Ok, it’s begun. I’ve unpacked my bags and started to cook with the goodies I bought at the Salone del Gusto. Of course, we’ve already made a big dent in the things that take no preparation: cheeses, salami and chocolate have provided meals since I got back. But last night I finally got back in the kitchen.
As I mentioned already, I had a strong attraction to legumes in Torino. Since this was a relatively last-minute menu, and I had no time to soak beans, I opened up a bag of lentils. I’m not sure why, but so many people think you have to soak lentils. You don’t. Ever. I don’t know where this misconception comes from. Any ideas?
I bought six kinds of lentils at the Salone, none of which I’d ever had before. Some of the most famous lentils in Italy are grown near our home in Umbria, and come from Casteluccio. Of course I didn’t buy these since I can get them any time. Instead I bought the much more exotic Lenticchie di Ustica.
Ustica is a tiny Island off the north coast of Sicily. Most Italians – including me – know the island since it is the infamous site of an unexplained (read: conspiracy) plane crash in the early 80’s. Who knew they also produced some of the smallest lentils I’ve ever seen. Actually, they are the smallest lentils in Italy.
Turns out there is a reason I had never heard of these lentils. Up until three years ago they were painstakingly picked and ‘shelled’ in a process that took forever. Slowfood recognized the uniqueness of this type of Lentils and placed them on their ‘protected’ list (Presidi). Now, finally, the three families that produce these lentils have modernized just enough to be able to slowly begin to export them of the island.
So, how to cook them? My ‘go to’ recipes for lentils is Marcella Hazan’s Lentil Soup. I was all ready to whip this up, when I read the tiny label that was attached to the bag. It turns out that it was a recipe for Zuppa di Lenticchie Usticese. I love it when ingredients come with instructions!
Zuppa di Lenticchie Usticese
500 gr. Lentils from Ustica
3 Tablsp Olive Oil
2 cloves garlic
8 cherry tomatoes
300 gr. fresh spinach
salt and pepper
Chop onion and garlic and place in large pan with oil. When the onions begin to soften, add chopped zucchini and potato, cut into small cubes. Stir for 5 minutes, then add the spinach, which you have cut into strips roughly. Add the lentils, stir and add water until it covers the lentils by about an inch. Add salt and pepper and cut up tomatoes and bring to boil. Let simmer until lentils are done. If they absorb all of the water, add some more. The cooking time depends on the size of your lentils. The Ustica lentils – being so tiny -cook in about 40 minutes.
When serving top each bowl with a grating of fresh parmigiano and a drizzle of olive oil.