Spring is in the air. The flowers are blossoming, the birds are singing and the sun is shining…sometimes. After the dark slumber of winter, the world seems abuzz with life. We are starting to pack away our jumpers and winter coats with a hopeful eye on the weather.
Spring lambs are arriving and what was the dreary produce section of the grocery store previously packed with root vegetables, cabbage and plastic out-of-season tomatoes, is now offering plump, firm asparagus, waxy new potatoes, soft juicy pods of broad beans/fava beans and peppery rocket. As the days get longer and the sun shines stronger, I am filled with joy and the inspiration to cook.
Vignarola is a quintessential Roman spring dish made with the best the season has to offer – new peas, baby broad beans and tender artichokes. The name vignarola harks back to the days when vineyards grew these vegetables in between the vines, a practice which has been replaced with grass in many places as it offers the perfect amount of stress on the grape vines. Vignarola is delicious served as a starter with bread or as a side dish, particularly with spring lamb. Make extra as it is even more enjoyable the next day. Although not traditional, it can also be tossed with pasta and served as a first course. Leave out the pancetta to make the dish vegetarian.
Vignarola (Roman spring vegetable stew)
- 40 mls extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 scallions / green onions, rinsed, ends removed and chopped
- 60 grams pancetta or guanciale (can substitute streaky bacon)
- 4 large artichokes (mammole) or 8 small artichokes, cleaned, finely sliced and soaked in acidulated water (see a guide here)
- 1 handful lettuce, washed and finely sliced (Romaine lettuce is a good option)
- a few leaves of pennyroyal (mentuccia) (optional)
- 2 kilos fresh baby broad beans, podded, beans boiled in water, shocked in ice water and skin removed(see a guide here) or 800 grams frozen broad peans, skin removed
- 600 grams frozen peas
- 100 ml white wine (can substitute water)
- Sea salt
- In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil, scallions and pancetta over low heat until the scallions become soft, about 2 minutes.
- Add the artichokes, pennyroyal and white wine and cover. Cook for 10 minutes.
- Add the lettuce, peas and broad beans. Add salt to taste.
- Cover and cook for another 20 minutes. The total cooking time will depend on the size/age of the peas and broad beans. The larger and older they are, the longer it will take and some recipes will call for up to an hour cooking time (in which case more liquid will be needed to keep the dish moist).
What is your favourite spring dish? Please share below.