Origin of Vignarola
Vignarola is a traditional and very tasty dish of lightly stewed spring vegetables that is considered typical of Rome and its surrounding countryside. Habitually eaten in late April – early May, it celebrates the young peas and broad (fava) beans that are at their best during that short period, teaming them together with the last of the season’s globe artichokes, and is presumed to have originated in the area of Velletri, to the south of Rome, which is known for its extensive vineyards. In fact, it takes its name from the word vignarolo, which means vine-grower in the vernacular and also greengrocer in Roman dialect, and peas and broad beans used to be grown in between the vines in the Velletri area so that the vine-growers could attend to them and pick them while working on the vines.
While this can be considered a standard recipe, practically every region of Italy – and every cook – will have their own version and it is also very adaptable to whatever vegetables are to hand or at their best.
500 g broad (fava) beans, in their pods
500 g peas, in their pods
1 romaine lettuce
400 g globe artichokes
2 spring onions (scallions)
70 ml dry white wine
1. Remove the beans and peas from their pods. You should obtain approximately 200 g of each.
2. Cut the lettuce leaves crosswise into medium-sized strips, rinse them thoroughly and leave to drain in a colander.
3. Prepare the artichokes by removing their tough outer leaves, cutting off most of the stem and peeling and trimming the remaining stump, chopping off the spiky tops of the remaining leaves and then cutting the artichoke in half and then into slices. There is no need to remove any choke found at its centre. [This tricky and time-consuming operation can be avoided by using frozen sliced or quartered artichoke hearts.]
4. Finely chop just the white part of the spring onions.
5. Heat a little oil in a wide-based pan and add the onions, cooking them at medium heat for a few minutes and, as soon as they start to turn golden, raise the heat a little and add the sliced artichokes.
6. Cook for 3-4 minutes and then add the beans. Toss together in the pan and, after around 3 minutes, add the peas and continue cooking and tossing for 3-4 minutes more and then add the lettuce.
7. At this point, add the wine, raise the heat a little and allow the alcohol in the wine to evaporate completely and then cover the pan with a lid and leave to cook on a low heat for at least 10 minutes, checking occasionally that there is sufficient liquid in the pan and adding a little water if necessary.
8. Remove the lid, add salt to taste and continue cooking for 5 more minutes. Serve after drizzling with a little olive oil
– Vignarola is extremely versatile since it can be eaten as a stand-alone dish, as an accompaniment to meat, fish or eggs and is also good on top of a bruschetta, inside an omelette, stirred into pasta or rice, etc. It can also be made perfectly well and at any time of the year using frozen vegetables.
– Vignarola Variations often include the addition of unsmoked pancetta/bacon together with the onion, as well as asparagus, chard, boiled new potatoes and/or a final sprinkling of mint, and the omission of the lettuce and/or the artichokes.