The decadence and totally over-the-top nature of this pasta are what makes it so very good. I don’t say this lightheartedly: usually, Italian recipes are very much about the ‘less is more’ approach, and this is what I love about them the most. Yet, sometimes, piling it all up high is just the right thing to do. In the case of this recipe, for example, it works.
The base is a Roman-inspired spring concoction called vignarola. This is a dish made of fresh peas, broad beans, artichokes, sometimes lettuce, sometimes fresh herbs, others bits of guanciale for extra flavour – all braised in oil and white wine until tender and utterly flavoursome. Vignarola is often served on bread, which has the double purpose of carrier and sponge for absorbing the delightful juices left at the end. You can sometimes find vignarola served alongside some fresh ricotta, but mostly, it can hold the stage on its own.
The inspiration for serving vignarola on pasta came after a meal I had last year while visiting Rome around Easter. Rachel (who happens to have just written about it, beautifully as always) had invited us for a lunch at Cesare al Casaletto in Monteverde, and after a round of antipasti, my tonnarelli alla vignarola arrived. I was hooked. The sweet, oily juice in which the vegetables had stewed made the perfect seasoning for the fresh, slightly chewy ribbons of pasta. A generous topping of grated pecorino, melted into the hot pasta, with a little help from some starchy cooking water, added a dose of addictive saltiness and creaminess to the whole. It all disappeared in a shamefully short amount of time.
I didn’t get to try and reproduce the dish at home until this year, though as soon as the first peas and broad beans made their appearance at the market, I knew what was for dinner. Instead of tonnarelli, I used fresh bucatini, another classic Roman pasta shape that is easier to come across. And instead of pecorino, I finished the pasta with some burrata. This might sound odd and totally untraditional – it is.
Burrata is a cheese from Puglia and, logically, it doesn’t have much room in Roman dishes. Yet, I think it works wonders here. It adds creaminess without stealing the main scene from the vegetables; it makes the dish rich yet incredibly fresh tasting and – dare I say – light. Finally, it cools down the temperature of the pasta a bit, making this a great meal option for when spring days start warming up and the food on our plate cool down. You can, of course, skip the pasta and just enjoy the vignarola with come good bread and a burrata on the side.
Bucatini with Vignarola & Burrata
250g fresh bucatini (or 200g dry)
70g fresh shelled peas
70g fresh shelled broad beans
2 medium artichokes
2 spring onions
1 small bunch of fresh parsley
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
75 ml (about 1/3 cup) dry white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
1 burrata of 125g
Start by cleaning the artichokes. Cut the lemon in half and keep it handy. Snap the outer, tough leaves until you reach the pale, tender heart. Using a small serrated knife, cut off the tips of the artichokes and three-quarters of the stem, then score the remaining leaves in a sort of spiral. Remove the tough remaining of the outer leaves at the bottom of the choke, then peel the stalk to reveal the white core. At every passage, squeeze some lemon onto the artichokes to prevent them from oxidating and darkening. Cut the artichokes in halves and remove any hairy choke in the middle, then cut each half in three. Squeeze more lemon then set aside. Prepare the spring onions by washing them thoroughly and slicing them thinly, discarding the green part.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. In a large skillet, heat the oil, then add the sliced onion and fry gently over medium heat until translucent and fragrant. Now, add the artichokes and stir well. Allow to colour on all sides for four or five minutes, then pour in the wine. Let it evaporate for a couple of minutes, stirring the vegetables every now and then, then cover with a lid and let them soften for about 10-12 minutes.
Next, remove the lid and add the peas and broad beans. Let them cook for three minutes, stirring frequently. When done, turn off the heat and keep aside, warm.
Cook your pasta in plenty of boiling water until al dente. Reserve a couple of spoonfuls of cooking water, then drain the pasta and add it to the skillet with the vegetables. Revert all to medium- high heat, add the pasta water and finish cooking the pasta in the skillet, until all the juices have been absorbed and result in a creamy sauce. Add a handful of chopped parsley, then the roughly broken burrata. Give the whole one more good toss, then serve immediately.