(That's Lenticchie )

Lentils go a long ways back: It's known that they were a staple food in Ancient Egypt, and we read in the Bible that Esau gave away his birthright in exchange for a plate full, a fact that lead Pellegrino Artusi to comment, "He was either extraordinarily gluttonous or suffered from bulimia." Artusi might not have approved (he was big on thrift and moderation), but he did like lentils himself, and went on to say, "I find the flavor of lentils to be more delicate than that of most beans, and, as far as the threat of thundering goes, they seem to me less dangerous than common beans, more along the lines of red eyed beans."

In Italy two major stains of lentils are grown, primarily in Sicily and Puglia: the hiemal strain matures late and produces larger seeds that are more delicate in flavor, whereas the minus strain matures in the spring and has smaller seeds.

Both arrive at markets dry, and require several hours of soaking in abundant water before they can be cooked; during the soaking they will increase considerably in volume.

Time was that one could buy them from a civaiolo, who sold seeds, grains and other dried foodstuffs from hundred-pound sacks, but now lentils, like almost everything else, are sold primarily in 1-pound (500 g) packets in supermarkets or specialty stores (which have organic and heirloom lentils). If you buy them in the summer months you should only buy what you need, because bugs can easily infest them. During the winter they seem to keep better.

From a nutritional standpoint, they're rich in iron and are consequently ideal for people suffering from anemia, and are rich in fiber too.

In addition to playing an important role in soups and other first course dishes, lentils are a traditional accompaniment for zampone, cotechino, and other pork sausages, and are also a required item on the New Year's Eve (or Day) menu; their shape brings to mind tiny coins and people eat them in the hope that they won't want for cash during the rest of the year.

Some Recipes:

Lentil Fritters
Lentil fritters are street food, the sort of thing one might buy in a friggitoria where they fry things up to order for passers by. They'll also be a very tasty snack or party food, and will work nicely as antipasti or in a platter of mixed fried foods.

Lentil Soup with Rice and Spinach: Zuppa di Riso con Lenticchie e Spinaci
Rice is one of the finest ingredients for a soup, far superior (I think) to noodles at providing body, and works especially well with lentils

Zuppa di Lenticchie
An amazingly simple Neapolitan recipe.

Zuppa di Lenticchie
A hearty Piemontese lentil soup from Giovanni Vialardi, who cooked for the Kings of yore.

Minestra di Lenticchie e Borragine
A classic Neapolitan vegetarian recipe.

Minestra di Lenticchie e Pasta
Esau sold his birthright for lentils, and one can almost understand the man when served a soup like this.

Risotto con Le Lenticchie
A tasty, tomato-free lentil risotto to keep winter at bay.

Risotto with Lentils and Pancetta
The combination of rice and lentils works very well, and both are a perfect foil for pancetta. In short, winter comfort food.

Riso e Lenticchie
Rice with lentils sounds like a risotto, but is actually a soup.

Riso e Lenticchie
Another soup; this is Umbrian and includes cured lard and tomatoes.

Pasta e Lenticchie
A hearty variation on pasta e fagioli from the Lazio region, with prosciutto and garlic as seasonings.

Pasta e Lenticchie
A vegetarian variation on pasta e fagioli, from Naples.

Fusilli Con Finferli e Lenticchie
Lentils work beautifully with chantarels or other wild mushrooms in this sauce.

Tagliatelle with Lentils
One might not think to combine legumes and long pasta, but if you stop to think about it, pasta e fagioli (bean soup with pasta) is an extraordinarily successful dish.

Here we have lentils instead, with their richness balanced by zesty tomato accents and much more, in an unusual primavera sauce.

Pasta Salad with Lentils and Tuna
Lentils are as tasty cool as they are warm, and are therefore a perfect bet in a pasta salad. In this case with tuna, and they're red, which adds a pretty color contrast to the dish.

Ravioli di Zucca con Lenticchie e Pancetta
Lentils & Pancetta work quite nicely to offset the sweetness of squash ravioli.

Zuppa di Lenticchie e Cotechino
A thick lentil stew to go with cotechino, which will also double as a side dish.

Lenticchie alla Borghese
A simple Ligurian recipe for stewed lentils.

Lentils with Oranges
Lentils are available year round, and though this is a winter dish if you go by the seasons because that's when oranges come to market, should you be able to find good oranges in the summer this will be quite nice then too.

Lenticchie con lo Speck
Lentils work wonderfully with all sorts of pork, including speck

Calabrian stewed lentils, with pancetta, bay leaves and fennel seeds.

Anitra Con Lenticchie
Stewed duck on a bed of lentils.