Lentils from Castelluccio
During late spring the lentil fields blossom in the beautiful Castelluccio plains of Umbria below the Sibillini Mountains. Here, the Castelluccio lentils are produced in abundant amounts. They are famous for their delicate taste, tender peel and tiny size: their diameter reaches around 2 millimeters. Since 1998 the lentils produced in Castelluccio di Norcia has been awarded the I.G.T., or Protected Geographical Indication.
Despite recent trends in organic farming, these lentils have always been cultivated organically. This process goes back to the century-old tradition of crop-rotation: lentils are cultivated on the hilly fields surrounding the valley rich in clay, during one year, wheat the next and then the land remains as pasture during the third. And then the process starts all over again. This system allows for no interruption and avoids over-exploitation of the soil. The lack of chemical use and the fact that cultivation is mainly manual justifies the somewhat steep price of the Castelluccio lentils.
The nutritional properties of these local pulses are high protein content, a good level of sugars and a low fat content. In addition, lentils are rich in vitamins, minerals and, in particular, high in fiber.
Castelluccio Lentils need no presoaking because of their soft skin. You should simmer them in liquid for about 30 minutes – a light stock is good, but water is fine as well. They retain their shape when cooked and have a wonderful, nutty, earthy flavor that is wonderful in winter dishes such as Cotecchino with Lentils
(page 368 of Molto Italiano). The most traditional dish of all for New Year's Eve supper, the lentils in this dish represent the coins soon to befall all who consume the dish within an hour of midnight.