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Vignarola

Vignarola

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Vignarola is a spring vegetable stew hailing from Rome. An explosion of flavour and greenness, it is in season when its three main components – broad beans, peas, and artichokes – overlap at the market and are at their sweetest and most tender, normally from April to late May.

As it happens with most Italian traditional dishes, there are as many versions of vignarola as there are cooks. However, the basic concept remains pretty much unchanged: the vegetables are slowly braised in a mix of olive oil and water and/or white wine until glistening and tender and bursting with flavour. Some recipes call for a soffritto of guanciale (or pancetta) and onions (or spring onions) before the rest of the vegetables are added to the pan. Some others swear by the inclusion of some finely shredded lettuce (another spring crop). Fresh mint or calamint (nepitella or mentuccia) are traditional garnishes, though it’s not uncommon to see a handful of finely chopped parsley thrown in, too.

Whenever I make vignarola – and that’s about twice a week when the season is in full swing – I tend to skip the cured pork in favour of an extra glug of good olive oil. Normally, I opt for spring onions, to which the artichokes are added, then the cooking liquid (a plentiful mix of water and white wine that will reduce but remain abundant at the end), then a lid. At the very end, I stir in the rest – broad beans first, then the peas. The lot is finally left to mingle and absorb some cooking juices for a couple of minutes, just enough for the peas and beans to be softened while still bursting. At the very end, in goes a dusting of parsley (or, if you prefer, roughly torn mint), which will wilt ever so slightly in the steamy pile as it’s removed from the heat.

Vignarola lends itself to many ways of serving. For instance, it makes a great sidekick to grilled lamb chops or fresh cheese, from ricotta to burrata to spring-y pecorino. I also like it tossed with spaghetti or bucatini, then covered in grated pecorino romano, or piled on toast for a quick, picnic-style lunch. If served on its own or on the side, remember to let it rest for a short while in the pan so it can settle and cool down; also, keep plenty of good bread handy to mop up the cooking juices.

Ingredients

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Method

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1
To start the vignarola, cut the lemon in half and keep it handy. Prepare the artichokes by first removing the outer tougher leaves. Using a small serrated knife, cut off the tips of the artichokes and three-quarters of the stem. Pare away any remaining remaining tough bit from the base of the artichoke and the outer part of the stalk to reveal the white core. (Squeeze some lemon juice over the artichokes as you go.) Cut each artichoke half into quarters, removing any hairy choke. Drench them in lemon juice and set aside
2
Heat the oil in a large skillet set over a medium heat. Add the sliced spring onions and fry them gently, until soft and translucent. Next, add the artichokes and stir to coat them in oil. Pour over the wine and water, season, cover with a lid and allow them to cook for 12–15 minutes, stirring every so often
3
Add the shelled peas and broad beans. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and cook for 2–3 minutes, just enough for them to soften and brighten. At the very end, stir in the chopped parsley (or torn mint). Remove from the heat and leave to rest for 10 minutes
4
Serve warm with plenty of crusty bread
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