Lentils – first day of the year in Italian Food Calendar

Italian Food Calendar starts on January 1st opening his doors to LENTILS, a traditional New Year’s Eve food in Italy. They are so popular here that almost no Italian begins a New Year without them: this should be related to their shape reminding us coins and money, so meaning abundance.


Lentils are an ancient food, already knew they were good and nutritious over 4000 years ago and grown in Egypt, Greece and Italy.

Ancient Greeks and Romans loved this healthy food, but they didn't have the same reputation in every historical period: I have been reading on the internet that Louis XIV from France used to feed his horses with them!

What about the Bible?
You surely remember that Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob just for a lentil soup, so they represent narrow minded people.


The main lentils production in Italy  is in the Center and in the South of the country:
- Castelluccio di Norcia (Umbria, Center of Italy, PERUGIA Province)
- Onano (Lazio, Center-west of Italy, VITERBO  Province)
- Santo Stefano di Sessanio (Center of Italy, Abruzzo, L'AQUILA Province)
- Altamura (Puglia, South Eastern Italy, BARI Province)
- Ustica (Sicily, PALERMO province).

Let's find some differences. 

In Castelluccio di Norcia lentils have thin skin and tender one and this is obviously a help in terms of time spent in the kitchen
Santo Stefano di Sessanio are small and purplish-brown.
They are mountain lentil as they grow on the slopes of Gran Sasso (center of Italy) in the uncontaminated area of the Abruzzo National Park. 
Ontano lentil is small, full of flavour, with very thin skin and a smooth creamy dough: it is known as the "lentil of the Popes", it has a dark marbled colour.
Altamura lentil is flat, sweet and  giant.
Ustica lentils are the smallest of Italy and are sown in January and collected in June, when the whole little plants are  left to dry before they are picked up and beated to extract the lentils following the ancient country tradition. 
Sicily has a very warm weather and Ustica Island even more, so lentils can be sown in winter!

SLOW FOOD takes particularly care about Santo Stefano di Sessanio and Onano lentils as a very special and ancient food of ours. 

Like all legumes they are rich in vegetable protein, thus they can be consumed instead of meat and fish , and they are also rich in fiber, folic acid , iron.
They also are useful to keep cholesterol down .
In addition they do not contain gluten, so we can consider them an excellent ingredient in coeliacs' diet: it can be used in sostitution of the traditional white flour, but of course in percentage not bigger than 30% in baking bread.
Digestible when cooked , they are helpful against fatigue and anemia.
The best thing is to cook with the same procedure you use when fixing a risotto. 
La Masca in Cucina wishes you a healthy lunch with lentils!

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