More lentils: landraces

My dad phoned & let me know that babelfish has an even worse translation of those instructions…

The lenticchia it does not go held to I bathe. One advises to a choice to finger and taken care of a washing before the baking

We were also talking about the colours of the lentils. I believe that the reason they have such a variation is that the Norcia lentils are from a naturally-developed variety called a landrace. Because a landrace has a large genetic diversity, whatever they produce will also enjoy a variation of characteristics hence the different sizes, colours and markings on the lentils.

It’s worthwhile describing the distinction between Heritage varieties and landraces. Heritage varieties are bred to have characteristics stable across generations, and when people are talking about conserving genetic diversity by conserving Heritage varieties it’s about conserving many varieties. This is a good thing!

However landraces are a very different way of maintaining genetic diversity. They’re a population of plants that are grown in a particular region and which develop over time in that region. The defining characteristic is the location where they’re grown rather than any fixed physical or biochemical characteristic of individual plants. This makes them robust, and Zeven defines landraces as:

[a] landrace is a variety with a high capacity to tolerate biotic and abiotic stress, resulting in a high yield stability and an intermediate yield level under a low input agricultural system.

This is quite contrary to the agribusiness approach of breeding for specific characteristics that can only be grown in a high-input system, and whose produce are resources for the industrial food chain.

As a comparison, I note that various local landraces [of lentils] have evolved in several Italian regions compared to a total of 5 landraces across all crops in Scotland. In fact, Piergiovanni and Taranto list 44 landraces of lentil in Italy!

I’m having great fun reading through Raoul Robinson’s Return to resistance – Breeding Crops to Reduce Pesticide Dependence. When I first found the web pages, I thought Return to resistance was one of the anarchist grow-your-own pamphlets. It’s actually a thorough comparison between agricultural crop breeding and population crossing. Robinson’s main thesis is that a diverse population adapted to local conditions is better able to resist external shocks than a uniform population created by high technological forces. Aye, right, it’s not one of they anarchist pamphlets ;-)



Lentils and sausages, but mostly it’s about the lentils

Just back from seeing my partner’s parents in Rome. Spent a wonderful week checking out the sights and La Sapienza’s botanic gardens. She who knits‘ dad took me to Volpetti’s food store where I bought, amongst other things, two expensive bags of lentils. The first, Lenticchia di Castellucio di Norcia, are from Central Italy and have Protected Geographical Status. The second are organic Lenticchie dell’isola di Ustica, which I’ll blog about later.

packet of Lenticchia di Castellucio di Norcia

This bag of lentils was on the counter and I thought they’re pretty. They weren’t green lentils, nor brown. Some were greeny-brown, others more browny-green. When I got back home and was going to cook them, I noticed that there were a whole range of different colours: from brown to a faded green. And some lentils were mottled, others speckled; some more, some less. How bizarre!

Lentils, showing variation of colour from brown to faded green

Lenticchie e Salsicce

Put 100 grammes of lentils per person in cold water, with celery and a clove of garlic. Bring to boil and keep boiling for about 30 minutes, adding salt to taste only at the end of cooking.

Meanwhile, prepare a tomato sauce: quickly fry a finely-chopped onion in olive oil on a high heat and then add tomatoes and some tomato puree. Add the sausage meat and simmer until cooked.

Add the cooked lentils to the sauce and cook on a very low heat for a few minutes.

Fantastic stuff! I would take a photo but the digital camera is still in Rome.

This recipe was translated and adapted from the back of the packet of lentils. There’s one phrase that I don’t understand: “La lenticchia non va tenuta a bagno. Si consiglia una scelta a dito e un accurato lavaggio prima della cottura” Scelta is quality and dito a finger, so I think this is asking me to manually check the lentils [for stones] since they’ve not been washed. Accurato means careful in this instance.

Google translate thinks otherwise,

that lentils should not be kept in the bathroom. It is advisable to choose a finger and a thorough cleaning before cooking.

Which is less than helpful…

What I like about it is the mix of precision for the lentils and latitude for the other ingredients. I’ve made this with more tinned tomatoes that I usually would, ‘cos I had 3/4 of a tin left over from Sunday, and I was worried that the dish would be a bit sloppy. But no worries: the slow cooking at the end really binds the dish together.