Italians are a very superstitious people. This is particularly evident on the first day of every year. Everything that happens or that you do, could be potentially reflecting on the type of year you are going to live. The first phone call you receive... The first person you see on the street... And of course, the first meal you have. The traditional dish in Italy on January 1st is a pig leg called Zampone (=big leg) or Cotechino (which is basically the same thing without the pig foot at the end of it). For how awful they may sound, they are actually delicious since what you are really eating is a cooked, juicy, soft salami. Here is a photo I found on the internet.
I usually bring one with me from Italy as they are vacuum packaged. Unfortunately, this past Fall I did not go there and therefore this is the first time in years that I have to do without. Instead I made a small pork roast cooked slowly on a stove top in milk. As you can see from the photo I just posted, the Zampone is served with mush potatoes (optional) and lentils (mandatory!). Lentils represent money. The more lentils you eat on New Year's Day, the more money you will make during the year. If I am correct, such tradition derives from the biblical account of Esau selling his birthright to his younger twin brother Jacob for a bowl of porridge (and the folklorist version is that the bowl of porridge was indeed a serving of lentils). Of course, I made plenty and ate as many as I could possible handle. Here is my recipe for lentils (great as a side dish or as a soup):
- a package of dry lentils (1lb)
- one small carrot, one small onion, two celery sticks
- 2 cloves of garlic (minced)
- 4 TBSPs extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 slices of bacon
- 2 bouillon cubes (I prefer the vegetable based flavor from the Knorr brand that you can find in the ethnic section of the grocery store)
- 1/2 TBSP of Paprika
- Pinch of black pepper
- Pinch of black pepper
- 1 small can of tomato paste
In a food processor mince finely carrot, celery and onion (soffritto). Sautee in a large saucepan or pot with olive oil and garlic. Cut bacon in small pieces and cook it with the vegetables for a couple of minutes. Rinse the lentils in cold water, drain and pour in the pot. Add black pepper, cubes, paprika and cover with water. Add tomato paste. Stir occasionally and cook covered on low heat for approximately one hour. Check from time to time stirring regularly and adding more water if necessary (it depends on how "soupy" you would like the end product to be. I don't like mine watery). The lentils are ready when they are soft. Have a prosperous 2010!!