SSimple spring vegetable dishes like this have always featured prominently in our family. When we were vacationing in Sicily I used to make a little stew with the long, supple, green zucchini trombetta, which is kind of a cross between a zucchini and a pumpkin. I would sauté it with onions and garlic, add spinach and peas, cover with white wine and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Vignarola is simply a celebration of that time in spring when you have an abundance of beautiful artichokes, and the first of beans and peas.
It’s so simple, but what makes it special is that the vegetables are cooked one after the other in olive oil and with the least amount of water, so each tastes totally . As the season progresses, you can remove some vegetables and add others, such as spinach or chard, but keep the essence of the dish by using good frozen beans and peas. I like to have what’s left in the fridge to mash up for a sandwich, with burrata and toast, or reheat with grilled chicken or steak.
One spring holiday morning in Puglia, for brunch I quickly made a vignarola with fresh peas and beans that I had bought at the market as well as some peak of rapa (turnip greens). I toasted some bread, fried a few eggs from the local farm, broke them up and mixed them with the vegetables, which I mashed up a bit, and we ate in bowls, sat facing the sea, and it was like if some of the best food I had had in my life.
For 6 persons
artichokes 4 small
olive oil a little
spring onions 5, chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh beans 200g, in pod
fresh peas 200g, in pod
fresh mint leaves ten
“Turning” or preparing an artichoke is a bit tedious, but not difficult. What you have to remember is that artichokes discolor very quickly, so once cut, you have to pass them directly in acidulated water with lemon juice.
Prepare a large bowl of cold water. Cut a lemon in half, squeeze the juice into the water, then also put the lemon halves. Then, as you work, you can either soak the artichoke in the lemon water or simply use the halved lemons to rub them directly on the exposed surfaces.
Hold the artichoke in one hand, then work around it, breaking off and discarding the tough outer leaves from the base, until you reach the soft, yellow leaves below. Cut off the bottom of the stem and, using a small paring knife, cut the stringy outer part all the way around the stem, down to the core. Cut and scrape the tough bits around the base of each artichoke.
Finally, cut off the spiny tops from each of the remaining leaves using a sharp knife, then slice all the way up the artichoke – removing about 2cm – enough to remove the spiny tops and reveal the choke at inside.
Because the artichoke is actually a flower bud, the most important thing for it is to put out its seeds, so even when cut by its stem from the plant, the strangle – or barb, as I calls her – will continue to grow, trying to become a flower.
If the artichoke was freshly harvested or is very small, the choke will hardly have formed, but the longer it has been cut from the plant, or the older or larger it is, the more the choke will have developed. So you have to scoop it out with a teaspoon. The easiest way to do this is to first cut the artichokes in half lengthwise. As soon as the artichokes are halved and the chokes removed, cut them into quarters and keep them in acidulated water until you are ready to use them.
Heat a little olive oil in a pan, add the spring onions and cook briefly. Drain the artichokes and add them to the pan. Season, cover and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beans with a few tablespoons of water and cook for another 2 minutes, then add the peas, plus another 2 tablespoons of water. Cook for another 2 minutes, adding a little water if necessary. Each vegetable should now be tender and the water should have been absorbed.
Finish with the mint leaves. Eat hot or cold.
From Made at Home by Giorgio Locatelli (HarperCollins, £26)