I just adore cicerchia. Pronounced “chee-cher-ki-ya” (more or less), it is one of those ancient foods have almost disappeared from the tables of the world.
In English they are known as red peas or flatpod peavines (and many other strange names) but I had never heard of them before I first savored them years ago a the Sagra della Cicerchia in Castelvecchio Calvisio near Santo Stefano on top of the Gran Sasso. They are almost wild (according to some websites they are wild) and grow well in places with difficult climates and poor soils throughout the Mediterranean and the middle east. Small yields and unbelievably long cooking times (and food poisoning if you don’t drain the water away enough), they were mainly an emergency crop in isolated areas, to eat when other crops fail. Or so it seems.
They are related to chick peas, and look as though a chick pea was squished into an uneven cube. But it’s the flavor – a cross between italian chick peas and upper Wisconsin wild rice – that makes a simple plate of cicierchia and sagne pasta (with tomato sauce and olive oil) make you feel rugged and warm.
The Sagra di Castelvecchio was always one of my favorites. But not just for the food; it was held in the narrow medieval streets of this tiny old town perched up on a promontory below the Castle in Calascio. The earthquake last April put an end to it, for now. This year they teamed up with other towns and cicerchia were on hand at nearby Santo Stefano da Sessanio.
To this year they were even tastier.
Great with arrosticini.