Organic, colourful production
Umbrian Castelluccio lentils, with their protected designation of origin (IGP) status, are very special. Found in tombs dating from 3,000BC, they are highly prized for their small size and organic production, which is possible due to their pest resistance. The cold climate protects them from the pulse weevil, requiring no preservatives for storage. They cook quickly, forming a creamy texture while still holding their distinctive shape. Their rich, nutty taste allows them to be cooked with minimal additions, and the fine, tender skin enables them to be used without soaking, saving at least four hours.
They are grown in a three-year rotation with wheat and pasture. Sowing is in late spring, as soon as the snow has melted, and harvest is in late July and early August. Traditionally, this was done by hand, with labourers flowing in from the surrounding area in Umbria and Le Marche. Although some of the more inaccessible hillside plots are still hand-harvested, lentil collection on the larger expanses of the plains is now mechanised.
Perhaps more famous than the lentils themselves is the annual fioritura or fiorita (flowering) on the Castelluccio plains between May and July (although the precise timing is highly variable, and there is no “peak”). The small, nondescript lentil flowers are actually the least apparent component of the procession of colour that results from sequential flowering of different species including gentians, poppies, narcissus, violets, asphodels, eugenia violet, clovers, oxalis, cornflowers and buttercups.
Ploughing on the Pian Perduto
Cornflowers — the “blue phase”
Castelluccio and the Pian Perduto in a late spring “yellow phase”, with snow still on Monte Vettore
Castelluccio in 2016, before the October earthquake
The 2017 harvest
From this distance, the devastating effects of the 2016 earthquake on the village are difficult to see.
Full convoy of mechanical harvesting machines on the Piano Grande
After cleaning and separation from the chaff the lentils will be ready for packaging
The remaining lentil straw is collected and baled for livestock feed
Lentil straw has a nutritional composition similar to that of barley and urea-treated wheat straw
Tiny, colourful and delicious
Castelluccio lentils with (Italian) sausages and tomato. Best enjoyed with local Norcia sausages, but any bangers will be delicious in this simple dish, thanks to the tasty lentils. The basic version of this recipe appears in the BBC’s Italy Unpacked episode that features Norcia and Castelluccio before the 2016 earthquake. Other recipe ideas appear on the lentil cooperative’s Italian website.
- Brown the sausages in a pan or casserole with a little olive oil then set aside and soften onions and garlic in the sausage juices.
- Return the sausages to the pot/pan and add passata then season and simmer.
- Meanwhile, cook the lentils with enough water to cover them, along with carrots, celery or onions (optional — these lentils can be cooked in water alone with delicious results).
- Add the lentils to the sausages when cooked.