Festa di San Silvestro, named after Pope Sylvester I, is how in Italy we refer to New Year’s Eve.
Did you know that were the ancient Romans that in 153 B.C. moved the start of the year from the Spring equinox to January 1?
In Italy, traditionally the Veglione di Capodanno (New Year’s Party) lasts all-night and typically starts with the Cenone (big supper) which is then followed by a big party with music, dancing and games.
When I was a child, after the Cenone, friends would often come over for desserts and to wait for the Mezzanotte (Midnight). The table was cleared to make room to play Tombola (Italian version of Bingo), Mercante in Fiera (“Merchant at the Fair”, a traditional family game played with 2 identical decks of illustrated cards which are auctioned for final prize), and Sette e mezzo (“Seven and a half”, a game played with Neapolitan cards and that is similar to blackjack).
A Mezzanotte (at Midnight) the bottles of champagne were popped open for the brindisi (toast) while everyone was cheering on the new year with the “Buon Anno!” wishes. We would then run by the windows to watch the display of fireworks, firecrackers and flares.
The best botti di Capodanno (New Year’s fireworks and firecrackers) I have witnessed were on the water of the Amalfi Coast, from the terrace of the Hotel Saraceno where I spent a beautiful night with my husband, and my brother & sister-in-laws; It was December 31, 1987.
Whether at the fanciest venue or at home with friends and family, no New Year’s Eve celebration in Italy would be complete without the lenticchie e cotechino (lentils and cotechino – a type of cooked sausage).
Because of their resemblance to coins the lentils are a symbol of prosperity. To ensure the good fortune they must be eaten within one hour of Midnight.
The most valuable Italian lentils are grown in the high plane of Castelluccio di Norcia, in the region of Umbria, at 4,500 ft above sea level. Both the climate and the soil contribute to the high quality of the legume. In 1997 the lenticchie di Castelluccio have received the IPG (Protected Geographic Indication) recognition.
The lentils are typically served with pork, symbol of the richness in life therefore, Cotechino and/or Zampone are the perfect complements to the lentils.
The cotechino, is a big sausage made with a mixture of ground pork, pork rinds, and spices.
An alternative to the cotechino is the zampone where the same mixture is stuffed into a boned pig’s foreleg.
Both products are typical of Modena, in the region of Emilia-Romagna. The zampone originated around the 1500 thanks to the ingenuity of the Modenesi who, being under siege, had to find a way to preserve what it was available.
Tonight, I am celebrating the New Year’s Eve with a potluck dinner with some Italian amici (friends). I am preparing the lenticchie and cotechino, we will play Tombola and Mercante in Fiera and we will toast the New Year with My favorite Italian Spumante (sparkling wine), “Ferrari“!
Cotechino is not easy to find in my area however, I was able to buy a pre-cooked one at an Italian grocery store in Wheaton, MD. The advantage of buying a pre-cooked cotechino is that it only requires to simmer in warm water for 20-25 minutes. This will ensure the melting of the fat which will give this special sausage a very earthy flavor. You need to keep the cotechino warm until you are ready to eat.
I was in NYC two weeks ago at the Italian market EATALY, where I did find the lenticchie di Castelluccio. Even if I love chefs Batali and Lidia, I was not going to drop $15 for 1/2 pound of lentils. That would have defied the purpose of the lentils . . . to bring you fortune and prosperity! My organic green lentils would do just fine!
MY LENTICCHIE STUFATE E COTECHINO (braised lentils and cotechino)
1 pound dry green lentils
1/2 onion thinly sliced
1 large carrot chopped into large pieces
1 celery stalk
4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste
1 slice of pancetta 1/2 inch tick finely minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Before you start sort and rinse the lentils.
In a large pot warm the oil and sautéed the onion, the carrot, the celery and the pancetta.
Add the tomato paste and a little bit of warm water and stir to dissolve the tomato paste.
After 3-4 minutes add the lentils and let them coat with the condiment for 4-5 minutes.
Add enough water to cover the lentils, add salt, cover with a lid and cook on medium heat for 1-1/2 hours.
Check frequently to make sure that the water doesn’t dry out completely. Add warm water if necessary.
When the lentils are just about done, remove the carrots and celery.
Also, at this time, remove the cotechino from the warm water and place on an oval serving dish.
Slice the cotechino into 1/4 inch thick slices. The juice from the cotechino will accumulate in the bottom of the dish and will serve as additional condiment for the lentils.
Spoon the lentils around the cotechino and serve immediately after Midnight!
I almost forgot about the “something” red!
Typically Italian is the tradition, on New Year’s Eve, to wear something rosso (red), particularly lingerie.
It appears that already in ancient Rome, under Octavian Augustus, during the Roman New Year, women and men used to wear something red because this color represented power, love, health, and fertility.
So, don’t waste any time, cook your lentils, get yourself something red and party your night away into the New Year!
FELICE ANNO NUOVO!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!