Umbrian Wild Peas (Roveja)

Dating back to ancient Rome, this Italian wild pea had lapsed into obscurity by the 1990s. Find out how this pea made its comeback in the culinary world.

| July 2019

umbrian-wild-pea

Family: Fabaceae

Species: Pisum Sativum Sub sp. Arvense

Cultivar: Roveja di Castelluccio



The Umbrian wild pea, also known as the roveja, is a small, pea-like legume with colours that vary from dark green to grey and brown, some with speckling. It was first cultivated by Neolithic people living on a plain in the Sibillini mountains, a mountain range that covers the south-eastern area of Umbria and an area that archaeological finds suggest may have been the first inhabited part of what is now Italy. The Umbrian wild pea is believed by some researchers to be an ancestor of the common pea, though others claim it to be a true species – either way, its botanical classification is still unclear. — In past centuries, the roveja was a staple in the diet of the herders and farmers who lived on the mountains and was eaten in the form of a puls, an Ancient Roman style of porridge. Though still consumed in the Middle Ages, over time the roveja was forgotten, its demise caused by the tough, labour-intensive harvesting it required on difficult, high-altitude land. By the 1990s only a few locals remembered the roveja. Thankfully, on finding some plants growing in gullies near streams, some of those locals decided to take action. Daniele Testa explains, ‘Like my father before me, we were growing heritage crops here. My brother and I decided to start re-cultivating the roveja. When we applied for organic certification, the people in Brussels and the wider EU couldn’t believe this plant was the real thing’. Another two women from Civita di Cascia, Silvana Cresci and Gertrude Moretti, also began to reassess this rare legume. By the end of the 1990s in Italy, the Universities of Perugia and Ancona, along with local action groups and several farmers, had started to experiment and resume production and, by 2006, the roveja came under the protection of the Slow Food Foundation. — I first came across this pea in 2015 while I was visiting Milan, and its unique look with its multitude of colours really intrigued me. After soaking and a long, gentle slow cook, the roveja holds its shape without breaking up and its texture is very satisfying. The flavour is more like that of dried beans or lentils than peas. It’s crazy to think that this ancient vegetable could have been lost to history were it not for a few passionate people who saw its special value.

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Cover courtesy of Hardie Grant Books






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