An end-of-year confession: For many years I have snubbed the Italian tradition of serving lentils on New Year’s Eve in favor of a pot of Hoppin’ John, the Lowcountry classic good luck dish of rice and black-eyed peas.
It’s a tradition I picked up when I was living in Detroit. My friend Robin, then the food editor at The Detroit News, always brought a pot of hoppin’ John, to New Year’s Eve gatherings at our friend Michelle’s loft. I had not tasted black-eyed peas before, but right away I was drawn to their distinct flavor (which for some reason reminded me of the brininess of clams). I also loved the smoky bacon-infused broth in which they were cooked and which was spooned, along with the beans, over plain white rice. When my husband and I moved to Virginia back in 1995, I found this recipe by Craig Claiborne, and I’ve been making it ever since.
I still love it, but this year, I’m breaking with tradition. Or maybe returning to tradition. I’m making a pot of sausage and lentils, the Italian version of good luck food. Lentils for good fortune and prosperity, pork for abundance. To that I’ll add olive oil for good health.
This recipe is from my first book, The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy. It is a classic from the hill towns of Umbria, where it is prepared with the region’s famous pork sausages and tiny bluish-green lentils from Castelluccio. I make it with purple-brown lentils from Santo Stefano di Sessanio, which I stock up on when I’m in Abruzzo. They are also tiny but have a more robust flavor and, like the Castelluccio lentils, hold their shape during cooking. Look for either variety at Italian grocery stores or online, but no worries if you can’t find them. Plain brown lentils will do fine.
Bitter cold temps are forecast for New Year’s Eve, so I’ll be staying put and enjoying a nice dish of salsicce e lenticchie and a glass or two of Prosecco. How about you?
Buon anno, amici. Wishing you a 2018 filled with health, happiness, and all good things. XO
P.S. Here’s my most recent article for the Washington Post Food Section, an ode to homeade lasagna.
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DOMENICA COOKS IN ITALY IN 2018
- May 21-28: 3 SPOTS LEFT: Join me for my inaugural Italian Riviera Culinary Tour, in collaboration with Beautiful Liguria. We still have a few spots left for what promises to be a unique week. We will explore the undiscovered culinary and cultural treasures of this region.
- September 12-17: 4 SPOTS LEFT: Come learn how to preserve the Italian way! I’m excited to be teaching my first Preserving Italy Workshop, in collaboration with Annette Joseph Style, at La Fortezza, Annette’s beautiful, restored fortress in the hills of northern Tuscany. This workshop is limited to 6 people.
- September 23-30: We have finalized the dates for our fourth annual Abruzzo Presto-Domenica Cooks Culinary Tour! Spend a magical week with Nancy, Michael, and me as we explore food, wine and cooking and cultural tradtions from the Apennine Mountains to the Adriatic coast.
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This is a classic stew from the hill towns of Umbria, where it is prepared with freshly made sweet sausages and tiny lentils from the fields of Castelluccio. I use Abruzzese lentils from Santo Stefano di Sessanio, which are also tiny and, like the Umbrian ones, hold their shape during cooking. This is a hearty dish, so make it on a bitter cold night, when you're craving a bowl of comfort. Recipe from The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy.
- 1 3/4 cups lentils from Castelluccio or plain brown lentils, rinsed and drained
- 3 cups water
- 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
- 1 rib celery, finely chopped except for a 1-inch piece
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 6 fresh sweet Italian sausages, halved to make 12 pieces
- 1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
- 1 cup tomato sauce (preferably homemade) or tomato puree
- 2 cups beef, chicken, or vegetable broth (preferably homemade)
- Freshly ground black pepper or peperoncino
Put the lentils in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the water, 1 of the garlic cloves, the 1-inch piece of celery, the bay leaves, and the salt. Bring the lentils to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover partially, and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until slightly undercooked. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the sausages to the pot and cook, turning as needed, until browned on all sides. Remove the sausages to a plate. Stir in the remaining garlic clove, the chopped celery, and the onion and cook, stirring, for 7 to 8 minutes, until softened but not browned.
Pour in the tomato sauce and broth. Return the sausages to the pot and add the lentils. Season with freshly ground pepper or peperoncino, reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are completely tender and the stew has thickened. Serve in shallow bowls, with a drizzle of good olive oil on top.