Friday, July 22, 2011

Black Lentils from Enna with Tuna - A Guest Post by Simona Carini of Briciole

The first time I ever connected with Simona Carini and her golden, gloriously Italian-themed blog, briciole, was when I answered her sidebar invitation to pick her brain with questions about the origins of Italian words and expressions that might otherwise remain mystifying. This was back in 2007, when each of our blogs were young, and I was looking for a backbone of an online culinary community. I still remember our email exchanges and the exacting research which Simona conducted before writing a post which helped a great deal to clarify one of the dessert highlights of my childhood.

Four years later, I am still reading and enjoying briciole, but also with the clear distinction that briciole is the only blog which I also listen to. Yes, you heard that right. For in every post, Simona has embedded an audio file which releases her well-modulated and lyrical voice to share snippets of Italian words and phrases which are normally lost in the everyday conversations of a predominantly English-speaking country. Her little sound bytes complement the big, beautiful bites she elaborates on in each of her posts.

In addition to her linguistic accomplishments, Simona is a Daring Cook and Baker who has cultivated a talent for cheese making, and has bridged the worlds of words and food as co-creator of the long-running event, Novel Food.

Born in Italy, and now a resident of Northern California, Simona is also keenly interested in the pleasures of
travel, paper art and bookbinding. Back in her kitchen, though, while she contemplates her next recipe, there is always a part of her mind that is searching for something more. For Simona, there is always a word for it.

I am very happy to feature Simona and her uniquely Italian lentil recipe as she guest blogs to help celebrate My Legume Love Affair - Kicking Off Year 4. Thank you, Simona!

The following writing, recipe, and photography are owned by Simona Carini and protected by copyright. All Rights Reserved. 2011. All materials appear here by permission and courtesy.


black lentils from Enna with tombo

black lentils from Enna / lenticchie nere ennesi

When I am in Perugia, the Italian city where I was born, I always visit the store mentioned in this post to buy some of the traditional legumes of the region (like roveja, lenticchie di Castelluccio, fagiolina del Lago Trasimeno). The last time I was there, I noticed some beautiful black lentils. Their color caught my attention, because it reminded me of the lava fields I had seen on the Big Island of Hawaii some months before.

The story behind the lenticchie nere delle colline ennesi, black lentils from Enna hills (Enna is a city in the heart of Sicily), is unfortunately a familiar one: an old cultivar of high quality (resistant to drought and rich in proteins) that requires manual cultivation and that comes close to extinction under the pressure of mechanized agriculture. A small quantity of black lentils was saved and sown, and the precious black beauties can again be offered to a public eager to savor their intense flavor. I yielded to the temptation and got 250 g. The lenticchie nere I bought come from Leonforte (a town famous also for its typical fava larga, broad fava bean).

The owner of the store gave me two recipes, which can also be found online. Even if you don't know Italian, you can see that there are basically no quantities specified. I went to work with the material I had, choosing the ingredients of the first recipe and the fish of the second and using my inner compass to direct me when it came to establishing quantities. However, I could not use my precious stash of lentils to refine the recipe, so I bought some black beluga lentils for testing purposes. The choice was based on color, but also on my desire to try that type of lentils, which I had seen in a store in Oakland, but never tasted.

lenticchie nere ennesi and black beluga lentils
The photo above shows the two kinds of lentils: the black beluga lentils (left) are smaller than the lenticchie nere ennesi and cook in less time. The result of my rehearsals with black beluga lentils were satisfactory, so I decided to apply the recipe to the lenticchie nere ennesi. I will give you the recipe I followed for the lenticchie nere and then the adjustments for the black beluga lentils. As you can see from the photos, the cooked lentils are of a color called brunito in Italian (burnished). The flavor is exceptional. The Italian food and wine magazine Il Gambero Rosso describes it thus: "rich but refined and not overwhelming, of a rustic and earthy sweetness that is unique and distinct" [my translation].

black lentils from Enna / lenticchie nere ennesi Ingredients:

  • 2 oz onion (possibly fresh onion)

  • 3 oz carrot (scrubbed and skin scraped off with a blade)

  • 1.5 oz celery (one medium rib)

  • 4 oz organic tomato sauce (from an 8 oz. can) that has a minimum of added ingredients (alternatives: tomato purée or strained tomatoes)

  • 1 cup lenticchie nere ennesi

  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • olive oil of good quality

  • one or two slices of fresh tombo (albacore tuna)

Sort lentils to remove any small rocks and debris, then rinse under cold water and drain. Place lentils in a saucepan with 2 cups of cold water, cover, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to simmer. Cook gently for 15 minutes.

Mince onion, carrot and celery very finely, mix and measure half, about 2/3 cup (you can freeze the rest for future use). Add to the lentils together with the tomato, stir, cover and continue cooking gently until lentils are tender, about 40-45 minutes — 42 in my case: I tasted the lentils after 30 and then after 40 minutes to estimate the remaining cooking time. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

Heat up a lightly oiled cast-iron skillet on the stovetop. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt and of pepper on the fish, then cut it into 1-inch pieces and place on the skillet. Sear to desired doneness and remove from skillet. The amount of fish depends on the number of people you want to serve. You can always cook extra and then use it in a salad with new potatoes (recipe upcoming on briciole).

Spoon some lenticchie nere on a plate, place 2 or 3 pieces of tombo on the lentils and drizzle some olive oil over them. Serve immediately.

If using black beluga lentils, add vegetable mix after 5 minutes of gentle cooking. Taste lentils 20 minutes after the addition of the vegetables to estimate the remaining cooking time.

If fish is not part of your diet, you can certainly enjoy this lentil dish without it, paired according to your taste.

I hope the cultivation of lenticchie nere not only continues on the Enna hills, but also expands so they become more widely available and appreciated. I am thankful to the people who made sure they did not disappear.

Year4LogoFinal300 This is Simona of briciole's guest post and submission for My Legume Love Affair 37 — Year 4, the current edition of the popular, legume-centered event created by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook, and hosted this month by the creator herself.

I have special ties to the illustrious history of My Legume Love Affair: I participated in the first edition, which Susan thought would be a one-off event. I participated again in the Second Helping (which inaugurated the monthly appointments), and in 14 other editions after that, so this is my 17th contribution to MLLA. Finally, I have had the honor of hosting three editions (Fifth Helping, 26 and 31). Thank you, Susan!

Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post: lenticchie nere ennesi con tonno

or launch the lenticchie nere ennesi con tonno audio file [mp3].

[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application.]



  1. A beautiful lentil dish! That combination is so palatable. I love it.



  2. Thanks, Rosa.

    Thank you so much, Susan, for your introduction :) I am glad to celebrate the beginning of Year 4 of MLLA with a special legume.

  3. It really is burnished.

    The only fish with lentils I have eaten is fish head with mung dal/beans, which is a big speciality in the eastern part of India.

  4. I love how you did a rehearsal dish with black beluga lentils. :)

    I have all these heirloom beans that I am afraid to use, too! Especially since it is so hard for me to replace them.... but I really should just go for it, because otherwise no one will enjoy them. Theproblem with heirloom beans is that I don't really know what to expect and what kind of dish would work best.. gah!

  5. Hi Sra. What you describe sounds like an interesting dish.

    Hi Janet. I understand your feelings. Fortunately, beans keep for a while. However, I think it is fun to take the plunge and try. I am sure you'll be delighted by the new flavors.

  6. I regularly go on holiday in Calabria and travel to Sicily, and I have never seen them. It is such a shame that we neglect our herloom vegetables. I'll try to sneak in a trip to Enna next time. Thanks for the interesting presentation and the extra recipe testing - I quite like beluga lentils, so I'll rehearse with them in the meanwhile.

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