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Lentils with lampascioni (grape hyacinths bulbs) From an ancient recipe by the Greek philosopher, Chrysippus, a delicious winter dish by Dario Ersetti
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Lentils with grape hyacinths bulbs. Photo by Dario Ersetti

The lentil was almost certainly first plant grown by Man.

In Italy its farming is not yet mechanized. They are harvested in July, the plants are sorted into bunches and allowed to dry, in August they are threshed and in September they are ready to be eaten.

In Italy the most famous and tastiest are the ones grown in Castelluccio di Norcia (Perugia), Pantelleria (Trapani), Santo Stefano di Sessanio (L’Aquila) and in Altamura (Bari). The best-sellers, however, come from Turkey, Canada and the United States.

In Castelluccio the old peasant custom of going round the fields to carry out the ancestral rites to invoke protection against fire, drought, storms and crickets still goes on. They plant a little cross made of olive twigs in every field, they scatter coals that have been blessed on the earth and sprinkle some drops of holy water around while reciting a prayer to saint Benedict and saint Scholastica.

Lentils with bulbs, when it’s really cold, is like ambrosia”, so said the Athenian Greek philosopher Chrysippus in his work Deipnosoph (Learned men at banquet). Even though Chrysippus is the author of over two hundred works, none of them have made their way down to us and we know about him only through other authors. There are only a few fragments of his surviving in the villa of the papyruses at Herculaneum, which is closely connected with the papyrus museum of Lecce.

The “bulbs” are grape hyacinths or tassel hyacinths, whose employment in the kitchen was limited until fairly recently to Greece and Southern Italy, and Puglia in particular.

We have tried to create, or perhaps recreate, a recipe inspired by Chrysippus to check out if his claim is true. It’s very simple.

 

 

The recipe

 

   4 servings:

 

- 300 g of lentils

- a stalk of celery

- 2 cloves of garlic

- 16 grape hyacinth bulbs (lampascioni)

- salt

- extra virgin olive oil

 

Put the lentils and the celery cut into pieces with the garlic into a pan, cover them with water and cook without salt, adding a little more water if necessary. When they are cooked the lentils must have absorbed all the water. Add salt to taste, and a little olive oil.

Previously you should have prepared the grape hyacinths bulbs by removing the outer membrane and the roots and letting them soak for a few hours to get rid of the excessively bitter taste they are known to have. These are to be cut into quarters and gently fried for a few minutes in a little oil and then salted at the end. They shouldn’t be overcooked.

Serve by putting the lentils on the plate, and then the grape hyacinths bulbs on top with the oil they were cooked in.

It’s an exceptional dish because the bitterness of the hyacinths bulbs and their crunchy consistency will be a counterpoint to the sweetness of the lentils and their softness.

If this is the dish Chrysippus was talking about, he was right!

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