tease out


Rome through the eyes of a two-year old is simple; the Colosseum is the house of the giants; the Roman forum is the dinosaur house; San Pietro is a big chiesa; fountains are taps, except the fountain in Piazza Navona which is a tap with a fish (the fish being the dolphin Neptune is wrestling). Each landmark, however familiar, is greeted with a comedy gasp, announced as if for the first time and then repeated until I have a headache; house of the giants, house of the giants, house of the giants possibly trailing off into a whisper, house of the giants. The market is similarly straightforward. Yesterday Luca marched three feet ahead pointing and announcing the stalls like a town crier; fish, meat, flowers, pane, dog (a pet stall) fruit and then at our stall – having eaten the first this year the day before – yelled peas, peas, peas. Gianluca immediately obliged and handed Luca a pod, which he grabbed and I made a futile attempt ‘What do you say when you are given something?‘ But Luca was too busy opening the pod, crack and then, at discovering six green balls suspended in the bright green case, said babies. 

They were babies, tiny pouches of sweet and savory that pop in your mouth, the sort of peas that elude me most of the time. We bought a kilo and a half. Then rather than listening to myself and getting us out of the market as quickly as possible by offering/revoking the usual impatient bribes – If you get in your push chair you can have some chocolate. Get in your push chair this minute LucaMassimo or you won’t have any chocolate or anything ever – I listened to Luca who was shouting and pointing at a bench. So we sat on the sunny bench, or rather the concrete slabs that function as benches in the center of the new market and ate probably half a kilo of peas straight from their pods.


With the rest of the peas I made something I look forward to each year, a spring vegetables stew, a vignarola of sorts, a dish of spring onions, artichokes, broad beans and peas braised in olive oil and water (or white wine) until tender. The key is adding the ingredients according to their cooking requirements; onion first, then artichokes, broad beans and finally peas which just need a caress of heat and the warm company of the other ingredients to release their sweetness and tease out their colour. Important too, is adding just enough liquid to moisten the vegetables and encourage them to release their own juices, the effect being an intense but gentle, graduated braise where flavors remain distinct but also harmonious. Precise timings are impossible to give, so tasting is imperative.

Tender wedges of velvet artichoke, sweet peas, buttery but slightly bitter broad beans all bound by a weave of smothered onion;  a dish that celebrates and captures the fleeting brilliance of spring vegetables and one of the best lunches I know. Especially good with a piece of quivering but tensile mozzarella di bufala that erupts beneath your knife and a toddler standing on a chair singing voglio peas and cheese before falling off and taking the glass bottle of water with him.


I have written about vignarola before, and will probably do so again. It is not so much a recipe but a way of thinking about spring vegetables. In Rome there are as many versions of vignarola as there are cooks and opinions are strongly held. Adding some pancetta or guanciale is traditional, but much as I love both, I think they totally overwhelm the pure vegetable taste that is so desirable. Again cooking times depend entirely on the vegetables; these tiny tender things needed just minutes whereas later in the season as peas and beans get starchier, artichokes tougher and onions more intrusive, they will all need longer.

Vignarola – spring vegetable stew

serves two vignarola lovers for lunch with mozzarella, or four as a starter or side dish

  • a bunch of spring onions
  • 3 artichokes, ideally the purple tipped, Italian chokeless variety
  • a kilogram of peas in their pods
  • a kilogram of fave, broad beans in their pods (shelled but still with their opaque coats at this time of year)
  • water or white wine / olive oil and salt as needed

Trim and slice the spring onions in four lengthways and trim and cut the artichokes into wedges rubbing them with lemon as you go. Shell the peas and fave and set aside. Warm some olive oil in a deep sauté pan with a lid and add the onions, stir and sauté for a few minutes. Once the onions are floppy add the artichokes and sauté (turning the vegetables with a wooden spoon every now and then) for five minutes or so. Add a little white wine or water to the pan and everything bubble gently for a few more minutes. Add the broad beans, fave, stir, add a little more liquid if necessary and then cook over a low flame until the vegetables are tender (which depends entirely on the vegetables.) In the last couple of minutes add the peas. Add salt to taste.



Filed under artichokes, Beans and pulses, fanfare, rachel eats Italy, Rachel's Diary, recipes, spring recipes, vegetables

60 responses to “tease out

  1. Looks gorgeous and a perfect embodiment of spring! 😀

  2. Now I am even more jealous of my husband boarding a plane to Rome this morning, because I want this now and I have to wait for the weekly neighborhood market to buy the ingredients!

  3. This looks so delicious and fresh, I’ll be heading to the market on Saturday morning for these ingredients ready to surprise my boyfriend with my wonderful, spontaneous skills when he gets back from his course in Bari 🙂 xxx
    La Lingua : Food, Life, Love, Travel, Friends, Italy

    • rachel

      I think this is a effect surprise spring supper..and if – like me – you still have trouble trimming artichokes this dish is very forgiving as they need to be in pieces Rx

  4. This is a keeper – and it will have to keep a little longer as Spring is still trying to get here to New England. Thanks for the glimpse!

  5. Love this and that your wee lad loved eating peas straight from the pod.

    • rachel

      He may eat peas from their pods and most greens but he is also a cheeky monkey with a a habit of running away at every opportunity.

  6. Luca sounds like a very lucky boy with all that is to be discovered about Rome. And of course the pleasure for us is the way you tell it. Thankyou. Now I must go and plant some seeds so that I might pop some peas in summer.

    • rachel

      It is wonderful city to bring a child up in, that said it is not an easy one and I often wonder about kids with space and fields to run in….But yes, lots for hime to discover in such an easy everyday way R

  7. The first part sounds oh so familiar to me – for I´m going everywhere with my 2 year old energy bundle of a little son , too, who points at and comments on everything and anyone we pass by! The second part sounds oh so tasty to me – vignarola, here I come! Thanks for this lovely post!

  8. minchilli

    I’ve been eating it non stop! I love that every restaurant makes it completely differently. All the more reason to keep up until all are tried

  9. It’s miraculous that kids remember landmarks so easily and are able to regurgitate names and directions so well from such a young age. Paolo knows all three ways of getting to Nonna’s house like the back of his hand and shouts the directions out from the back seat. Luca has rather more famous landmarks to reference than P but they look at the world through the same lense.

  10. Betta

    “Babies!”…. Lovely! 🙂

  11. Carolle

    The only thing I can say is yummmmm!

  12. I just discovered your blog and I love it. Can’t wait to read more!

  13. Love the story that goes along with this post, beautiful pics!

    • rachel

      Thanks Cheri and it is always nice to have compliments for the pictures which are always a bit wonky…and the three forks that was my son R

  14. Spring green all around, and a son who loves peas. You’ve got it made.

  15. Gorgeous and melodic with Luca’s chorus. I cannot do peas, I love peas, they re my favourite vegetable, but shelling them is a nightmare for me, They fly everywhere, my mouth watering as I watch them fly off out of my reach. I have never found the nack.. Have a wonderful day in rome.. c

    • rachel

      Ah yes flying peas, I know them…I nose have a little boy who thinks he is a dog so crawls around the floor licking them up……Hope all is well oxo

  16. Your last photo says it all–delicious. I love that Luca.

  17. As usual, you’re killing me with your ingredients. The scene of the two of you sitting on the bench eating the spring peas reminded me of the final scene of the THE GIVING TREE, by Shel Silverstein, when “the boy” has grown into an old man and the apple tree is nothing more than a stump, with nothing to offer but a place to sit–but just what the man needs, and one thing the tree can give. Your son ignores your threats, but he will sit still for peas. The two of you sit together eating peas. I’d say you win. Ken

  18. Eha

    Oh, if I did get to Rome, could Luca take me to the markets please 🙂 ?! We surely could pod peas together . . . and methinks have a giggle if one ‘got away’!!!!!!

  19. Rach, I can vividly imagine that blond mop-headed ball of energy as he bobs and weaves through the market. When Andrew was 2, I used to wish he was like other mothers’ docile children who held their Mommy’s hands and did what they were told. Now I think, “Thank God for Andrews and Lucas! Xxo. T

  20. Amy

    personally, I love when you post the same recipe/meal multiple times. besides being reminded of a beautiful recipe, it adds to the little ticks of the season – wish I could be eating this vignarola for lunch today

    • rachel

      That is so nice to hear…and yes I agree about being reminded of good things again and again, just as the seasons remind us….hope you are well? x

  21. I have been testing vignarola recipes for work lately (ha, work!), and I particularly enjoyed Stevie Parle’s unorthodox take on it – with a generous hand of mixed fresh herbs. Now, I have yet another one to try, and it looks divine. Like you, I am a vignarola lover, and it made me smile seeing you also serve it alongside a good piece of mozzarella…It’s just the best combination!

  22. I only discovered vignarola when I moved to Rome and as a lover of all things green, I ate it whenever I could get my hands on it last spring (and remember arguing with fellow shoppers as to what was the best way to prepare it). I love that you ate it with mozzarella, the best way really (and about halfway through your post I was actually thinking how this was crying out for some milky buffalo mozarella!).
    Wish me luck in trying to track down some fresh spring vegetables here in Brussels so I can try and replicate your vignarola (even if it won’t be the same eating it in grey and rainy Brussels).

    • rachel

      Wishing you so much luck and love in your new adventure…..Brussels will be brilliant and sunny too and of course you will visit for a dose of Rome. talk soon xox

  23. Great phrasing: “quivering but tensile”. Looks delicious!

  24. jenifer roddy

    Rach. I loved this one. Beautiful, poetic ways of seeing love mumx

  25. just came across your blog. love love love it! I too was an actress, had an Italian adventure which left me with yearnings to move there and write a book but fell in love in the states had a son (about to have another child- a daughter any minute!) and we decided to move to the wine country in Sonoma county. Now I write and cook. Kindred indeed….


  26. I would eat this right this second, if I could.
    As it stands, it will be the better part of six weeks. And then, still, a stretch. My little corner of the world doesn’t do favas. Or peas, really. Or artichokes. Sigh.
    Still. I will beg/borrow/steal/make-up what I must. As I love anything green, and all green things in Spring, and especially, especially all things for which timing is impossible, and tasting, imperative.

  27. BreadNRoses

    Hi Rachel,

    This sounds so delicious I was moved to get all the necessary ingredients at the market today.

    Any tips on trimming and cutting the artichokes? I’ve only ever steamed whole ones and am a bit intimidated about how to get started.


    – Jillian in Baltimore, Maryland

  28. Lee

    Reading these posts is completely getting me in the mood for our own Testaccio adventure, so thanks for that! Looking forward to seeing what this much debated new market is like. Two weeks and counting…

  29. Graham Jepson

    Excellent, superb – nothing else to say.

  30. Leonardo

    Hi Rachel, my roman grandmother cooked the vignarola like you, but she put also the head lettuce cutted in a thin stripes and cooking togheter the rest of vegetable

    • rachel

      Hello Leonardo and yes I too have eaten vignarola with lettuce and I like it very much, particularly if it is the crisp, flavorsome romano lettuce. R

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