(Pisum arvense) — About a year and a half ago, I received an email from a reader asking me about roveglia. It's a bit embarrassing when I have to admit that I don't know an Italian food that is mentioned to me. It is even more embarrassing when, as in this case, a brief research online uncovers the fact that the product in question is typical of an area of my home region, Umbria, and of bordering Marche. My excuse is that my parents come from a different area (northern Lazio), that I never cooked when I was growing up, etc. Still, how come I have missed tasting this legume or seeing it in some store?
If you read this page on the Slow Food Ark of Taste site1, you'll realize that it was actually not difficult to miss roveja when I was growing up:
Roveja is scythed by hand, bending down, which obviously takes a long time. This has discouraged the cultivation of roveja and other old lesser varieties of legumes to the point that this small but tasty pea... is relatively unknown today.
You'll notice that I have already used two names for this legume, roveglia and roveja. The Slow Food page says that roveja is also called roveglia, rubiglio, pisello dei campi (field pea), corbello. In dialect, the word roveglia is pronounced roveja, so "ja" indicates a sound very different from that in the English language (if you listen to the audio file this sentence will make sense).
When I visited Italy a few months after first learning about roveja, I had a clear mission: find some. My precious resource when it comes to legumes is the owner of a store I have mentioned in a previous post (Bavicchi). It is from him that I had learned about fagiolina del Trasimeno: now he was my resource for roveja. Except that he did not have any from the recent crop, so I had to wait until my following visit to Italy to finally take a close look at roveja and then taste it.
Traditionally roveja was also ground and the flour cooked to make a special kind of polenta (called farrecchiata). That's a project for the future. Here I will share my experience cooking roveja according to the recipe given to me where I bought it. (This is another nice feature of the store: when you buy certain legumes, you get a recipe to get you started preparing them.) The first time I prepared roveja, I liked it, but I wasn't extatic, so I put off eating what was left over for a few days. When we ate it the second time, it was much better, it was actually excellent, which made me realize this was a classic case of "it tastes even better the day after" so the following instruction is part of the recipe: should be prepared the day before it is eaten.
Although I was tempted to make a soup with roveja, I opted to tweak and enrich the recipe received and prepared something that can be eaten as is, or spread over toasted slices of bread (a rustic kind, like the 100% whole-grain bread I prepared recently during the weekend di pane), or to dress pasta (as you shall see before this post is over).
Print-friendly version of briciole's recipe for roveja
- a cup of roveja (200 g)
- 4 cups of water (about 1 l)
- 1/2 teaspoon of coarse sea salt
- olive oil
- 1/2 onion, finely diced
- 1/2 rib of celery, finely diced
- 1 carrot (if big, use half), coarsely shredded
- a tiny dried hot chili pepper (peperoncino rosso) left whole
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin (possibly prepared freshly by toasting cumin seeds in a dry skilled and then grinding them)
- 4 oz organic tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste (concentrato di pomodoro)
- fine sea salt, to taste
Soak the roveja in the water, add the coarse salt, stir and let sit for 12 hours, then drain. Cook the roveja in two cups of water, until fairly soft, but not totally cooked (for me that meant 75 minutes). Set aside. In another saucepan, warm up a bit of olive oil, then add the onion. Cook for two minutes, then add the celery. Cook for two minutes, then add the carrot and chili pepper. Cover and cook for 8-10 minutes until soft. If the vegetables become dry, I add some of the cooking liquid from the roveja.
Sprinkle the cumin and stir. Add the tomato sauce and tomato paste and, after a couple of minutes, the roveja. Cook over low heat, covered, until nice and soft, about 15 minutes. Add salt to taste. Turn off the heat and let the roveja cool, then put in the fridge until the day after. Warm up, adding some water if too dry, and serve.
I like eating the roveja like this, with a side dish and some homemade bread. However, the last time I made pasta all'uovo for my husband, I decided to use roveja to dress it. The photo shows the bowl before I sprinkled freshly grated parmigiano reggiano on top. My tagliatelle are not yet worth writing about, but I think they fare fairly well in this photo.
Roveja's rough beauty is quite appealing. Its flavor is intense and not pea-like, more like fava beans (fave). I am thankful for the efforts made to prevent the disappearance of this ancient legume from our table. When a food and the traditions attached to it are saved, we become richer.
1 The page unfortunately no longer exists.
This is my submission for My Legume Love Affair 30, the current edition of the popular, legume-centered event created by Susan, The Well-Seasoned Cook, and hosted this month by Priya of Mharo Rajasthan's Recipes.
This post contains the roundup of the event.
Preview: I will be hosting the January 2011 edition of the event.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the roveja audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
How interesting. As you know, I'm also a legume lover. It seems like these beans might be similar to the American field peas.
Both the pea concoction and your tagliatelle look delicious; love that photo.
Posted by: Lisa | December 26, 2010 at 02:11 PM
I don't think I have seen this legume before. Sounds very interesting and surely delicious the way you cooked it.
Posted by: Ivy | December 26, 2010 at 08:00 PM
Ciao Lisa. I am not an expert, but based in what I read on this wikipedia page, the legume called field pea in the southern US is a cowpea, Vigna unguiculata. That means it is close to fagiolina del Trasimeno. My tagliatelle are getting better: I need to practice more making them.
Ciao Ivy. I wonder if there is something similar in Greece, since roveja grows spontaneously, besides being cultivated.
Posted by: Simona Carini | December 28, 2010 at 06:45 PM
I do love a legume - if I ever come across these I will snap them up! Sounds like they deserve to be appreciated.
Posted by: Foodycat | December 29, 2010 at 07:08 AM
Mai sentiti neanch'io, nonostante i miei vent'anni in Italia. Sono simili ai pigeon peas/gandules? I pigeon peas mi piacciono molto, specialmente al cocco. So che non sono equivalenti perche' hanno un nome botanico diverso. E' da un pezzo che penso di fare un piatto di cucina italiana fusion con i pigeon peas.
Posted by: Cynthia | December 29, 2010 at 11:55 AM
Hi Simona - learned something new today! I must seek these out!
Hoping to come up with a bean dish in January...
Happy New Year!
Posted by: Lori Lynn | December 29, 2010 at 07:09 PM
Ciao Alicia. I have a pea variety in the pantry that is new to me and that I believe it is an English heirloom. I hope to write about it soon. It may be something that you can find in stores near you. Stay tuned.
Ciao Cinzia. I legumi sul logo dell'evento sono pigeon peas. I checked out their scientific name and it is Cajanus cajan, so they are a different genus from peas (whose genus is Pisum). Se capiti nell'Italia centrale dovresti riuscire a trovarli.
Ciao Lori Lynn. I'll be on the lookout to see if they are available in the US. I wonder what kind of legume selection there is at Eataly. I'll try to find out. Happy New Year to you!
Posted by: Simona Carini | December 30, 2010 at 01:53 PM
i'm a legume lover but never heard of it before. thanks to you, now I know. much appreciated.
May this new year bring many opportunities to your way,
to explore every joy of life
may your resolutions for the days ahead stay firm,
turning all your dreams into reality
and all your efforts into great achievements.
Happy New Year to you & your loved ones.
Posted by: Green Girl @ A little bit of everything | December 31, 2010 at 07:13 PM
Wow! This is a new one for me, too. So pretty and unusual. I hope I can find it someday. I like your simple recipe, Simona. The hot pepper and cumin sound like perfect complements for roveja.
Posted by: Susan | January 01, 2011 at 04:56 AM
Hi Green Girl. You are welcome. I am glad you found the post interesting. Thanks for all the New Year's good wishes.
Ciao Susan. I like to showcase products from my home region every now and then. The more people know about them, the less they are in danger of disappearing.
Posted by: Simona Carini | January 02, 2011 at 01:36 PM
Auguri per uno buon anno 2011!
It is so exciting to discover a new legume! I have to check if I can find these roveja here, coz the recipe looks delicious :-)
Posted by: sweet Artichoke | January 04, 2011 at 02:20 AM
Auguri anche a te! Let me know if you find it. Otherwise, you may have to go to Italy to get some ;)
Posted by: Simona Carini | January 05, 2011 at 09:41 AM
Just returned from Italy with a bag of "farina di roveja" bought in an osteria in Castelnuovo di Garfagnana in northern Tuscany in the valley between the eastern & western Apuane Alps. The recipe on the label is for a polenta like dish seasoned with browned onions and garlic sauted in extravirgin olive oil. The label also stated that it can be used in dessert recipes mixed half & half with white flour.
Posted by: Jeanne | May 20, 2011 at 12:05 PM
Hi Jeanne and thanks for the info. I am so glad you found some farina di roveja. I hope you'll try to make some polenta with it. I had not heard about it being used to make dessert: you got me curious. I will make some inquiries the next time I am in Italy.
Posted by: Simona Carini | May 22, 2011 at 06:26 PM
Hi Simona and many thanks for your recipe. When I was in Tuscany and Umbria last September
I bought roveja, lenticchia di castellucio, farina di castagne, orzo all'anise etc.
Immediately after return I made necci with ricotta buffala, walnuts and miele di castagno (outstanding!). Lenticchia di castellucio tasted similar to Lentille de la Reine (Champagne), orzo I drink everyday, but until yesterday, when I found your fabulous BRICIOLE, I do not any idea what to do with roveja. I change your recipe (substituted cumin with thym, tagliatelle with farfalle) and at the end I gave some drops of olive oil (DOP UMBRIA) and pinch of Tellicherry peppers. It was delicious. Roveja has very intense and unique taste. Thank You for inspiration. I admire your blog and love idea of audio file with pronunciation. It's very important and useful. Kisses from snowy Poland. m.
Posted by: Monika Korolczuk | February 18, 2012 at 08:36 AM
Dear Monika, thank you so much for your comment and your kind words. First of all, I am glad that you visited my region of origin. I gather you went back home with a lot of interesting food items. Then, I am delighted that my recipe for roveja inspired you. Roveja has indeed an intense and unique taste. To me, it fits the region well. In case you have not seen images, Umbria has recently seen some pretty snowy weather too. I am glad I now live in a warmer place ;)
Posted by: Simona Carini | February 21, 2012 at 03:02 PM
Simona, I LOVE roveja. I buy it in Perugia at Gió (also home town to this Bay Area resident). I have some in my pantry, next time you are around we will make some together.
Posted by: Viola | May 25, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Ciao Viola. Thanks for letting me know that Gió also has roveja. I have some too :) Did you ever cook it in one of your classes? It has a distinctive rustico flavor that I like a lot.
Posted by: Simona Carini | May 27, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Never thought anyone besides crazy Latvians eats this kind of peas. Nice to know )) We call it grey peas. Here in Latvia, it is a traditional Christmas dish- boiled roveja, served warm with fried onions and bacon on top.
Posted by: Maija | January 07, 2013 at 07:54 AM
Thank you so much, Maija, for your comments. I also didn't know that roveja was grown outside of Italy. And thanks for the additional details about the traditional serving mode. If one day I visit Latvia, I will look for roveja :)
Posted by: Simona Carini | January 08, 2013 at 04:03 PM