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Enjoy Katie Parla’s Grasspea Soup – At Your Own Risk

Enjoy Katie Parla’s Grasspea Soup – At Your Own Risk

24 June 2024

Some foods are delicious but dangerous. Fubu, or puffer fish, is an extreme example: only trained chefs are allowed to prepare the funny-looking fish for risk-loving gourmets. 

But humans have also accepted risk in more prosaic foods. Cassava, which is consumed by millions across South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia, can contain cyanogenic glycosides, which release cyanide when consumed. Yes, cyanide. You have to wonder who first had the idea to eat the stuff.

Even rhubarb isn't safe! Only its stalks are edible, as its leaves contain oxalic acid and anthraquinone glycosides, which can cause poisoning and kidney failure. 

And then there’s grasspea, a lesser-known yet delicious legume that, if eaten almost exclusively for longer than 3 to 4 months, could lead to lathyrism, a kind of irreversible paralysis of the legs. However, washed well and eaten as part of a balanced diet, grasspea offers high levels of protein and other nutrients, as well as benefits to the environment and soil in which it is grown. So, is it worth the risk?

Katie Parla strolls through Palermo, Sicily. Photo courtesy of Katie Parla

Katie Parla is definitely a fan. So much so that she decided to include a grasspea recipe in her 2022 cookbook, Food of the Italian Islands

Katie is an acclaimed author, publisher, television and podcast host, journalist, culinary guide, and educator based in Rome. She has written, edited or contributed to more than 35 books, including the cookbooks “American Sfoglino,” “Flour Lab,” “Food of the Italian South,” “Tasting Rome,” and “The Joy of Pizza.” In 2022, Katie founded Parla Publishing, which put out her latest cookbook Food of the Italian Islands while also establishing services designed to demystify all facets of the publishing process for other authors, restaurants, and brands. She co-hosts “Gola”, a podcast about Italian food and drinks culture. In addition to appearing as an expert on television programs such as “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy'' and Netflix’s “Chef’s Table,” Katie hosts culinary shows on, including her Emmy-nominated food and travel series “Katie Parla’s Rome,” “Katie Parla’s Roman Kitchen,” and “Gola on the Road.”

Grasspea soup from Katie Parla’s Food of the Italian Islands cookbook. Photo: Ian Sugarman


Zuppa di Cicerchie – Grasspea Soup

I fell in love with the food of Ponza, an island off the coast of Lazio, while on assignment for the New York Times—the article was a profile of the island’s food, sea, and culture, and it was my first byline in print for the paper.

My intro to Ponza cuisine was at “Da Gerardo,” a very simple trattoria accessed via a steep hike up from Frontone beach across the bay from the main port. The place perfectly sums up the island’s food culture: close to the sea but reliant on the land.

Perched above the water, this tiny, shacklike trattoria serves island classics that are almost exclusively land-based: braised rabbit, legume soup, simmered greens. The closest menu item to seafood is fried eel, which has been fished in Ponza’s caves since antiquity. The best thing served there is the earthy, vegetal, olive oil–enriched zuppa di cicerchie.

Cicerchie (called grasspeas in English) are tiny pods that resemble little beige fava beans or flattened chickpeas. They have been grown on the island since at least Roman times and have a distinct nutty flavor. They also contain a neurotoxin, but don’t be alarmed! You’d have to multiply this recipe by 10 and finish the whole pot before you suffered any grave consequences. If you want to be extra careful and eliminate any danger, simply blanch the cicerchie three times before cooking, discarding the water each time.

Cicerchie are sold online (and I’m not telling you not to smuggle a kilo or two back in your luggage next time you go to Italy), but you can substitute chickpeas if you wish.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients for Katie Parla’s grasspea soup. Photo: Ian Sugarman


  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 ounce pancetta, diced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • Sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 12 ounces dried cicerchie (grasspeas)

Grasspea soup from Katie Parla’s Food of the Italian Islands cookbook. Photo: Ian Sugarman


Heat the olive oil in a large pot over low heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the pancetta and cook until the fat renders, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and season with salt. Cook until the vegetables have softened, about 20 minutes.

Add the red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add the cicerchie and enough water to cover by a few inches. Cover and cook until the cicerchie are falling apart, about 2 hours. Season with salt, then plate and serve with a healthy drizzle of olive oil on top.


The recipe has been cross-posted with the author’s permission from her cookbook, Food of the Italian Islands

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