There’s usually a point in April where I just stop ordering root vegetables-a purgatory state of the local growing and selling where I can’t really get anything except the random squash, root or potato, maybe some greenhouse vegetables if I’m lucky.
After I stop ordering roots for the year I look forward and dream of all the green things, and speculate on the length of the season of each and what new possibilities could be. One thing I know I’ll eat though is some variation on my bowl of completely, or nearly all-green plants and vegetables.
The dish I eat changes a little every year, but one thing is the same: it’s a big mix of whatever green stuff I can get my hands on. It’s based on an old Roman dish called vignarola (vin-ya-rollah) which is usually favas, young artichokes, fresh lettuce, and other spring vegetables cooked with white wine, some type of pork, and fresh mint.
For a chef that loves eating plants, Spring means a feast of baby greens and shoots that will quickly end once most of the plants start their reproductive cycle. Getting a young dandelion green or a hop shoot while it’s young as opposed to old is a little like eating veal opposed to beef. The veal is tender, and doesn’t need much chewing, and the same goes with plants, the young shoots are the sweetest and most tender. Sure, you can pick a plant after it goes to seed, cook and eat it, but it won’t be as tender or pleasant to eat, and you might find yourself ingesting it rather than enjoying.
There’s just something about eating a big bowl of young green stuff that makes me appreciate new growth and the season to come: it’s not officially spring until I’ve eaten my vignarola. Favas and artichokes don’t grow in Minnesota in the Spring, so I just use whatever green vegetables I have on hand. It’s an homage to my mentor from Rome, a celebration of green, and a continual experiment on what new young plants I can find to eat.
Onto the dish, the greens and vegetables I use to make the vignarola change, but a couple things don’t:
- The vignarola always starts off with a little bit of ham, bacon, or some type of cured meat.
- It’s always a wet, stewed dish.
- Fresh mint is always added at the end.
- I stagger the ingredients depending on their individual cooking times
Other than that, everything is pretty fair game. Now go eat a big bowl of your own green stuff.
Midwestern Vignarola, 2017
Instead of writing a formal recipe here, I’m just going to list the order that I cooked everything, since that’s more important than the exact proportions of ingredients as each ingredient has a slightly different cooking time. Remember it should be a little brothy and wet, recently I served a smaller version of this over some locally ground polenta we cook with at Lucia’s and a customer told me it was the greatest plate of food she’d ever eaten.
- Lamb Bacon (cook until fat is rendered)
- Wild Onions bulbs (whole)
- Ramp bulbs, sliced
- Hosta Shoots
- Season with salt
- Dry white wine
- Chicken stock
- Fresh Mint
- Hop Shoots (leave nearly raw so the residual heat can cook them)
- Watercress (raw)
- Double check seasoning for salt
- Serve+Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the top.