While Puy lentils have won the marketing war and are considered a superior legume, the reality is that these Castelluccio lentils are in a class by themselves.
They may not be considered as pretty as Puy but I find their delicate hues quite appealing - but really, you'll only ever know just how great these lentils are by cooking with them.
Paalo isn't the greatest fan of legumes but will do the right thing and eat what is put in front of him, to have him actually ask if there were more of these lentils, left me gobsmacked.
These lentils don't need any pre-soaking - just boil them in water or stock for about 20 minutes and they are done. I've presented them in quite a traditional way - teaming them with pork sausages and flavouring them with a tomato based soffritto.
Castelluccio Lentils with Sausage
2 onions, diced finely
2 carrots, diced finely
2 stalks celery, diced finely
a few sage leaves
500 grams cherry tomatoes, halved
stock or water
6 small pork sausages
shaved parmesan, to serve
Make the soffritto:
At the base of just about every Italian stew or braise is the soffritto - though the exact mix will vary depending on where area you come from, I use my mother's Emilia-Romagna version which is a mix of finely diced onions, carrot and celery that is slowly cooked in a mix oil and butter. Sometimes you can add herbs like sage and rosemary, it really just depends on the dish you'll be making. As I'll be using pork sausages, I've added a few sage leaves to this soffritto.
Pour a good dollop of olive oil and a knob of butter into a heavy based saucepan and place on a medium heat - when the butter has melted, tip in the onions, carrots and celery along with a couple of sliced sage leaves. Cook slowly, allowing it to soften but not colour - this should take about 15 to 20 minutes. When you start to see that the vegetables are starting to develop colour add in the chopped tomatoes and a little stock or water and allow it to simmer and reduce for another 15 to 20 minutes.
Prepare the Lentils:
Place the lentils in a pot with a couple of cloves of garlic and generously cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the lentils are tender - about 20 to 30 minutes. Drain and discard the garlic.
Cook the sausages:
I've used these lovely little Umbrian pure pork sausages
but feel free to substitute with your favourite. These are quite dense and meaty and not very fatty at all. In Umbria, they also have another sausage called Mazzafegati - which adds pork liver to the sausage mix.
Either grill or saute the sausages until golden and just about cooked through. Slice the sausages in half at the diagonal.
Assemble the dish:
Once the liquid in the soffritto has reduced add in both the cooked lentils and sausage - top up with a little more stock and simmer for 15 minutes to allow the flavours to mingle and the liquid to reduce.
Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired.
Serve in bowls with shards of parmesan and good, crusty bread.
It's hard to explain why these lentils are so good but it may be a combination of their small size and lack of mealiness combined with their ability to keep structural integrity while still absorbing all the wonderful flavours of the food they have been cooked with.
I've noticed that many cooks attempting recipes meant for Castelluccio lentils have actually used Puy lentils - I suppose due to the difficulty in finding Castelluccio lentils but frankly, those dishes are only going to be a pale imitation of what they should be.