Wednesday, June 27, 2007

La Vignarola Part Two: Sensuous Artichoke Stew

La vignarola has four major components, spring onions (not leeks or scallions, but the immature bulbs of regular onions), artichokes, fava beans, and peas, or English peas, as they are now called to distinguish them from snow peas and sugar snap peas and possibly other new peas we have now. Those sugar snap peas are great fun, but is it right that they have completely taken over peadom, at least from the vantage point of the Union Square Farmers’ Market? I understand that if you live in parts of Italy, or in the San Francisco Bay area, these ingredients are all at the peak of their season at the same time (is this true?). Here in New York, we have the spring onions up to about now, peas and favas just starting, and local artichokes, if we get them at all, very late in the summer. You don’t hear much about east coast artichokes, but when we get them, they are just the best things in the world. Since spring onions are the hardest to come by, this is the moment to seize, vignarola-wise.

This is a slow, slow food. You need to shell the peas, shell and possibly decorticate the beans, and do that thing that you do to artichokes. Then you will be standing there and stirring for a whole long-old time. This is a contemplative dish in method and technique, and oh, is it the most delicious, complex, soothing and yet stimulating combination. You will notice that other than salt, la vignarola has no seasonings; the vegetables taste like themselves, and like the time you took to prepare them.

La Vignarola

½ pound English peas (3/4 cup shelled peas)

¾ pound fava beans (3/4 cup shelled and decorticated beans)

Three large artichokes

Two spring onions, or other onions

1/3 cup wonderful olive oil

1 medium head lettuce (traditionally, you would use romaine—I used Grand Rapids lettuce this time)

salt

(You will add about a cup of water as the dish cooks)

Shell the peas and the beans. If the beans are more than three quarters of an inch long, decorticate them as well. Trim the artichokes to remove the leaves and fuzz. See Sam’s landmark post for step-by-step artichoke preparation instructions. Slice the artichoke hearts into half-inch wedges and drop the wedges into a bowl of acidulated water as you work. Chop the lettuce.

Slice the onions into thin half-moons. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and add the onions. Cook the onions over very low heat for several minutes until they are utterly relaxed. Add the other vegetables and about half a teaspoon of salt. Cover the pot and continue to cook the vegetables over very low heat. You will need to stir every twenty minutes or so, and add small amounts of water as they begin to stick. Cook until the beans are tender, about an hour and a half, possibly longer.

Marcella Hazan, whose recipe I adapted, calls this “a rather murky dish” that does not look very impressive. She provides a lush photo of the mise en place, but no shot of the finished dish. Even so, I think it has its own loopy appeal.

This, surely, is the colorless green people are always talking about.
Other healthgiving foods, slow and fast, are to be found at Sweetnicks.
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5 Comments:

Blogger Ilva said...

Absolutely wonderful photo!

1:29 AM  
Anonymous Nomi said...

Not to brag, but at the Park Slope Food Coop there are snow peas, sugar snap peas, peas in the pod (that's what I call English peas, I guess), and sometimes other kinds of peas. Down with pea hegemony!

By the way, my word verification for this post is "smenita" which for a moment I thought was "smetina", like the Yiddish word for cream. How appropriate.

5:42 PM  
Anonymous venerable guy said...

Colorless green ideas and colorless green artichoke stew both sleep furiously.
Chomsky was at his most brilliant when talking about colorless green ideas.

5:57 PM  
Blogger the chocolate lady מרת שאקאלאד said...

nomi,
bragging about pea-diversity is always encouraged.

venerable guy,
I think of stew as being particularly wakeful

8:43 PM  
Blogger the chocolate lady מרת שאקאלאד said...

ilva,

thanks so much!

8:43 PM  

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