Monday, May 7, 2012
Vignarola is one of my favorite Roman dishes. I have a feeling there are versions of a spring vegetable stew all over the world, but the Roman version - with peas, artichokes and fave beans - seems like it must be the best, right? I guess one of the reasons I love it so much is that its season is so fleeting. Artichokes have been in season for a while, and but peas and fave beans are just hitting the farmer’s markets. The overlap between all three only lasts about a month, so I try to get as much in as possible.
Even though vignarola is a traditional Roman dish, it had fallen out of favor in restaurants until about ten years ago or so. I guess on the surface there is nothing particularly attractive, sexy or appealing about a pile of stewed vegetables. And in fact, I often get emails from people telling me that when they ordered this spring medley they were expecting something bright green, crisp and vibrant. Instead, when faced with the decidedly brownish green pile on their plates they were a bit dismayed.
I guess a lot of people expect some sort of Italian stir fry, where each vegetable is added and cooked just so, to retain it’s bright hue and crisp texture.
Nothing could be further from vignarola reality.
I’ve actually written about traditional vignarola already on this blog, and you can find the recipe here. But last week I wanted to try something slightly different. Inspired by a case of particularly gorgeous peas, I wanted to make a vignarola that retained at least some of the intense colors of the original vegetables.
I also wanted to jump on the recent trend in Roman restaurants of making vignarola a part of another dish. I think that one of the main reasons most restaurants hesitate to add vignarola to the menu is that they don’t know quite where to put it. First course? Side dish? Antipasto? It is any and all of the above. To resolve this issue restaurants like Cesare and Taverna dei Fori Imperiali have been using vignarola as a pasta sauce. Brilliant, right?
But I decided to delve into the unchartered second course arena. I had a beautifully boned rabbit from the farmer’s market, so used that as the base. I browned the rabbit first, then pretty much proceeded with the vignarola as I normally would. But with one big exception.
I waited until the very last minute to add big handfuls of chopped scallions, spring garlic, parsley and lemon rind. And the peas were the last to go in. Tender and sweet, they needed only about 2 minutes of cooking before I was able to bring the dish to the table. And while this stew is never going to win any beauty awards, at least I finally accomplished what I’d always wanted to do: make a vignarola that looked as springy and vibrant as I knew it tasted.
1 rabbit*, deboned, cut into 2 inch sized pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper
6 artichokes, trimmed and cut into wedges (see here and here for cleaning artichokes)
2 cups freshly shelled peas
1 cup freshly shelled fave beans
1 cup white wine
4 scallions, chopped
4 fresh spring garlics, chopped
1/2 cup chopped parsely
rind of one lemon, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
In a large saute pan, big enough to hold everything, add oil and place over high heat. Brown the rabbit well, adding salt and pepper to season. Once browned, add artichokes and fave beans. Stir and add white wine, scraping up the browned bits. Cover and let simmer over low heat for about 25 minutes. Check every now and then and add some water if it looks too dry.
Once the rabbit and artichokes are tender, add scallions, garlic, and peas. Stir and cover for about a minute. Test to make sure peas are done enough. Turn off heat, add parsley, lemon rind and lemon juice. Stir and adjust seasoning.
Serve immediately while peas are still pretty and green.
If you are going to prepare ahead, wait until you reheat it to add the final ingredients.
*If you can’t find rabbit, and i know this is hard, then substitute chicken. But please use a mixture of breast and thighs, or even all thighs, if possible.