Is a stew really a stew if it’s cooked in under half an hour? I don’t know the answer to that, but what I do know is we sat down to invitingly steaming bowlfuls filled with sweet spring veg, erring on the side of al dente, all surrounded with a tasty broth and seasoned with crispy pancetta and a little parmesan. If it can legitimately be called a stew, then it’s proof that a stew most definitely does not need to be slow cooked to be delicious.
I love asparagus season, and I think it’s fair to say that we’ve been making the most of the green spears this spring. But, I’d been looking out for British white asparagus for a while now, and despite its anaemic, slightly odd appearance, when I finally saw some fat, juicy looking stems, I snapped up a bunch without hesitation. I didn’t put too much thought into what to do with it, and my first bite of a piece in this stew was pleasant – a subtle, familiar asparagus-y flavour – but mildly bitter. After investigation online I found out that the skin is known for having a bitter taste, but peeling it off sorts that problem out. I don’t know if I’ll actually be doing that in the future, as we quite like bitter flavours (it reminded me of endive, a favourite of ours) and it was a nice contrast to the various sweeter veg filling my bowl. But just a heads up for any of you who aren’t so into embracing the bitterness…
200g new potatoes, cut into bite sized pieces
200g parsnip, cut into pieces similar to the potatoes
1 medium onion, finely sliced
2 small carrots, diced
1 celery stick, diced
100g spring greens, shredded
100g asparagus, cut into batons (I used chunky white asparagus, but green would be equally good)
A handful mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 spring onions, chopped
2 -3 tsp. bouillon
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
About 70g pancetta
1 tbsp. oil
Parmesan, to serve
Put the potatoes and parsnips into a saucepan, and cover with about 500ml cold water. Add the bouillon, then bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook until just done (mine took about ten minutes.)
Meanwhile, put the pancetta into a dry pan, and fry until the fat renders off and the pieces turn crispy. Remove the pancetta from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside, then fry the mushrooms in the remaining fat until they’re cooked.
Remove the mushrooms and set aside, then add the oil to the pan. Heat it, and fry together the sliced onion, celery and carrot, along with the bay leaf and thyme, until the onion is cooked. Add the asparagus, spring greens and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, then add the cooked potatoes and parsnips along with their cooking liquid. Stir through the mushrooms and grind in plenty of black pepper, then simmer for about ten to fifteen minutes, until the asparagus is tender. Finally, add the peas and the spring onions, and cook for a further couple of minutes. Serve sprinkled with the pancetta and parmesan.