The lentil (lenticchia) is an annual plant in the Ervum Lens Leguminose family. The plants grow to be between 8 to 16 inches in height and prefer moderate climates. The small round seeds of the lentil plants are enjoyed by many cultures throughout the world. Originally from Asia Minor, the lentil plant has been known for its nutritional value for centuries. Lentils appear in the bible and they were found in Neolithic tombs from 3000 BC and in ancient Egyptian burial sites. Lentils also appear in the recipes of the Roman cook Apicius. Rich in vitamins, protein and mineral salts, lentils (of all varieties) are every nutritious.
The lentils grown in the high plains of Castelluccio di Norcia – at about 4,500 ft above sea level inside the park of Monti Sibillini, located between the regions of the Marche and Umbria – have small, round, flat seeds. These Umbrian lentils are often striped and vary in color between speckled green to faded yellow to light brown. The lentils are sowed in the spring and then in July and August the plants are cut and dried in order to remove the seeds. Castelluccio lentils are quite different than the other varieties available on the market: the climate and soil of Umbria contribute to their thin skin and soft consistency, allowing for them to be cooked without having soaked first.
Lentils are quite a versatile ingredients and can be used in soups and salads. They are particularly good when topped with extra virgin olive oil or stewed with sausage or pork, a traditional Italian preparation New Year’s Eve dinner. A cooperative of farmers work together to produce these special lentils. In 1997, the lentils from Caselluccio received the IGP (Protected Geographic Indication) recognition.