Italians have a knack for celebrating traditions with festive meals and, as the year comes to a close, there is none so delicious as Cotechino with Lentils on New Year’s Eve.The tradition behind eating a hearty meal of Cotechino with Lentils on New Year’s Eve is based upon an old Italian custom. Since Lentils are somewhat flat like coins, the idea is that if, at the stroke of midnight, you start the New Year by eating lentils, it will bring you fortune. The more lentils you eat, the richer you will be.
Cotechino, known to be the king of sausage, is unlike any other. Aside from a mixture of lean pork products, a major ingredient is pork skin, which gives it a stickier texture and the herbs, salts, and spices add a uniquely satisfying flavor to it. It is most closely related to the Zampone, which stuffs the meat inside the paw skin of swine. Also unlike most sausage, a typical Cotechino can weigh upwards of 2 pounds and be 8-11 inches in diameter!
Cotechino comes from Modena, which is one of Italy’s greatest gastronomic cities. Modena is the home of balsamic vinegar, giant tortellini stuffed with tantalizing fillings, and sparkling Lambrusco wine. Although originally a local specialty, Cotechino has become a national holiday tradition. If you are a do-it-yourself cook and willing to experiment, you can make your own Cotechino. There are a number of authentic recipes online. For those who are not as ambitious, most Italian specialty markets or online resources offer it.
The recipe for an authentic Cotechino and Lentils is not difficult and will get your New Year off to a rich and rewarding start. Make sure to serve it at the stroke of midnight and remember…the more lentils you eat, the more fortune you will enjoy! Felice Anno Nuovo e Buona Fortuna!
Traditional Italian New Year’s Eve Cotechino and Lentils
1 Cotechino Sausage – 14oz
For the Lentils:
1 ½ tablespoons Olive Oil
1 bay leaf
¾ lb dried lentils
3 ½ oz canned tomatoes
1 cup broth (from the cooked Cotechino Sausage)
salt and pepper to taste
Soak the lentils for at least 12 hours. Place the cotechino in a pot with enough water to cover it completely. When the water boils, reduce heat and simmer slowly for an hour and a half.
Meanwhile, wash the lentils and place them in a pan with the oil, onion, bay leaf, cloves and tomatoes. Adding broth from the cotechino pot, simmer uncovered on medium low heat for 50 minutes (add more broth if the lentils begin to get dry).
Once cooked, let the sausage rest for a few minutes. Open the sausage casing, slice it thin. Place warm sausage on on bed of lentils and serve.