Lentils: Protein-Rich Food from The Fields
The Lentils from Castelluccio di Norcia PGI, a highly-nutritious artisanal product.
The history of lentils goes all the way back to 7,000 years ago. They used to be widely consumed in an area comprising the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Asia. Perhaps the first literary mention to lentils is in the Old Testament. However, there is no doubt lentils were also present in Greek and Roman households. Because of their excellent nutritional value and their high protein content, they used to be a staple for the poorest and for soldiers, who regarded lentils as a legitimate substitute for meat. In Italy, a typical New Year’s recipe is lentils with cotechino sausage. The highly nutritional legumes accompanying the fat pork meat are considered an auspice for prosperity.
The best renowned lentils in Italy are the ones grown in the high plains of Castelluccio di Norcia, Umbria, recipient of a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication). At an altitude of 1,400 m above the sea level, the lentils are exposed to the Adriatic winds, but not to the attack of insects and parasites. That is why the farmers of this area were among the first to introduce organic farming methods. All the lentils grown in Castelluccio and other areas in Umbria are small, soft and bright-coloured, like the ones from Colfiorito, the most exported variety. Other varieties are even smaller, like the dark brown lentils from Ustica, Sicily. The lentils from Altamura (Apulia) and Pantelleria (an island in the Strait of Sicily) are notably green. Another Sicilian variety is the lentil from Villalba, known for its larger grain. The lentils from Roscino, Lazio, are highly recognisable by their red colour.
50% of the nutritional value of lentils comes from carbohydrates, but as much as 25% consists of proteins, in addition to a considerable amount of iron and phosphorus. A significant fibre content helps counterbalancing the calorie count. The most common lentil is the dry one, whereas its hardness depends on the area and the farming methods. Some varieties can be enjoyed in their perfect softness simply by soaking them overnight in a solution of water and sodium bicarbonate. The number of recipes is countless, but the New Year’s lentils with cotechino is a staple in every Italian household.
Artecibo editorial board
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