Braised Spring Vegetables (Menestra de Legumbres)
Recipe type: Vegetables
Serves: 4
  • 1 Cup shelled baby broad beans
  • 2 Cups shelled spring peas
  • 12 pea pods
  • 16 tiny new potatoes
  • 4 young artichokes
  • 12 white asparagus tips
  • 2 tender lettuce leaves; chopped fine
  • 1 small onion; minced
  • 1 medium onion; sliced thin
  • salt, to taste
  • 4 Cups meat stock or beef bouillon
  • 2 slices lean bacon or salt pork; thick slices, cubed
  • 1 slices cured ham; thick slice
  • 4 slices cured ham; thin slices
  • 1 Tablespoon butter; rounded Tablespoon
  • 7 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon flour; rounded Tablespoon
  • flour; for dusting
  • 1 egg; beaten
  • 1 lemon; cut in half
  1. The Broad Beans: In a large saucepan, slowly fry one thick slice of lean bacon or salt pork cut into cubes in 1 tablespoon olive oil. When bacon has become soft, add a small minced onion. After the onion takes on color, put in a cup of shelled broad beans with 1/2 teaspoon sugar and two leaves of chopped lettuce. Let the beans fry for 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in 3 cups of meat stock or bouillon and cook beans at a slow boil for 2 hours uncovered. Add meat stock or bouillon as liquid evaporates. Season with salt when almost cooked.
  2. The Peas and Potatoes: Break the ends off a dozen peapods and put them to boil in 6 cups of water. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small skillet.
  3. Slowly fry a thick slice of lean bacon or salt pork cut in cubes. When it has browned a little, put in a thinly sliced medium onion. Stir and shake the pan while the onion fries until soft and golden, but not brown.
  4. Pour off excess grease before adding 1 rounded tablespoon flour.
  5. Immediately pour contents of skillet into water in which pea shells are boiling. Boil for 30 minutes. Force through a sieve into another saucepan. Add shelled peas and peeled new potatoes. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 hours. After 1 hour, add to the peas and potatoes a cubed slice of cured ham fried for 2 to 3 minutes in 1 rounded tablespoon butter.
  6. Add a little meat stock or bouillon as liquid in which peas and potatoes are cooking evaporates.
  7. The Asparagus: Scrape off tough outer fibers, cut off thick part of stalk, and cook until tender in boiling salted water. If prepared in advance, keep in its own cooking liquid; reheat in the same liquid before serving.
  8. The Artichokes: Peel off all coarse exterior leaves until only the tender center part remains. Cut the choke to a miximum height of 2-inches.
  9. Clean in cold water, rub with half a lemon, and cook in boiling salted water to which you have added the juice of half a lemon and the two squeezed lemon halves. Cook until the leaves can be pulled off easily. If prepared in advance, keep in its own cooking liquid. Before serving, cut each artichoke in eight parts, dip in flour, then in beaten egg, and fry in 4 tablespoons hot olive oil.
  10. To Serve: Place a portion of each vegetable on each plate. Fry one piece of cured ham per person and serve it on top of the broad beans. If you wish to have the 'menestra' with egg, poach one egg per person in boiling water to which you have added 1 tablespoon vinegar. Break each egg into a saucer and slide it into the boiling water. Scoop eggs out 4 minutes later and immediately place them in a pan of cold water. Trim the ragged edges with a knife or kitchen shears. Serve the egg on top of the peas and potatoes.
Recipe Source: THE SPANISH COOKBOOK by Barbara Norman

Comments: The 'menestra', a favorite Basque dish, is made only when the spring vegetables are young and tender: in April, May, and June. This recipe is from Casa Nicolasa in San Sebastian. The peas, whose pods are only 1 1/2-inches long, must come from a certain strip of land on one specific mountain behind the town; the broad beans are the size of a shirt button, and the potatoes measure 1-inch in diameter at most. Pounds and pounds of the tiny fresh vegetables are shelled and peeled for each portion.
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