For the last few weeks I have been craving…vegetables. Now, before we fall out, I just want to reassure you that I’m not a total freak and also crave things like pizza, blue cheese, chocolate and salt and vinegar crisps (not all at the same time…probably). But right now, my current craving is for fresh, crisp, colourful veggies. I think it’s because I’m aware that summer is just around the corner, ready to bring with it such glorious presents as lettuce, peas in the pod, asparagus stalks, courgettes and globe artichokes.
One of my absolute favourite food blogs is Manger, written by the exquisite Mimi Thorisson. Literally, exquisite. I haven’t yet made nearly enough of her incredible looking recipes, but each one that I have made has been perfect: rustic, indulgent and utterly scrumptious. I’ve had her spring vegetable stew (La Vignarola) bookmarked for well over 6 months now, and finally had the chance to cook it last week. Unfortunately, in my impatience to make it, I was a little early for the Scottish artichoke and pea season, so I had to improvise with the fresh vegetables that I could get my hands on. Luckily asparagus is already available in abundance here, and our local market store had a large basket of broad beans. It was exciting to cook with lettuce for the first ever time and I completely adored the result. I have to confess that Ross wasn’t convinced, but I’ll put that down to his inferior taste buds…
Ingredients (serves 2-3 as a side dish)
Large bag of fresh broad beans in the pod (about 300g podded beans)
1 little gem lettuce
2 spring onions
1 tsp olive oil
100g pancetta or smoked bacon
Small bunch parsley, finely chopped
Small bunch mint, finely chopped
1. Pod the broad beans and set aside for later. I find podding beans and peas truly relaxing. It’s a slow, methodical task that should be savoured and, ideally, done outside perched on the back-door step. As we don’t have a garden I threw open the windows and put the radio on. To my surprise, as I snapped open some of the pods, inside the velvet cocoons were lilac and deep purple beans. I have no idea why this is –the variety of bean, the stage of picking, or something else altogether…if anyone can enlighten me I would love to know!…
Quarter the gem lettuce, slice the spring onions and chop the asparagus into chunks.
2. Sauté the pancetta in a little olive oil until starting to crisp.
3. Add the spring onions and continue to fry for 30 seconds.
4. Add the asparagus and broad beans to the pan with 4-6 tbsp water and cook for a few minutes.
5. Nestle the lettuce amongst the other vegetables, cut side down, cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are all tender. You can turn the lettuce half way through if you wish.
6. Sprinkle a little lemon juice over the vegetables and stir through the chopped herbs and some seasoning to taste.
We served this dish as an accompaniment to our lamb shanks with mint sauce. It is the ideal side dish for a spring roast, but is actually generous and tasty enough to be the main event, perhaps served with some soft goats cheese and crusty bread. I think that in the original recipe Mimi served it as a starter, which would be a lovely idea for a special summer meal.
I was blown away by this recipe. The vegetables take centre stage and the last minute addition of lemon juice and herbs brings the dish to life with a zesty, aromatic flavour. I’m hoping to make this recipe many more times this summer, and am especially looking forward to using fresh peas, broad beans and artichokes from dad’s allotment, as the dish was supposed to include. If you’re going to make this recipe yourself, I wouldn’t worry if you can’t find the same vegetables as myself or Mimi – just use the best seasonal vegetables available to you and it will be stunning.