Supporting Artisan Producers

Supporting Artisan Producers

Cicerchia or Lathyrus Sativa (Grass Pea) is an exciting heritage legume I recently discovered at Mercato di Campagna Amica in Rome. This is a fascinating farmers market that exemplifies the slow food movement in Italy, linking together the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and environment.

There is one stall dedicated to Legumes, many beguiling varieties, with heritage backgrounds. It was here that I discovered Cicerchia, pronounced Chi-Cher-Kia. Its Latin name is Lathyrus Sativa, commonly known as Blue Grass Pea (it has a beautiful blue flower). It’s a little bigger than an English pea and charmingly triangular!

Lathyrus Sativa is a controversial crop, one that is paradoxically both a saviour and a destroyer.

It is high in protein and easy to cultivate with a reliable yield. However, it contains the neurotoxin ODAP, that causes a non reversible paralysis in the lower limbs if eaten over an extended period of time. It is this very toxin that protects the plant and allows it to endure extreme drought or water logging. Meaning that during times of famine, it could be the only alternative to starvation.

Very recent research has also revealed that this powerful neurotoxin is also present in Hedysarum Alpinum or Wild Potato. This was the plant now believed to be responsible for the paralysis and subsequent death of Christopher McCandless, depicted in the film ‘Into the Wild’.

In our privileged position in Europe, we are fortunate to be able to make choices about the foods we eat. We are unlikely to be in a situation that would necessitate gorging on the amount of Lathyrus Sativa needed to cause paralysis. So I am going to go ahead and give you the recipe that I created around my purchase of these funny shaped legumes!

In the true tradition of slow food, this dish takes time to make. Don’t cut down on the soaking or cooking times, as these processes partly help to break down and eliminate those toxic amino acids.

Cicerchia are worth seeking out as they are a truly delicious protein rich dish. Whilst cooking they smell similar to lentils, yet they retain their bite and shape. There is also something of a chickpea about them, but I found them much gentler on my digestion.

They also combine beautifully with Autumnal vegetables. It was back in October when I made this dish, so I pulled carrots from my polytunnel and cut open a large Crown Prince squash from my veg plot. The colours all melded and complimented one another and the whole dish was topped off with Percorino cheese. Bought from the man who poked little sample offerings onto the end of a long knife, held out into the crowds walking through the market aisles!

Cicerchia and Crown Prince Cassoulet



    • 500g Cicerchia


    • 2 bay leaves


    • Piece of Kombu seaweed


    • 3 tbs Coconut oil or ghee


    • 1 medium Leek – finely chopped


    • 1 medium onion – cut into half moons


    • 3 med carrot cut into chunks


    • 500g Crown Prince squash


    • Fresh sprig of Rosemary


    • 3 Fresh sprigs of sage


    • Fresh sprig of thyme


    • 1 litre boiling water


    • Salt


    1 Tbs Apple Cider Vinegar

To serve:

    • Slug of extra virgin olive oil


    • Pecorino cheese


    Fresh chopped parsley


    • * Soak the Cicerchia for 24 hours. Yes, these desiccated peas need to take their time to revive and rehydrate. Rinse them well and then bring to the boil in plenty of water, along with the bay leaves and kombu. Both of these additions may help to neutralise the gas producing properties of legumes if cooked together. The kombu will also add Umami taste and essential minerals.


    • * Simmer for at least 30 mins, at which point you can try a pea to see if its cooked enough. If it is soft yet still retaining a little bite you can drain them, otherwise continue cooking for another 10 mins and check again.


    • * Whilst the peas cook, chop up the squash into smallish chunks. Roast in the oven with a spoonful of coconut oil at 200c for 30mins, until soft and beginning to caramelise around the edges.


    • * In a large pan sweat down the leeks and onions with the rest of the oil on a gentle heat. Add the carrots and herbs once the onions have broken down. You can add splashes of water to deglaze the pan if necessary.


    • * Bring the cicerchia with kombu and squash together in the pan with the onion mix. Stir briefly and add the boiling water. You may not need as much as a litre or you may need a bit more, the water should cover everything in the pan.


    • * Place a lid on the pan and simmer slowly on a low flame for at least 45 mins, stirring periodically. The squash should have broken down into the dish creating a silky sauce, but the cicerchia will remain whole.


    • * To serve, turn off the heat and stir in the tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and salt to taste. Adding an acid to your cassoulet will deepen and enhance the flavour.


    • * Then drizzle a good slug of quality olive oil over the top of the pan. Add the chopped parsley and let the dish stand for 10 mins before serving.


    * The dish is delicious with Pecorino grated over it and served with steamed greens and fresh sourdough bread.

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