Hudson Valley touch. Enjoy it slightly warm or at room temperature. If you find you have leftovers, a next day frittata is a delicious spring option!
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 large lemons, halved
4 medium artichokes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ounces of pancetta or guanciale cut into thin strips
4 spring onions, white and light green portions thinly sliced
9 small (1 to 2 inches in diameter) red potatoes, quartered (optional)
½ cup dry white wine
2 cups water or vegetable broth
12 asparagus spears, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal into ¾-inch pieces
1 cup fresh fava beans, removed from pods**
1 cup fresh shelled peas
¼ cup snipped fresh chives
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons finely grated parmesan plus shaved parmesan for garnish (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
**Once removed from pod, fava beans should be blanched in boiling salted water for 2 to 3 minutes then drained and plunged into ice water. Their papery outer skin can now be easily removed.
Squeeze 2 lemon halves into a large bowl filled with 1 quart of water. Add the squeezed lemon halves to bowl. Working with 1 artichoke at a time, bend back the outer leaves close to the base until they snap off where they break naturally. Discard the layers until the exposed leaves are pale green at top and pale yellow at base. Using a small sharp knife, trim the outside edge of the base until it is smooth and no dark green areas remain; trim off the top leaves. Rub the base with the remaining lemon halves. Cut the artichoke lengthwise into 4 wedges. Using a small knife, cut out the choke and the small purple-tipped leaves, then halve again. Place the artichoke wedges into lemon water.
Using a large skillet, cook the pancetta in the olive oil over low-medium heat. When crisp and most of the fat has rendered, remove and transfer to a paper towel lined plate. In the same pan, sauté the spring onions over low heat until soft and translucent, a few minutes. Drain the artichokes, and add them and the potatoes (if you’re using them) to the pan the skillet and cook, stirring often, for 4 to 5 minutes. Pour in the wine, simmer, and reduce the liquid to a few spoonfuls, about 6 minutes. Add water broth and bring to a boil. Return the pancetta to the pan and add half of the asparagus, fava beans, and peas, cover, and simmer the stew, for 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining asparagus, fava beans, and peas, and 2 tablespoons of each of the herbs. Let the mixture simmer, partly covered, for about 4 minutes, or until the potatoes, artichokes, and peas are tender, then add up to another cup of water if necessary. Stir in the remaining herbs and add the Parmesan, then season with salt and pepper. Serve topped with shaved Parmesan.
Serving suggestions: For a distinctly Roman version, shred a small head of Romaine lettuce and add to the mixture during the last minute of cooking. Serve this delicious stew with crusty bread and a couple of wedges of local cheese.