Updated: May 22, 2019
“The lentil is perhaps the world’s most versatile, indestructible food. One can eat the lentil unadorned; marry it off to its first cousin, the oafish “bulgur”; or attempt to drown it in harsh vinegar for a “vegan salad.” But the lentil, alas, will always survive. Indeed, at the Packwood house, the tenacious little legume will forcibly resurrect, as free of anything resembling taste as ever, and insinuate its indefatigable, pelletlike self onto yet another dinner plate, expecting to be eaten. Again, and again, and again.”
― Beth Fantaskey, Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side
Ahh spring is arriving....though slowly this year...it is indeed arriving! That bitter, numbing cold is finally saying its goodbyes as it metamorphizes into a crisp, perfumed breeze blowing in perfect harmony with the soothing melodies of the birds. Ditch those heavy coats, and put on a light jacket because we're going to the park for a picnic! Wait, but what am I going to bring? What could we possibly eat that will warm my soul, but be easy to bring? Lenticchie in Umido Alla Modenese is what! This hearty dish is bursting with robust flavors that will fuse lavishly with a light red wine, crispy focaccia bread, earthy salad, and some savory "affettati" (lunchmeat). Perfect for that snuggle up in a light blanket, under the spring sun picnic.
Don't worry this recipe is hassle free! Nothing too complicated that will keep you running from the kitchen. Aside from being a perfect dish for a light lunch, it can be served as a lovely side to a meaty dinner, as a wholesome snack, or an item on that backyard bbq table. Whatever the occasion, that "tenacious little legume," will indeed be a hit among your guests.
We Modenesi love the creamy, tomatoey, herby, habit-forming consistency so much that at a drop of a hat we will be digging our spoons in that stewing pot in a matter of seconds. Just an interesting point, for Italians, lentils actually have this superstitious attribute tied to them. The old world tradition of consuming lentils on the first of the year became one long before "cotechino" entered the picture. For those of you who don't know, "Cotechino con le lenticchie" is a must have dish for most Italian during the New year. Cotechino, originally from the city of Modena, is a seasoned pork sausage that is boiled, sliced and served alongside...you guessed it...lentils. It is made from the noble parts of the pig and the rind. The meat is ground and flavored with a variety of spices and herbs - such as cloves, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and wine. It is then stuffed into a natural casing and ready for use.
But back to what I was saying, the superstitious tradition began from the ancient Romans custom of giving a "scarsella" or leather belt bag filled with lentils. For months, the legume was collected as an investment and put into the scarsella, of which was to be had on the last of the year. The hope was that these lentils would transform into coins. Unimaginably, they did not and were consequently used to cook the New Years meal. Though somber as it sounds, the lentils, did indeed prevail as a "wealth" for those less fortunate, given the legume's high nutritional value. Also because the legume increases in volume as it is cook, it suggested "increase" in prosperity.
Today, Italians don't miss the chance to dive into those lentils because they are still believed to bring good economic fortune in the year to come. At least in our family we do! The more lentils you eat, the more prosperous you will become! Hmmmm...just because it hasn't happened yet doesn't mean it won't!!! haha!
And moving on...below we share with you our recipe for these tasty "magic legumes!"
Now, let's get cooking so we can go on that "spring breeze, makes me feel fine" picnic! Wait - oops, its "summer days..." Surely am loosing my mind with these crazy beans.