Thursday, May 6, 2010


Last week I was at the top of the fava bean season (see the previous blog posting for a couple of recipes). This week it’s peas, sweet garden peas, and a few long-awaited artichokes. Along with just-pulled spring onions and some asparagus (from the market), the ingredients add up to one of the best vegetable dishes of the seasonal Spanish kitchen.

This is menestra, a mixture or melange of veggies. Besides favas, peas, artichokes and asparagus, the combination can include any other vegetables fresh from the garden (or farmers’ market)—wild mushrooms, chard stems, cardoons, baby carrots, green beans, new potatoes. If served as a side dish (wonderful with grilled lamb chops), a little chopped serrano ham flavors the menestra. For a main dish, I like to add sliced sausage, such as Catalan white butifarra.

The traditional way to prepare menestra is to cook each vegetable separately in boiling water, then to combine them in a sofrito. Sofrito is the flavor base, a fried mixture of olive oil, onions, garlic and tomato. You can use fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or, if tomatoes are not in season, a few spoonfuls of canned tomato sauce (not concentrate).

Menestra de Verduras
Mixed Spring Vegetables

I like to leave the (inedible) tips on the artichokes. To eat them, you pick them up by the tips and bite off the tender bottom. But, if you prefer, the artichokes can be trimmed down to the bottoms. (More about cooking artichokes  here.)

Serves 4 as a side or 2 as a main dish.

2 artichokes
12 asparagus spears
4 ounces shelled peas (about ½ cup)
4 ounces shelled fava beans (about ½ cup)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 or 2 spring onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 ounces sliced butifarra or other sausage (optional)
1 ounce chopped serrano ham (optional)
¼ cup canned tomato sauce
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup water
salt and pepper
strips of roasted red pepper to garnish (optional)

Trim away stems on the artichokes, snap off a few outer leaves and cut the artichokes lengthwise into quarters. With the tip of a knife, nip out the fuzzy choke. Drop the cut artichokes into boiling salted water and cook until a leaf pulls off easily, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain.

Snap off and discard butt ends of asparagus and cut spears into two or three pieces. Cook them in boiling salted water for 3 minutes from the time the water returns to a boil. Cook peas 1 minute; fava beans 4 minutes. Drain the vegetables.

Heat the oil in a cazuela or skillet and sauté the onions and garlic 4 minutes. Add the sliced butifarra, if using, or chopped ham, if using, and sauté 4 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, wine, water, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then stir in all the vegetables. Simmer 10 minutes. Serve the menestra hot garnished with strips of roasted red pepper, if desired.

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