I’m not sure how many American families actually indulge in sausage and sauerkraut on New Year’s day. Though it is a tradition in the United States (without a doubt stolen from our many German settlers) most Americans I know turn up their nose at the sour dish.
I was raised watching my grandfather and father scarf down foul-smelling sauerkraut on New Year’s Day (the only day of the year that they did actually eat it) but it wasn’t a match for my taste buds. Only a couple of years ago, when I tried making homemade sauerkraut of my own, have I realized how much I love it. Now two to three times each winter I make a massive pot of sauerkraut, cutting up the cabbage, adding the vinegar and leaving it to simmer for hours myself. The crunch, smell and taste is incomparable to the soggy kraut that comes from a can.
It’s a tradition to bring about good luck. Convenient, as cabbage is about the only vegetable you can find in abundance this time of year. Best after the first frost, it makes for a perfect winter meal. I’ll for sure be adding sauerkraut to my New Year’s dinner, but there’s another recipe that can’t be missed.
In Italy, good luck for the new year is brought with a hearty meal of lentils and cotechino, a type of sausage. Traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve, the lentils are a natural symbol for abundance, and have come to represent money and good fortune with it!
Cotechino is a bit more complicated. It’s a ground and flavored pork sausage made with a natural pork casing (aka, the intestines). I know I know, you meat-haters are freaking out. I’m a natural-born carnivore, but even I don’t like thinking about it too much. It could be worse though: a common substitute for the cotechino is zampone, which is sausage encased in the pig’s leg.
Try not to think about it too much though, because this meal is delicious. Though there are a variety of recipes for the lentils (lenticchie, in Italian), my money goes with my mother-in-law’s lentils. It’s easy to win when you add even more pork and cook it all in oil and fat, but hey, when in Rome…
Actually, cotechino e lenticchie is a traditional dish from Emilia Romagna (where most of these fatty – and delicious – dishes come from), but it’s eaten on cold winter nights through most of northern Italy.
Born out of Italy’s long-established cucina povera, or “poor-man’s cuisine”, the traditional meal of lentils, cotechino and mashed potatoes is made with ingredients easily found during the harsh winter and is surprisingly well-balanced. The lentils are filled with fiber and protein, there is more unsaturated fats than saturated, plenty of B vitamins and the potatoes add healthy minerals, especially iron and zinc. It’s a warm and hearty dish – perfect for a long New Year’s Eve night with friends!
This year, we ate our cotechino and lenticchie on the second of January, but I’m still counting on the extra help for a rich and prosperous new year!
How to make lenticchie e cotechino:
Cotechino is bought at your local butchers shop here in Italy. In America, you can attempt to find it, decide to make it yourself (a bit of a lengthy process, but doable) or simply replace it with another type of sausage. It’s not the same, but we all make do.
If you do have a cotechino, poke some holes in it and leave it in a pan of boiling water to simmer for about 2 hours. Add some celery and carrots to the water to boil as well.
The lentils can be bought already cooked in a can, or raw in sacks. If bought raw, you’ll need to soak them in cold water overnight. Those that need to soak will then need to be cooked in salted water on a low flame for about an hour and a half. In the meantime, take out the celery and carrots that are just beginning to soften and dice them up. Put them and a small, diced onion in a pan with olive oil to get some color, stirring continuously. Add the lentils to the pan, salt and pepper and cook for about ten minutes.
My mother in law also adds diced up pieces of pork (small pieces of bacon will do it) and a couple spoonfuls of tomato sauce, which I think adds a whole other dimension to the too-often-boring lentils.
Try it, and let me know how it goes.