Vignarola is simply a celebration of that moment in spring when you have an abundance of beautiful artichokes, and the first of the broad beans and peas. It is so simple, but what makes it special is that the vegetables are cooked one after the other in olive oil and with the tiniest amount of water, so that each one tastes totally of itself.
As the season goes on you can take some vegetables away and add others, such as spinach or chard, but keep the essence of the dish by using good frozen broad beans and peas. I like to have any that is left over in the fridge to smash up for a sandwich, or warm up alongside some grilled chicken or fish for my beloved.
I generally make this with the bounty from a morning raid on the market in Vintimiglia. My beloved loves it topped with a poached egg the very thought of which makes me shudder!
1. Preparing an artichoke is a little fiddly, but not difficult. The important thing to remember is that artichokes discolour very quickly, so once you cut them, they need to go straight into water that has been acidulated with lemon juice.
2. Hold the artichoke in one hand, then work your way around it snapping off and discarding the hard outer leaves from the base, until you reach the tender, yellow leaves underneath. Cut off the bottom of the stalk, and with a small paring knife, trim off the stringy outside part all the way around the stalk, back to the core. Trim and scrape away the hard pieces around the base of each artichoke.
3. Finally trim off the spiky tops of each of the leaves that are left using a sharp knife, then slice across the very top of the artichoke – take off about 2cm (1/2″)– enough to remove the spiky tops and reveal the choke inside.
4. If the artichoke has been freshly harvested or is very small, the choke will barely have formed, but the longer it has been cut from the plant, or the older or bigger it is, the more the choke will have developed. So you need to scoop this out with a teaspoon. The easiest way to do this is to slice the artichokes in half lengthways first. As soon as the artichokes are sliced in half and the chokes removed, cut them into quarters and keep them in the acidulated water until you are ready to use them.
5. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan (skillet), add the spring onions and cook briefly. Drain the artichokes and add to the pan. Season, cover and cook for 2 minutes. Add the broad beans with a couple of tablespoons of water and cook for another 2 minutes, then add the peas, plus another 2 tablespoons of water. Cook for another 2 minutes, adding a little more water if necessary. Each vegetable should now be tender and the water should have been absorbed.
6. Finish with the herbs. Eat warm or at room temperature with some crusty bread – spring bliss!