I’ve always had a problem with buying too much food. I guess it can be partly blamed on the whole jewish/italian mother in me. Feed the world, starting in my own kitchen. The problem becomes especially severe on my Saturday trips to the farmers’ market. A kilo of this, and a kilo of that, and before i know it I’ve not only got enough to feed an army, but I can’t even fit it all into my fridge.
This problem becomes even worse in the Spring. After months of chicory, cabbage and cauliflower the arrival of artichokes, fave and peas throws me into hyper-drive. Plus, with all those vegetables – peas and fave in their pods and artichokes with their leaves and stems – I can never quite figure out quantities, and always err on the side of too much. (why risk it?)
Which is what happened last weekend. The perfect storm of vegetables. And by perfect storm I mean no way were the three huge bags of fave, artichokes and peas going to fit into my fridge.
So I decided to make something that would use up all three goodies in one dish. My go to dish with this trio of veggies would usually be Vignarola. But I got it fixed in my brain that I wanted to retain the bright green spring hues of the veggies. Vignarola is a lot of things (including delicious) but pretty it ain’t. The vegetables cook all together and become a decidedly homogeneous brown color. Call it stew if you will.
But what if I barely cooked the peas and fave? And what if I highlighted the almost neon green springiness against a blinding white background? Risotto alla Vignarola. Everything you ever wanted in a Vignarola plus rice.
A warning: the entire dish is pretty fussy in terms of preparation. Shelling peas and fave, pealing each fave bean and cleaning the artichokes down to their tender hearts takes time. But since it’s spring you can make a day of it, taking your veggies outside. Domenico and I made short work of the fussiness up on our terrace (while having a cocktail of course.)
A note about ingredients. I used am amazing rice I learned about at Taste, the food fair I went to a few months ago. I actually had never heard of Acquerello, but have since learned is the preferred rice of a lot of top chefs. It was perfect for this risotto, since the grains stayed completely firm, yet the risotto was still creamy.
And since we’re talking about creamy, you’ll see I added a big chunk of Crescenza. This is an Italian fresh cheese, slightly sour and very rich. I learned to add it into risotto (instead of butter) at the end of cooking from Paola when she was making her pumpkin risotto. If you can find it, it’s fantastic. But if not, you could substitute another creamy fresh cheese, like cream cheese or quark.
One thing I didn’t add, since – oddly – it was the one vegetable I managed not to buy that day at the market, was asparagus. So if you’d like to add some steamed asparagus tips at the very end, I think they would be perfect and pretty. Because you can never have too many spring vegetables, right?
Risotto alla Vignarola
1 small onion
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 kilo/2 pounds fresh peas (weight before shelled)
1 kilo/ 2 pouns fresh fave (weight before shelled)
8 medium artichokes
400 grams of rice (arborio or cannaroli)
1/3 cup white wine
1/3 cup crescensza cheese
1/4 cup fresh mint
Light stock, about 1 liter.
Shell peas and fave beans.
Bring small pot of water to boil, and then add shelled fave beans for 45 seconds. Immediately drain and rinse under cool water. The inner beans should now easily pop out of the thick outer skin.
Set peas and fave aside.
Clean and trim artichokes and cut into eighths, keeping in acidulated water until ready to use.
Bring stock to boil.
In large pot heat butter and oil, then add chopped onion, salt and pepper and let cook gently until softened. Add artichokes and about a 1/4 cup of water. Let cook, with lid on, for about 5 minutes. Lift lid and let water evaporate if there is any left.
Add rice and stir well, for a couple of minutes. Add wine, and let it evaporate.
Add a few ladlefuls of broth and keep stirring, adding more broth, a little at a time as it evaporates.
When the rice is about 6 minutes from being done, add fresh peas and continue cooking. After 4 minutes add fave beans and stir for another two minutes.
Take off the heat and add the cheese, a bit at a time, mixing well. Add mint, stir and serve.