Spring in Spain brings many pleasures, not the least of which is this delicious stew. There are as many versions as there are cooks: Some add peas, other potatoes. The stew can be flavored with the smoky notes of jamon or a touch of pounded fried almonds. In any case, the stew’s sweet essence of spring remains the same. Feel free to substitute leeks for the onions and fresh shelled peas and/or sliced asparagus for the fava beans (tender asparagus and peas should be added in the last ten minutes of cooking). You can also use six to eight tender baby artichokes instead of the larger ones. There’s no need to pare them; just trim off the stems and the leaf tips. If you use baby artichokes, cook the stew about ten minutes less.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6 as a first course
1½ cups shelled fresh fava beans (about 1½ pounds unshelled), or 1½ cups soybeans or peas, thawed if frozen
4 medium-size artichokes, pared down to the heart
1 lemon, cut in half
5 tablespoons fragrant extra virgin olive oil
1 medium-size onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 piece (3 to 4 ounces) Serrano ham or prosciutto, finely diced
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 medium-size Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch lengths
1/3 cup dry sherry
1¼ to 1½ cups chicken stock or broth, or water
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 squeeze of fresh lemon juice (optional)
1. Bring a pot of water to a boil, then add the fava beans and cook until just tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Drain the fava beans in a colander and place it under cold running water until the beans are cool enough to handle. Gently peel the skins off the beans. Set the beans aside.
2. Drain the acidulated water form the artichokes and cut each heart crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices, including the stems. Rub the slices with the cut side of the lemon halves to prevent discoloring, then set aside.
3. Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and ham and cook, stirring, until the onion is limp, about 5 minutes. Add half of the garlic and the sliced artichokes and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Partially cover the pan and continue cooking until the artichokes are almost tender, 5 to 7 minutes, adjusting the heat so that the artichokes cook without browning. Add the potato and green beans and cook for 1 minute. Add enough stock to barely cover the vegetables and season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer the stew, partially covered, until all the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Add the fava beans and cook until tender, about 5 minutes longer.
4. Place the parsley and the remaining garlic in a mortar and, using a pestle, mash them to a paste. Add the parsley mixture to the stew. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or pepper as necessary and the lemon juice if desired. Cook the stew until the flavors meld, another minute or so. Let the stew cool to warm and serve.
This isn’t your bright-green, flash-cooked al dente California version of the Mediterranean. To be really good, sweet, and authentic, the vegetables have to braise for quite some time. What’s lost in color is gained in taste. Serve the stew on its own as a first course, as a light lunch, or as a side dish with roast lamb, chicken, or fish.