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2 Italian recipes to celebrate the new year

As we sweep 2021 into the dustbin of history, we are wishing for a better 2022. Of course, this is what we’re thinking as most years draw to a close, but by pretty much every measure, the last few have been among the toughest. We need all the help we can get.

Around the world, New Year’s food traditions focus primarily on wishes for wealth and success. In the American South, everyone eats hoppin’ John — black-eyed peas and greens, sometimes with rice — soon after the start of the new year, to bring wealth and good luck. One of Japan’s special dishes is extra-long soba noodles, which represent longevity. Argentines believe eating beans on the first day of the new year brings plenty. And in Italy, lentils work the wealth magic.

This year, I’ve wanted to make something with cotechino, a very fat sausage that Traverso’s market in Santa Rosa always had at the end of the year. After the beloved market closed a decade ago, Franco Dunn’s One World Sausage filled the void with a delicious version. This year, a production issue has made that impossible.

But there is good news. Thistle Meats (160 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, 707-772-5442) has them this week.

Happy New Year! My wish for all of us is a calm, happy, healthy, fire-free and delicious 2022.

Cotechino is an Italian pork sausage, a type often called “boiling sausage” as it is either boiled or braised. Of course, you can make this dish with another pork sausage. It will be good, but not as special as with cotechino.

Cotechino with Lentils and Salsa Verde

Makes 4 - 6 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, cut into small dice

1 carrot, cut into small dice

6 garlic cloves, minced

Kosher salt

2 bay leaves

2 cotechino sausages

2 cups chicken stock or broth

1 cup dry white wine

1 ½ cups lentils (green, brown or black), soaked in water for 2 - 8 hours and drained

Italian-style Salsa Verde (recipe follows)

Pour the olive oil into a large saucepan set over medium-low heat, add the onion and carrots and saute gently until soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, saute 2 minutes more and season with salt.

Add the bay leaf, cotechino, chicken stock, white wine and 2 cups water. Stir in the lentils, increase the heat, bring to a boil and skim off any foam that forms on top. Reduce the heat and simmer very gently for about 45 minutes.

While this cooks, make the salsa verde.

Test the lentils for doneness and continue to cook until they are fully tender, about 15 minutes more. Remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes.

Transfer the cotechino to a work surface and use a sharp knife to slice it into ⅜-inch rounds. Use tongs to remove and discard the bay leaves. Pour the lentils into a wide, shallow serving bowl; top with the cotechino and garnish with a couple spoonfuls of the salsa.

Enjoy right away, with the remaining salsa verde alongside.

A few variations:

With kale: Slice 2 bunches of Lacinato kale into ½-inch wide crosswise strips and saute them in a bit of olive oil and 3 cloves of minced garlic for about 10 - 15 minutes. Turn frequently until completely wilted. When tender, season with salt and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Serve alongside the lentils and sausage.

With polenta: Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add 2 teaspoons salt and stir in 1 cup coarse-ground cornmeal. Stir constantly until the mixture begins to thicken. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the polenta is tender, about 35 - 40 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons butter and 3 ounces (¾ cup) grated Vella Dry Jack or other hard-grating cheese. Taste and correct the seasoning. To serve, ladle polenta into wide soup plates and top with some of the lentils and several slices of cotechino and top with salsa verde.

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Italian-style Salsa Verde

Makes about 1 - 1½ cups

4 or 5 plump garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

Kosher salt

1 teaspoon brined green peppercorns (Reese brand is readily available, typically on a top shelf near capers in most markets) or 2 teaspoons brined capers

1 large bunch very fresh Italian parsley, large stems removed

1 small to medium bunch cilantro, large stems removed, optional

1 medium or 2 small cucumbers, preferably Armenian or Persian, cut into ¼-inch dice (or thinly sliced green onions, if preferred)

Zest of 1 lemon

Juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste

⅓ cup, approximately, extra-virgin olive oil

Put the garlic into a suribachi or other mortar, sprinkle with salt and use a wooden pestle to crush it into a paste. Add the green peppercorns, if using, and crush each one and stir. If using capers, crush them lightly. Transfer to a large bowl (you might need to add a bit of lemon juice to the suribachi and swirl it to get out all the garlic paste).

Chop the parsley and cilantro, if using, fairly small but do not mince. Transfer to the bowl with the garlic paste. Add the cucumbers, lemon juice and lemon zest and fold together well, using a pliable rubber spatula. Taste and correct for salt.

Stir in the olive oil, taste again and adjust for salt and acid balance. If it tastes at all flat, add a bit more lemon and a bit more salt. If it’s too tart, add a little olive oil.

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The classic Italian dish of orecchiette (“little ears” pasta), sausage and broccoli inspired this dish. Instead of another sausage, I use cotechino here and use broccoli rabe instead of regular broccoli. Another beautiful option is to use Romanesco broccoli.

Cotechino with Broccoli Rabe and Orecchietti

Makes 2 - 3 servings

2 cotechino

3 garlic cloves

2 bay leaves

2 thyme sprigs

1 cup white wine

Kosher salt

8 ounces orecchietti

2 bunches broccoli rabe (about 10 ounces), trimmed

Extra-virgin olive oil (preferably 2021 olio nuovo)

Black pepper in a mill

Red pepper flakes

1 lemon, in large wedges

Vella Dry Jack or Parmigiano-Reggiano, in one piece

Put the cotechino in a large saucepan. Add the garlic, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, white wine and enough water to cover the sausage completely. Season with salt, bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 45 minutes.

When the sausage is nearly cooked, fill a large saucepan two-thirds full with water, season generously with salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until it is just done. Drain the pasta but do not rinse it. Put the cooked pasta in a warm wide, shallow bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, toss and cover with a tea towel to keep warm.

Transfer the cooked sausage to a cutting board, pour off about two-thirds of the cooking liquid, return the pan to the heat and add the broccoli rabe. Cook until it is just tender, about 7 - 8 minutes.

Cut the cotechino into ⅜-inch rounds and scatter them over the pasta. Add the broccoli rabe around the edges of the bowl. Spoon a little of the remaining cooking liquid over everything and drizzle with a little more olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and garnish with lemon wedges.

Enjoy right away, with the cheese and a grater alongside.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “California Home Cooking.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com

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