The inspiration for today’s dish started with some fiddlehead ferns and a bunch of [the first of the season] asparagus. I get excited when I cross paths with an unusual vegetable such as the fiddlehead fern.
Fiddleheads are the furled (coiled) fronds of the young [ostrich] fern. They have a mild flavor and tender crunch, with a taste reminiscent of asparagus, albeit more subtle. While you could easily make this dish without fiddleheads, as they are not a vital component, I incorporated some principally for aesthetic value; they are strangely interesting looking.
Fiddleheads aside, this dish is a cornucopia of spring vegetables — asparagus, leeks, snap peas, green peas, fava beans, and baby artichokes — simmered in a light vegetable broth and finished with a squeeze of lemon, lemon zest, fresh herbs (parsley and mint), and a drizzle of peppery extra virgin olive oil. All my favorite spring vegetables rolled into one. What’s not to like about this light and spring-inspired dish?
There’s a short window during the spring when all of the aforementioned vegetables appear simultaneously at the market. A tasty alignment, compliments of mother nature.
The great thing about a stew is that you don’t have to be all that exact. Add a little more of this or that to suit your taste. I added pancetta (guanciale would be even better if you can get your hands on some), though this creation shines just as brightly without it.
Serve with some crusty grilled bread. I like to rub the grilled bread with a clove of garlic and finish with a pinch of sea salt.
You can use all, some, or other various combinations of spring vegetables. To begin, I blanched the artichokes, snap peas, fava beans, and fiddleheads. After that, it’s pretty much a one pot deal. The key to this dish is having all the ingredients prepped and measured; the rest will come together quickly.
Thinking a few fried eggs along with this stew and dinner is served…
A quick note on fiddleheads: It is advised to wash fiddleheads in cold water, then boil or steam. Fiddleheads should not be eaten raw.
Spring Vegetable Stew
The great thing about a stew is that you don’t have to be all that exact. I’ve given measurements as a guide, but you could easily adapt this recipe to accommodate your personal preferences.
serves 4 as a starter
6 to 7 (12 ounces) baby artichokes
10 ounces shelled fava beans (from about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds unshelled fava beans)
8 ounces snap peas, ends trimmed
8 ounces shelled peas (from fresh or frozen)
handful of fiddlehead ferns (optional)
3 ounces pancetta or guanciale, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling over the finished dish
2 medium leeks (~ 1 heaping cup), thinly sliced (or spring onions)
1 3/4 cups vegetable stock or water
1 bunch of asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons mint, chopped
zest and juice of half a lemon
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
serve with grilled bread, rubbed with a clove of garlic, sprinkle with sea salt
To prepare the artichokes: Fill a bowl with cold water and lemon juice (the lemon prevents oxidation and blackening). Slice the tips of the artichokes cross-wise to remove their pointed tops. Peel off the tough outer leaves of the artichoke until you reach the pale, tender, lighter colored leaves. Place the artichoke in the acidulated water. Repeat with the remaining artichokes.
Blanch the vegetables: Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Drop in the artichokes, cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Slice the artichokes in half lengthwise.
Prepare an ice water bath. Drop the fava beans into the simmering water, cook 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and drop the beans into the ice water bath. Slide the fava from their thick outer covering. Set aside.
Drop the snap peas and fresh peas, if using, (if frozen you don’t need to blanch) into the simmering water, cook for a minute or two. Remove with a slotted spoon and drop into the ice water bath. Drain and set aside.
Last, drop the fiddleheads, if using, into the simmering water (you’ll want to blanch these last since they turn the water a brownish color) and cook for 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drop into the ice water bath. Drain and set aside.
Making the stew: In a large, high-sided pan, heat the olive oil. When hot, add the pancetta and cook until the fat is rendered. Add the leeks and saute until soft and lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add the blanched artichokes and stock, and simmer 5 minutes. Add the asparagus, season with a little salt and pepper, and simmer another 3-5 minutes. Add the peas, fava beans, and fiddleheads, and simmer another 3-5 minutes (all vegetables should be tender, but still have a bit of a bite). Add the lemon zest and juice and fresh herbs, and stir to combine. Taste and re-season with salt and pepper.
To serve: Drizzle with a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil and serve with crusty bread.