Rustic Roman spring vegetable stew

This light, simple stew – traditionally known as Bazzoffia in Rome – sings the song of springtime, but I won’t pretend that it’s not a little time-consuming to make.

For a start, I recommend you steam the broad beans and remove the skins for best results. As you’re peeling each individual bean, you will, no doubt, come up with your own version of Shirley Conran’s famous quote – “life is too short to stuff a mushroom” – perhaps something along the lines of: “life is too short to peel a broad bean”. You could be watching a movie, surfing, lying on a beach, shopping for new shoes or doing any number of interesting things, right? But a serious cook chooses to do all these mundane tasks – peeling beans, par-boiling and peeling tomatoes and so on – because he or she wants their guests only to have the best possible taste sensation. If you don’t have the time, buy the smallest, most tender-looking beans you can find and hope for the best.

Secondly, I suggest you use only fresh artichokes for this dish – it’s not really a recipe where you can get away with using ones from a can or a jar. If you have access to them, buy a bunch of tiny, ultra-fresh baby artichokes with violet tinge – they taste amazing, and don’t need much preparation.

Do not be intimidated by artichokes – for vegetarians, they are on a par with asparagus, truffles, saffron, dark chocolate or champagne when it comes to ‘posh treats’. There are many ways of trimming and preparing artichokes, depending on size and a country’s food culture. I have written up a separate section below on how to do it – though you may have your own method.

The great thing about this recipe is that you can prepare all the vegetables in advance, and cook the stew less than half an hour before you are ready to eat. Serves 4.

1 lb/ 500g broad beans (fava beans) in the pod
½ head cos (romaine) lettuce
8 tablespoons virgin Italian olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 medium white onion, trimmed, peeled, and cut into thin wedges
4 medium or 8 baby artichokes, prepared and cut into thin wedges
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced vertically
3 oz/ 75g fresh or frozen tender peas (podded weight)
Salt and pepper
Lemon wedges, to serve
Vegetarian pecorino romano cheese, finely shaved

HOW TO PREPARE ARTICHOKES FOR COOKING:

Snap back any tough leaves from an artichoke and pull them down, working your way around the layers. Stop when you get to tender, pale yellow leaves. Cut off the tops of the remaining leaves, leaving only about an inch of leaf. Use a potato peeler to trim away the dark green areas along the base. Trim off the base of the stem end, and cut off the rough fibres around the stem, leaving only the light-coloured, tender centre portion. Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise. Carefully cut away the fuzzy choke using a small knife, trying to cut just at the point where choke and heart meet. Baby artichokes do not generally have developed chokes, but they do have a layer or two of tough leaves that must be removed, and the base needs to be trimmed just as with larger artichokes. Keep all trimmed artichokes in acidulated water (water with plenty of fresh lemon juice added) to prevent discolouration until needed.

1.    Shell the broad beans. Steam them for 3 to 5 minutes until they’re nearly soft, but still al dente. If you have time, peel each individual bean. (If you don’t have time, omit this step and leave the beans in their grey-green skins).
2.    Trim the lettuce, remove any tough ribs and blemished leaves, and shred into ribbons.
3.    Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, and cook the onion on low heat until tender.
4.    Add the prepared artichokes, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5.    Add the cooked broad beans and uncooked peas, and give the vegetables a stir. Add the shredded lettuce, and sauté for a few seconds until the lettuce wilts slightly.
6.    Add just enough water to cover the vegetables, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer the stew gently for 10 to 15 minutes until all the vegetables are tender, stirring from time to time. If the stew begins to dry out, add water a little at a time until you have the desired consistency. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
7.    To serve, ladle the stew into individual pasta bowls. Drizzle each portion with a little olive oil, and top with a few slices of shaved pecorino cheese. Hand around extra cheese at the table, along with lemon wedges and good, chunky rustic Italian country bread.

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