Every Tuesday, Italian local Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: A celebration of spring vegetables, the Roman way.
This Roman stew known as Vignarola can only be properly made for those several weeks when fava beans, peas, and artichokes are all at their sweetest and their best. To make the stew, the beans and peas are podded and the artichokes cleaned and cut into wedges. Along with some pancetta (or guanciale, or both) and finely sliced onions (or spring onions), the vegetables are braised with salt, olive oil, water, and their own juices until soft. In the most traditional of recipes, finely shredded lettuce is often included, and sometimes white wine is added or used instead of water. Mint or the Roman herb mentuccia (calamint) can also be included, giving a refreshing lift to the braise. Want a vegetarian version? Easy: Leave out the pancetta. There's also this version by Roman resident, Rachel Roddy.
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Because this dish depends so much on the nature of the vegetables used, the cooking time can differ (which explains why, depending on which recipe you read, cooking time can be between 20 minutes or 2 hours). While many recipes simply call for a mingling of all the vegetables in the pot together, those in fear of overcooking the vegetables might like my method: The artichokes, favas, and peas are cooked bit by bit, each taking a turn. Just remember to note how your own vegetables seem and adjust accordingly. Also, you may like your vignarola soupy or only just held together with a bit of moisture: You can adjust the consistency by braising for more or less time.
It's best when you let the stew sit for a few minutes to settle, then serve it warm, or even at room temperature, rather than hot, and always with crusty bread. Like so many good, rustic dishes, the leftovers are even better the next day (and delicious dressing pasta).
4 to 5 medium globe artichokes Juice of half a lemon 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 pounds (1 kilogram) whole fava beans in their pods 2 pounds (1 kilogram) fresh peas in their pods (or about 1 pound shelled fresh or frozen peas) 1 1/2 ounces (40 grams) pancetta, thinly sliced and chopped into thin strips 2 small spring onions, sliced finely 1 small head romaine lettuce, shredded finely Handful of mint, torn Salt and freshly ground pepper