box-one-of-two Recipes

spring vegetable stew

Last month, en route to a cousin’s baby shower in Connecticut, my mother, sister and I realized that we needed a new envelope for the card we’d brought and swung into a strip shopping mall which housed a crafts store. I ran in to buy one, and found myself smack dab in front of something so mind-blowingly awesome, it took me nearly a minute to remember to breathe: as if I couldn’t love her any more, Martha Stewart apparently has a line of crafts products, and people, if there are two things I’m powerless in the face of, it’s a rack that contains not one, not two, but eleven different types of crafts glue and their doyenne. That I walked out of the store that day with not a single MSC product is nothing but a testament to my refuse-to-overstuff-my-tiny-apartment willpower, but it’s been three weeks now, and still, almost every other worth that breathlessly escapes my lips sounds like MonkeyPartyinaBox! or PaperBagPuppetKit! I am nothing if not a sensible, level-headed individual.

shelling peas

Monday, the mailroom guy arrived at my desk with the Biggest Box in the Whole world, and people, it was from Martha Stewart Freaking Crafts Dot Com. I shit you not. I briefly worried that I had in fact lost what was left of my mind and ordered a Leaf Wood Stamp 1 whilst drunk or something. (Hey, some people drunk-dial exes, perhaps drunk-buying multi-colored Evening Terrace Decorative Adhesive could be my thing. Can you imagine what a riot it would be to tell this story at a party?) I mean, this really crossed my mind, and left me so panicked that I went to see if I had an account, or old emails confirming an order, but retrieved nothing. So I IM-ed Alex and confessed that I thought I might be placing orders on in my sleep, and why couldn’t I just be a normal girl and sleep-shop for Manolos? And do you know what knee-weakening sweet nothing he whispered into my monitor? Do you?

“That’s box one of two.”

Hummuna. Did I score well or what?

favas, out of their pods

I suspect you want to know what’s in this box, but I can’t tell you because I don’t know. My birthday, you see, is not until next week and frankly, the excitement of having this g’normous box in my cube–really, I’m like a one-year old, equally excited by a box and it’s contents–will definitely be able to hold me over until then. No peeking for you, either, okay? Until that time however, and because we’ve already dedicated this entry to how awesome my boy is, I have to tell you about this delicious we meal we cooked together last week.


It was a real team effort, and I dare say that it will inspire more going forward. The recipe comes by way of a New York Times Magazine article about artichokes by Sara Dickerman, and being equally huge fans of both the green globes as well as Sara’s column on, I couldn’t wait to dive in.

If you can find those true baby artichokes (we’re talking 3″ or less in diameter), even better, as you can spare yourself the task of de-choking them, as there is nothing inedible inside.

fresh peas

The first time for either of us, we shucked fresh peas and favas which was pretty fun as far as prep work goes. They were stewed with baby artichokes, onion, pancetta and stirred with fresh mint and parsley in a Roman-style spring stew known as La Vignarola. Hefty and fresh, it was a stew like none I’ve eaten before and despite the loads of prep work–aided by good company and, of course, good wine–utterly worth it. I can’t wait to make it again next year.

la vignarola

La Vignarola [Roman-Style Spring-Vegetable Stew]
Sara Dickerman for the New York Times 5/27/07

Serves 6 as a side dish or first course.

2 lemons, halved
5 large artichokes (about 12 ounces each)
11/2 cups shelled fresh or frozen fava beans, or shelled frozen edamame
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 sprig oregano, optional
2 ounces guanciale or pancetta, slivered
2 cups shelled (fresh or frozen) peas
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped mint
* teaspoon lemon juice, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper.

1. To prepare the artichokes: Fill a large bowl halfway with cold water. Squeeze the lemons into the water and add the rinds to the bowl. Using a serrated knife, cut off the top third of an artichoke. Pull back and snap off the dark green, leafy blades, one by one, until only the pale yellow leaves remain. Using a paring knife, trim the artichoke bottom and stem to the pale green flesh, then cut it in half lengthwise. Drop into the water (to keep the artichoke from turning brown) and repeat with the remaining artichokes. Using a spoon, scoop out the prickly leaves and hairy choke. Cut each half into 4 wedges and return to the water until ready to use.

2. If using fresh fava beans, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl two-thirds full with ice water. When the water comes to a boil, add the beans and cook for 1 minute, then drain and immediately submerge the beans in the ice water. Peel the beans by gently tearing the pale skins and pinching at one end. Discard the skins, reserving the dark green interiors.

3. To cook the ragout: Heat a 12-inch nonreactive pan over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup olive oil and when hot, add the onion, oregano (if using) and guanciale. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onion and guanciale are translucent, about 10 minutes. Drain artichokes and add to the pan, along with 2 cups water and 11/4 teaspoons salt. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until artichokes are just tender, about 25 minutes. If using frozen favas, add them and cook for 2 minutes. If using fresh favas or frozen edamame, add them, along with the peas, and cook until warm and tender, about 5 minutes more. Remove the oregano sprig. Sprinkle in parsley and mint. Season with lemon juice, freshly ground black pepper and, if desired, additional salt. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and serve.

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46 comments on spring vegetable stew

  1. Jessica

    So sweet. Love the story, almost as much as I loved the story about you buying Alex an iPod (which this story reminds me of).

  2. You’ve hooked yourself a fine man – not just the surprise birthday boxes (1 and 2), but he helped you shuck the favas and the peas? I’m sure it’s not just because of your cupcakes.

  3. Mmmmm……sweet husbands make me swoon, and although mine rarely cooks with me, he has been known to buy me wonderful gifts out of the blue “just because”. They most always have something to do with food. Is this only how he thinks of me???

    I look forward to the ‘Box Opening’ post.

  4. Larry

    Further evidence of why you won the “most humorous” award – had me chuckling. But a question – if the stew was so wonderful why would you not make it again for a year? Availability of ingredients?
    Incidentally, the riblets garnered a 10 out of 10 with our rating system!!

  5. Reese

    WOW! Way to go, Alex! Very impressive!

    OH! And, also, congratulations on the great husband. But mostly kudos to Alex…

  6. deb

    Jessica — He has a new iPod now, the nerve, one in which he can watch back episodes of Heroes while on a plane. I just can’t compete with that. ;) That said, he got it as a bonus from his credit card as related to some huge purchase he made on it a couple years ago. Um, so I can’t complain.

    Mary — Not only did he shuck peas, he was better at it than I was. He’s all careful and neat and I would tear them open and little peas would go flying and I’d reach down to pick them up and squish them with my flip-flop because I’m impatient and he is not.

    Tammi — I have no idea! But I’m intrigued. I also love the image of him sorting through specimen boxes and pink confetti flowers, brow furrowed, trying to figure out what would make me lose my shit. (The answer being, of course: all of it.)

  7. Ooh, that looks very yum!

    Seriously, I am very, very impressed with a boy who will purchase anything that says Martha Stewart which is not on some kind of gift registry.

    Whoa . . . we should totally have craft registries.

  8. Okay, I know you’re in Brooklyn, what grocery store did you find fresh fava beans and fresh peas in?! I just had a salad at Locanda Vini & Olii in Clinton Hill that was similar to your recipe and I’ve been dying to try to replicate it, but can’t find fresh young fava beans and peas!!

  9. deb

    No in Brooklyn, Manhattan.We bought them at the Garden of Eden on 23rd Street by us, which always has impressive produce, albeit tiny quantities.

  10. oh the pictures and the color and the recipe – it all looks so good. I want this for breakfast, is that wrong? As for the new iPod as a result of a big purchase – hmm, I can’t think of what that purchase could’ve been ;-)

  11. gal, dont worry – you can always dream about manolos once you are a grown up. and i knooow! the martha stewart crafts-site is wonderful, so many lovely things, so much stuff you dont need but have to have. unfortunately they dont ship to europe, i would have ordered all that stuff. all of it! at once!
    i am proud of you, how you manage to keep that box closed. i would have gotten up in the middle of the night to check – just real quick – to see what’s in it and put it right back where it was hidden. no-one will know, right?

  12. I made vignarola once a couple years ago and I’ll admit I was totally underwhelmed, it was like brothy vege, but I think that is attributed to some under-par artichokes. Perhaps I’ll give it a go again if I can motivate myself to some artichoke work.

  13. Shelly

    Welcome to my world Deb… the wonderful world of paper, rubber and all things crafty! I see it as just one more outlet for your creative ability! Make sure you go out now and buy yourself a big plastic box with a lid, on wheels, so as you accumulate, and you will, you’ll have someplace to store your stuff, therefore keeping you organized! It doesn’t matter if you only have two stamps, I started with one and never realized how out of control my new habit would get. Now I have over 100 stamps, a huge box of different colors, styles, textures, etc, of card stock and another huge plastic box of ribbon, tapes, stamp pads, paint brushes, embelishments, embossing powders, etc.

    Plus, when you bring something yummy to someones home, you can now craft a card to go with it, or scrapbook your memories of the event.

    I’ll stop babbling now…

  14. Mrs B

    I LOVE your blog. I read it all the time. This is the first time I have been moved to leave a comment. I LAUGHED – (I shit you not) sitting at my desk all alone. I know that craft addiction all too well. And then I was moved to near tears when you said Alex ordered it. It is things like that that eat your heart right up!! I can’t wait to find out what’s inside.

    The world’s best recipes come with the story behind them. Like yours.

  15. Alex is wonderful… he needs to start blogging to teach all the other men in the world how to be wonderful too. I married to a wonderful man, but he doesn’t do great in the surprise/gift giving department.

  16. lalabrat

    Oy! Alex needs to do something about those cuticles.
    No offense. Love your blog. Made the corn muffins recently and they were divine.

  17. You lucky lady – you scored yourself a winner! But, I know what I’d get Alex for his birthday, a manicure. But, they are manly nails.

    Dinner looks scrumptious. I’m totally leaning on the vegetarian side of things now that I’m working at the client site. Surprisingly, the restaurants in Greensboro have a wide variety of fair that will impress a vegetarian heart.

    I can’t wait for the traveling to be over and I can start cooking again.

  18. a) You are a lucky, lucky girl – what a catch!
    b) Those peas are gorgeous, I so love fresh peas and need some like RIGHT NOW. The stew looks good, too.

  19. beth

    I’m watching the “next food network star” and eating a warm black-bottom cupcake right out of the oven. I make at least one of the recipes per day from your archives. Why are you not on this show? ;)

  20. ann

    First off: HA!
    that’s pretty damn hilarious! I have a co-worker who drunk-online shops. Luckily he brings a lot of his purchases into the office, like the arsenal of nerf weapons he decided to buy one time. Good stuff…
    Second, you are a saint for making that dish! Favas are my Waterloo. I can’t deal with them. They’ve defeated me.
    Third: happy birthday in advance!

  21. Ann (a different one)

    Oh, you are dangerous, linking to that tempting, tempting site! I think I need to throw a party (or 5) just so I can justify buying lots of things from MSC.

  22. I have already spent too much on her craft site already….what I love is the way things are packaged and boxed up. It’s like getting 2 presents on one!

  23. Elle

    When is your b-day? Mine’s the 15th and I can’t possibly wait, I can’t even imagine having to look at my present everyday without knowing what’s inside!

  24. Hi Deb!

    I’ve been reading your blog for some time now, so I thought I’d finally say hi! :)

    Your husband is amazing – does he have a single and available brother?

    I had a bad experience with fresh peas in the past. After shelling all 3 pounds, it was so disappointing that the frozen petit pois from the supermarket beat my fresh peas hands down. But after reading your entry and having an amazing fava bean and pea salad at P*ONG, i got inspired to try fresh peas again. I’m making my salad tonight, fingers crossed!

    oh BTW, happy birthday in advance!

  25. Stephen Miller

    The images on this recipe are amazing. I really can’t wait to try this recipe at my upcoming family gathering. What kind of olive oil do you recommend using when cooking? I use extra-virgin olive oil from Holy Food Imports (www.holyfoodimports) and everyone loves the recipes I make with it.

  26. Julie

    Lovely recipe collection – I feel a bit guilty taking them for free! I have to know with this one…do you just throw out the dark green leaves from the artichokes? I wonder if they’d be any good boiled alone, or if they wouldn’t be very tender cooked that way. Thanks for sharing your recipes, photos, and stories.

  27. Teresa

    I made this today for a dish to lift the spirits of a work colleague whose young son died last week (DIPG). The meal train showed me so many noodle and sauce and cheese dishes that I wanted something different, something lemoney and bright, to at least put some sunshine in their mouths at such a sad time. It turned out so lovely, even with some tweaks: I sauteed boneless chicken thighs with the onions, and had to use canned artichokes and bacon. Served it with a fresh boule and a spring fruit salad.
    Thanks for this perfect recipe.