Vignarola – The Pilgrimage of Posh

The venerable vegetable stew known as Vignarola.  I have written about it before, yes I have.  I was prompted to do so again (vignarola mania?) because in today’s recipe I went to the added trouble of removing the outer sheath of the broad beans, an excercise in ‘poshifying’ the dish as it were, hence the title.
IMG_4701Simple ingredients, very grand finale.  I don’t know how many of you will go to the trouble of actually making a vignorala.  It is not at all difficult but it does take time.  I have tried to present the recipe to make it as time-friendly as possible.


Two artichokes, preferably the Roman kind that are at their prime in this season (Spring).

Fresh peas

Fresh broadbeans /fava beans

Spring onions


Pancetta or guanciale – or neither if you are a vegetarian

Olive oil (evoo), salt and pepper

Fresh mint leaves

Let’s take a look at the ingredients.  I have placed them on the same plate so that you can get an idea of the proportions   Roughly speaking, one needs the same amount of all the vegetables

1What you see on this plate are two trimmed and sliced artichokes.
2 These are fresh peas.3 Here are the fresh broadbeans / fava beans.4 Here are the spring onions and the lettuce.5 On the far north of this photo is the guanciale, the pork jowl. In the middle of the photo is a ceramic decorative object known as a ‘pumo’.  It comes from Puglia and it is symbolic of good luck and the augury of all good things to come.  I stuck it in the middle of the plates because I associate the colour green with Spring and with the making of the green vignarola vegetables: artichokes, peas and broadbeans.7It is traditional to also add mint to the vignarola stew … here is some ordinary mint from a plant on my balcony.
8 This instead (again on my balcony) is the mint called ‘mentuccia romana’ … and pennyroyal in English.  Even my herbs have to be ‘royal’, you see, ha ha ha!  Mentuccia romana is the mint that is used to stuff braised artichokes in the recipe called ‘carciofi alla romana’.  I decided to use both kinds. And now on with the :



Here is the guanciale thickly sliced into a matchstick shape.
10 The roughly chopped spring onions …11 Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the broadbeans …
13Simmer the broadbeans for about 2 minutes, then drain and place in a bowl of iced or at least very cold water to cool them down.  Then arm yourself with a good deal of patience … or better still, find someone else to step in and help you … and get on with the job of removing the skin of the broadbeans.  One by one … Oh yes … it takes ages.

1Trim the artichokes.  This means removing the outer petals  of the globe; and then quarter each artichoke, and quarter again : i.e. cut into 8 pieces.  Once cut, the artichokes must immediately be placed in a bowl of water to avoid the oxygen in the air turning them black.  Every single recipe I have come across calls for lemon juice to be added to the water, and lemony water is what I always used too.   But I found out only recently that it actually isn’t necessary at all – the water is quite sufficient.  And now that we have everything in place … we can get cracking.

Step 1: Cooking the peas
14Dribble a generous amount of olive oil into a frying pan. I have a penchant for pepper corns and tinker them into nearly all my recipes.  Here, I put six pepper corns into the pan.  You may wish to avoid them altogether – you decide.
16 Turn on the heat, and put the peas in the pan.  Add one teaspoon of sugar.17 Add one teaspoon of salt over the sugar.18 Pour boiling water into the pan. Plenty of it … enough to cover the peas by 2 cm (an inch or so).19 Simmer until the peas are tender.  It took the better part of 20 minutes to cook these.  Peas done. Turn off heat, set aside.

Step 2:  Cooking the Guanciale19a 20 Use another frying pan to render the fat of the guanciale over a medium heat.  This takes about 2-3 minutes.21 Once the guanciale has crispened up a bit, add some olive oil.22 23 Now add the spring onions.  Cook for only a couple of minutes.

Step 3: Cooking the Artichokes

24 Now add the artichokes.  Cook for about 2-3 minutes …25 Remember the peas?  See how much cooking water there was? a kind of pea soup?

26Pour some of the pea soup using a sieve into the frying pan.
27 Keep cooking … the artichokes will need this liquid to become tender.28 The flame is quite high.30 Keep adding the pea soup, as required.31 When the artichokes are tender (push a fork through one of them to find out when) … it should take about 10 minutes or so from start to finish …32 Add the cooked peas.  Turn the heat down now.

Step 4: Wilting the lettuce

33 Put the lettuce where the peas had been (please notice I used up all the pea soup) bar a tiny amount.34 Cover with a lid and cook for about 1 minute.35Remove lid and add them to the big saucepan with the artichokes and peas.

Step 5: Bringing all the Pieces Together
36 Remember these?  Add the broadbeans to the big saucepan and use a wooden spoon to gently combine all the ingredients, cooking them for another couple of minutes.37 The two kinds of mint …38 Add the mint and then swirl some more olive oil over the vignarola. It is now ready to be served.39 40

The vignarola is best served at room temperature, not hot.  The heat tarnishes the taste somewhat.  As with many a stew, vignarola tastes even better the following day.

IMG_4702And as you can see, a posh, indeed regal, vignarola … can never be ‘dry’. And don’t forget the bread … to mop up the sauce afterwards.

The making of a vignarola is a kind of culinary pilgrimage, it must adhere to season and month when these vegetables pop up all together – April.  And so one harkens to Chaucer and to his Canterbury Tales and to the ‘pull’ of pilgrimages that this month sparks off.  What is tugging at your soul this Spring?

Buona primavera everyone!

Here is the start of the Prologue, in old English, a modern version follows …

1: Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
2: The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
3: And bathed every veyne in swich licour
4: Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
5: Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
6: Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
7: Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
8: Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
9: And smale foweles maken melodye,
10: That slepen al the nyght with open ye
11: (so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
12: Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

Translation into Modern English:

When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage …

pumiBecause … two pumi are better than one.

Drunken Broccoli – Flavia’s Favourite

We had a very nice young couple come to visit us last weekend from Bologna, Flavia and Gabriele.  I had met Flavia last year, she and my husband were part of the same team organising an event called ‘Festival della Medicina’.  The event proved so successful and popular that it is being sequelled this year and my husband pops up to Bologna not infrequently for meetings and all the rigmarole and networking and preparation and background due diligence that an event such as this occasions.  Anyway, the long and the short of it is that he invited Flavia and her husband to spend a weekend with us so they could take some time off and visit Rome.  For my part, I wanted to prepare some food that would be typically Roman for them to enjoy.  Bologna is big on food as we all know (!), so there was an impish part of me that wanted to show them that Lazio is no slouch in the cuisine department … and what better way to wow them than with artichokes, carciofi, that are at their peak just now?

Good move on my part, no surprise there.  I fried some slices of artichoke dipped in flour and beaten eggs (carciofi fritti dorati alla romana) and also cooked carciofi alla romana.  I also made a simple recipe colloquially called ‘broccoli ‘mbriachi’, i.e. drunken broccoli.  The reason for the sobriquet is naturally to be sought in the addition of wine to the cooking process.  And it is a typical dish of the Castelli Romani area, where we live.  When I was at the greengrocer’s, the  Masi family-run shop in Frascati, their daughter told me that her mother made the best broccoli mbriachi with an emphatic appreciation that was difficult to ignore.  This not unnaturally aroused my curiosity and made me venture to enquire further.

And that is when I discovered that I had been making this recipe all ‘wrong’ all the time!  I used to simmer the broccoli for a bit and then add the wine.  Uh uh, that is not the way.  The broccoli need to be cooked in the wine from the very start. What an aha! moment for me.

The other aha! surprise was that this dish turned out be Flavia’s favourite (not that she didn’t like the carciofi).  So there you are, you live and you learn.  Always.  Thank goodness!  How boring otherwise it would be.

Here is the recipe, if you’d like to make it.  Easy.  Olive oil, garlic, salt and red wine.  And the dish takes one whole hour to cook, from start to finish (so much longer than I thought it would take!).  Tastes excellent the day after too.  Just saying …

And here is a link to the Festival :

IMG_4598 Cut the broccoli into florets.
IMG_4600 Then, roughly slice the florets.IMG_4601Dribble (my new word … apparently ‘drizzle’ is rubbish, and we’ve all being saying ‘drizzle’ for so long now, but it’s just plain ‘wrong’.  The rain drizzles.  When we pour a larger quantity than the rain that drizzles, then what we are in fact doing is ‘dribbling’.  Except, and I don’t know about you, the word ‘dribble’ makes me think of people or children who can’t keep their saliva in their mouths, not at all attractive, if you know what I mean). Where was I ? oh yes.  Dribble a good amount of olive oil, add plenty of garlic (the more garlic cooks, the less pungent it becomes, so have no fear) and … if you like a bit of spice … do add some chilli flakes.
IMG_4602 Turn on the heat and cook the garlic until it goes golden in colour and then add the sliced broccoli florets.  Cook them like this for a minute or two …IMG_4603 IMG_4604 Have some red wine at the ready …IMG_4605 And pour a prodigious amount over the broccoli.  The wine has to cover the broccoli completely.  We are sozzling here, folks!  That’s the spirit!  And do sprinkle some salt.  No salt, no taste.IMG_4606 Cover with a lid and cook over a medium flame.
IMG_4608 This is what it looked like after 30 minutes.  Exactly the same, to be honest.  But I added a bit more wine.  And continued to cook it with the lid on.

IMG_4612 And this is what it looked like after one hour.  The consistency was fork tender, just this side of ‘mushy’.  This is how it is supposed to be, by the way! Non of this ‘crisp’ vegetable stuff.
IMG_4615 IMG_4616And … as I say .. Flavia couldn’t get enough of this drunken veggie!

IMG_4619I couldn’t resist inserting this photo of a lonesome carciofo alla romana standing to attention … looks rather like it could be part of the candle stick, tee hee.