(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.
As you can read on this page, 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 mice 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 sliced 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).
- 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.]