A special variety of grass pea with a less bitter flavor and lower cooking times.
Very similar to chickpeas, grass peas (or Lathyrus sativus) are legumes from the Middle East which grow from a leafy plant on an annual cycle. They’re planted in January and harvested between July and August. The plant is very resistant and can grow even in difficult conditions like drought or cold temperatures. Rich in calcium and phosphorus, they also contain protein and starch, vitamin B1, B2 and fiber, so they’re a healthy and versatile ingredient.
There are multiple varieties of grass peas, especially in central Italy: in Tuscany, Abruzzo and especially Marche. In particular, in the area of Serra de’ Conti in the Verdicchio hills, a special variety is grown called the Serra de’ Conti grass pea. They have a flat, pointy shape and range in color from gray to spotted brown, with delicate skin and a less bitter flavor than other varieties.
Their flavor and special shape make them perfect for making soups, as well as side dishes as an alternative to lentils, or as a puree with fresh olive oil and green leafy vegetables. You can also make an excellent flour with grass peas, which can be made into pasta like maltagliati (wide, flat pasta) and pappardelle (long, wide pasta). In addition, cooking time is lower than other legumes. They only need to be soaked for 5 hours and cooked for 40 minutes. There’s a dessert made with these that’s similar to Neapolitan struffoli, called “cicerchiata”, which means roughly “pile of beans”. It’s mainly made during the Carnevale period, and is known as a traditional agricultural product of Abruzzo, Marche and Molise, but is also common in Umbria.
Did you know
Grass peas are rich in vitamins and nutrients, but consumption fell off in the late 1800s to the point of nearly disappearing, when a rumor spread that if eaten in too great of quantities, legumes could cause neurological diseases. Now their production has decisively picked up, especially the Serra de’ Conti variety, thanks in part to a cooperative of young people called La bona usanza”, which brings together the few farmers still growing this traditional legume in their home gardens. They’re undergoing a commercial revival, due to their growing methods with low environmental impact and respect for the land.