Roveja, the Mythical “Lost” Beans of Umbria
We’d first savored la roveja legume a few winters back in Cascia during the Umbrian mountain town’s winter festival starring this “lost bean.”
That night in Cascia as we had sipped the tasty steaming soup cooked up by the local women, we had talked to Silvana about the unearthing of this mysterious bean in her abandoned family cellar over twenty years ago.
As the dried pea-shaped legume had mystified the local farmers, Silvana did her own research, learned to cultivate it and has been the force behind the recognition of the roveja as a Slow Food Presidio, assuring its preservation and diffusion.
But was this pea-like legume (originating in the Middle East and cultivated since the Neolithic period) truly “lost” – until resurrection by Silvana – or has there always been a cultivation, if limited?
I was sure Stefania would know, owner of our favorite restaurant in Norcia (“roveja territory,” too). She called the legume “a sort of wild pea,” explaining that it is cultivated at high altitudes (600 m or higher), resists well cold temperatures and that its gradual disappearance was probably simply due to the increasingly widespread cultivation of lentils and farro now in the Cascia/Norcia area.
As the roveja pods were picked by hand during the August heat, I imagine that its labor-intensive harvesting also contributed to its gradual fazing out…
And I’m sure there’s another reason for the roveja disappearance: the tasty Castelluccio di Norcia tiny lentils cook rapidly. Not roveja! I recently made a roveja soup and grazie a Dio for our wood stove. The beans simmered for long hours (after sitting twelve hours in tepid water) before I could add them to the herbs and diced vegetables sautéed lightly in our just-pressed olive oil.
We set some of the soup aside for Peppa to try: she’d never heard of the roveja, nor had most of our other farm neighbors: we’re only hill country here (about 400 m), after all: not roveja territory.
I’m glad to have experienced cooking the mythical “lost beans” but today lentils simmer on the wood stove. And now, the lentil soup cooking time seems to be the blink of an eye.