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
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.
Italian-style Salsa Verde
Makes about 1 - 1½ cups
4 or 5 plump garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
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).
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