Dec 29, 2009

Cotechino e lenticchie recipe

As the world prepares its champagne flûtes, firecrackers and party frocks, here in Italy we welcome the arrival of the new year strictly adhering to tradition.

Just like the American custom of dropping a ball of some sort, be it an orange in Florida or a sparking orb in Times Square, in some southern regions of Italy, all things which are old are discarded in riddance of all accumulated ill, and as an act of welcoming in the New Year’s fortune.

Italian New Year's eve, you see, is all about superstition.

In tune with the average Italian theatrical and imaginative character, it is believed that the older the item thrown away and more exaggerated the gesture, the greater the amount of luck generated. So don’t be surprised if at midnight on December 31st you see an old dishwasher flying out a window. Napoli, being the drama queen of the boot-shaped Peninsula, besides an addiction to exploding firecrackers and home made fire-work bombs, is the city where at dawn on January 1st, the streets are a bizarre exhibit of jettison debris. Free vintage everything, from toilet bowls, old newspapers saved for the occasion, closet clutter, old rugs and tiles, stripped shreds of wallpaper, out-of-fashion clothes, old calendars, chipped furniture.

Legend has it that the fumes of alcohol and gunpowder fogged the minds of those who tossed 92 year-old Grandma Luigina from the kitchen balcony that time.

Another fortune bearing midnight exercise is that of eating three white grapes on the twelfth bell toll.

My favorite luck-endearing function is that of slipping on sexy bright red lace underwear right after midnight. Fire engine red underwear, or any foundation garment in close proximity to the serendipitous bottom, is said to bring money and lots of good sex in the coming year.The most powerful luck engendering measure on Italian New Year’s eve is however the menu. The typical Capodanno (“head of the year”) dinner is one monumental good luck charm. It is composed of stewed lentils and thick slices of cotechino (lentils are said to bring money, zampone or cotechino, a large spiced pork meat sausage, represents phallic abundance), and some even delay dinner to past midnight so as to eat this palatable dish on the date of the New Year and not one minute earlier to avoid jinxing its effect.

The Cotechino originated in the province of Modena, a land of unhinged poetic epicureans, famous race cars, liberal politicians and generous foodstuffs. This fresh pork sausage is quite large, usually about 2 inches in diameter and 8 to 9 inches long. It is made from pork rind and meat from the cheek, neck and shoulder, and is usually seasoned with nutmeg, cloves, salt and pepper. The best cotechino is delicately flavored and has a soft, almost creamy texture.

I was fed this rich winter dish on a torrid mid-August day at countryside inn while on a film shoot and my liver still resents it. I later found out that in the nearby unconventional town of Castelnuovo Rangone, the mayor erected a statue to the town's most popular citizen honoring its annual sacrifice. A life-size bronze pig dominates the main piazza facing the church.

So, bearing in mind that on the night of December 31st, a timed combination of lentils, cotechino, grapes and red briefs will guarantee 365 days of bliss, here is my mother's recipe for Italy's typical fortune-bearing New Year's Eve fare. You have 3 days to get it together.

Cotechino e Lenticchie recipe

1 kg (2 lb) pre-cooked Cotechino di Modena (a well stocked deli or Italian specialty store will inevitably sell it, especially around holiday season)
400 g (2 cups) brown lentils (best if you can get your hands on the Castelluccio di Norcia or Santo Stefano di Sessanio variety - very tiny and delicious)
1/2 white onion, chopped
1/2 carrot
1/2 celery rib
1 meat bouillon cube
4 tablespoons unseasoned tomato sauce
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Arrange the lentils on a sheet pan or wide platter and sort through them to pick out any small rocks, pieces of dirt, lentils with holes or cavities, badly misshapen or shriveled ones and those greatly undersized or discolored.

Next, wash the lentils twice in cold water – with this cooking procedure there’s no need to soak them.

Follow the manufacturer's cooking instructions for the cotechino. Some notable brands of precooked cotechino (Fini, Citterio, etc.) require a minimum 20-minute boiling time of the air packed aluminum wrapped cotechino, but each maker applies different instructions. Once the cotechino is cooked, set it aside and cover it with plastic wrap. Do not refrigerate.

Wash, rinse and dry the vegetables. Chop the onion and leave the carrot and celery whole. Put the chopped onion, carrot and celery in a large pot with a splash of olive oil. Simmer lightly for 5 minutes over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add the lentils, bouillon cube and tomato sauce, stirring for another 5 minutes.

In a separate pot bring 2 liters (2 quarts) of water to a boil. Pour enough boiling water to cover the lentils. As it dries up, keep adding water as you would for risotto (without having to constantly stir), as the lentils absorb the liquid. You may not use all the water, or you may have to heat some more as the lentils drink up during cooking.

Guessing the correct cooking time of lentils is a challenge. It's important to obtain a thick, homogeneous, solid soup. Lentils must be well cooked to a soft texture, but not puréed.

Wine? In order to degrease the rich character of cotechino, wines rich in carbon dioxide are best. These include Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, or Pinot Nero Spumante Metodo Classico dell’Oltrepò Pavese, whose vinification is white.

Slice the cotechino and serve over a bed of lentils. Possibly wearing indecent red lingerie.
Buon Anno!


  1. Well, I loved this post - thank you. I shall be following these traditions this year and see what happens ! Happy New Year to you

  2. I'm off to the shops for the reddest lingerie. . . . . .


    Wishing you everything good in 2010

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  6. Lola, That laced underwear would bring good sex, and luck I am sure! Sexy!!
    Sausage and lentils, a way to my heart! May I have some crusty bread with that, Yumm..., Chuck xx

  7. how neat to learn of your traditions. poor gramma, lol. i do like that removal of the old clutter though to make way for the new. off to buy me some red briefs...its going o be a great new year...smiles.

  8. I don't think I am up for the menu as lentils just don't appeal to me, yet. I like the racy red lingerie idea and getting rid of the clutter. But a heartfelt thanks for sharing the traditions for those of us not in the know!

  9. Fantastic new year's meal....and to think I was planning on making this today. Perhaps, waiting is best. Thanks to your mum! Ciao bella

  10. I need new knickers anyway - red, Huh! Then lentils, sausage, grapes and fizzy wine. Can I substitute a prosecco? The ones you recommend are not available in Estonia.

  11. I've got to say that now I am minus my gall bladder I've got to pass from eating all these rich pork dishes - yummy as they may be. Three white grapes I could manage though.

    (I reckon the pig farmers, lingerie sellers and grape cultivaters do the best out of the Italian new year)

    Lola - it's been great being your bloggy friend and sharing your happiness and sadness over the past year. Let's hope the next year is good to us all.


  12. I've got to say, I like those customs a lot. I'm especially fond of the one involving the underwear, but I don't suppose that applies to men, as well?

  13. I referred to you and the red underwear on my post about New Years Traditions around the world.
    I am glad to see that you do follow the tradition. Good luck to all avenues of life for 2010

  14. I hope it's an enjoyable time! May you have prosperity and abundance (of all types) in the New Year!

  15. Thank you so much for your lovely comments, everyone! I deleted the adult content one. Guess the red lingerie triggered a little too much excitement...

    Elise~ Excellent, that'll be 2 of us then!
    Janet~ Resist the temptation of wearing it before midnight, otherwise they will be "old" !! :)
    Chuck~ Yes you can, here! Yum
    Brian~ It is, definitely.
    Italianmamachef~ Thank you for your lovely words.
    Kitchen Butterfly~ Yes, wait! Make it Thursday night and eat it at midnight (if you can resist)
    Martha~ yes, definitely prosecco is perfect. Wow, Estonia, huh? Cool!
    Julie~ I have a strong feeling it will!
    Jerry B~ Thank you for stopping by!
    Jim~ Of course it applies to men too! I just didn't post an image of red boxer shorts because they're not as graphic as the girly stuff.
    LoriE~ I know! You are a psychic. Happiness to you too, friend.

  16. Okay now I am imagining you in that red underwear eating sausage and lentils.

    It is a hot scene.


  17. All right, time to throw out that accumulated detritus.

    Lenticchie, a good thing.

    Buon Capodanno!

  18. thanks for sharing this... I want to be there now as here as in most of Australia the celebration consists of drunken youth trawling the streets with no where to go.

    Sydney puts on an impressive spectacular firework display... but I don't live there anymore :(

    best wishes for the coming year and may all your dreams come true.

    xx Ribbon

  19. Love love love this post!! Passed it on to friends. I might need to throw some things out the window, of course while wearing my favorite red ... garments!

  20. Hi Eleanora...thank you for your visit to my food photo blog. You have a very interesting blog and I do love your header with the pesto in that lovely granite mortar. I enjoy making pesto as well. It's one of my favourite Italian flavours.

    Here in Spain we also have the tradition of wearing red underwear at New Year's so the shop windows are full of interesting little items in red. But at the twelve strokes of midnight we are supposed to eat one grape on each, so that makes choking down 12 grapes with the help of swigs of champagne in time with each stroke of the clock.

    Have a Feliz Año Nuevo! Nice to meet you and I'll be back again soon. Sharon.

  21. Loved reading this. Having moved to Modena from the UK only a few months ago, I am still getting to know all the traditions. I had Zampone with beans on Xmas day and it was yum. Think this New years eve is well worth trying this dish. Many thanks.

  22. Oh, man. You made me laugh (for real) out loud when referring to Napoli as a 'drama queen.' Oh yes. I spent several wonderful Christmas & New Year's holidays there (or in nearby villages). My first, when I was just 18, was full of dire warnings, etc. My university roommate & I were not allowed to go into the streets. I can't believe I'm typing this (& I will NEVER tell them) but her parents were so right not to let us to. My roommate's brother had a near-death experience with a bathroom sink. No kidding, people. (Her parents made up for our disappointment by taking us to a great party, fireworks observed from a higher elevation, & generally spoiling us rotten (her mother gave us darling red underwear!)



    Susan & Giulia the Gattina

  23. Hi Lola,I somehow missed this post, in my hurried preparations fo my New Year's Eve celebrations. Blast! I could have asked my guests to wear red underwear...that would have made an interesting evening!
    Love the idea of throwing out old stuff, it's not a tradition here, but I do it naturally and know others who do too.
    Thanks for all your very interesting posts- they've given me a great insight into Italian life, and a longing to re-visit Italy. Maybe I should sell old belongings rather than throw them away?