Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Castelluccio di Norcia: Lentils

When I was growing up, a pot of lentil soup brewing on the stove was a common sight in my mother's Italian kitchen. Now, it’s my husband who is the talent in our kitchen brewing up the lentil soup.  I have to admit, I'd never given much thought to those little brown lentil discs and where they come from. Well, on one of our Italy trips, I became acquainted with, Castelluccio di Norcia, an Italian Town in the province of Umbria whose claim to fame is – Lentils.

The Umbrian town of Castelucci di Norcia is about a 30-minute drive from its mother town of Norcia and a beautiful drive through the Parco Nazionale di Monte Sibillini.  Castelluccio is easy to see in the distance atop a hill in the center of a plateau. It pops out of the landscape like a spot of acne on a teenager's face. The town caps the top of the hill at an altitude of 4,764 feet. A small cluster of ancient buildings make up the little town. Castelluccio dates from the 13th century or slightly earlier, but was also settled by the Romans.

Castelluccio di Norcia is quaint and small with a population of under 200. It's a quiet town of narrow winding streets, each with its own charm.

Both the climate of the area and a cultivation technique used through the centuries have contributed to a variety of lentils unique to Castellucio di Norcia. The thin skin and soft consistency of the lentils allow them to be cooked without first soaking. These small Umbrian lentils are round and flat, varying in color between dark green, pale yellow and light brown and can be speckled or striped.
The lentils are harvested in July. Women of the town shake them in a sieve to separate the lentils from the chaff.
Visit Castelluccio di Norcia between late May and early July for the spectacle of nature that the locals call "The Fiorita" or "The Fioritura" (The Flowering) of Castelluccio di Norcia. This is when the area's plateau burst with color as the flowers bloom with shades ranging from yellow ocher to red, from violet to white. Flowering lentils, gentianella, poppies, narcissuses, violets, asphodels, Eugeniae violet, clovers, oxalis and many more create a tapestry of flowers. The "Feast of the Fiorita" (flowering) takes places yearly on the third and on the last Sunday of June.

Driving to Castelluccio di Norcia will take some time, but the road through the Parco Nazionale di Monte Sibillini offers amazing views and the quaintness of the town all make it worth it.  While there, be sure to buy some of their lentils and...a bowl of lentil soup in a local restaurant is a must!

- Nina Spitzer

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