Lucky Lentils for the New Year

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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Makes 4 to 6 servings

Salsicce e Lenticchie | Sausage and Lentils, Umbrian Style

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

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.

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27 Responses to Lucky Lentils for the New Year

  1. Marguerite Rigby December 29, 2017 at 4:48 pm #

    It’s frigid in Detroit, and I have a pot of your farro soup cooking for us to enjoy over the next few days. I added some Pesto Abruzzese to sauté along with the pancetta. I use that stuff all the time!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 31, 2017 at 9:36 am #

      I just made farro soup last night, Marguerite. It is a good antidote to the cold (I’ve been keeping my eye on the temps in Michigan, as my daughter is headed back to school in a few days ~ yikes). Happy New Year to you and Jim!

  2. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way December 29, 2017 at 6:26 pm #

    What a way to start the New Year!! I can’t wait to make the lentils and sausage. We spend a lot of time in the South so we’d be making some kind of Hoppin’ John if it weren’t for the delicious dish Lenticchie e Salsicce! Felice Anno Nuovo!

  3. Marilena @ marilenaskitchen.com December 29, 2017 at 10:23 pm #

    Delicious and so perfect for this cold weather!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 31, 2017 at 9:39 am #

      I don’t want to complain but…I wish we would get a little more snow with these cold temps. Cheers and Happy New Year, Marilena.

  4. stefano arturi -italianhomecooking December 30, 2017 at 6:34 am #

    “lenticchie a capodanno, soldi tutto l’anno” = lentils on new years’s eve, money guaranteed all year round… ! but even without being so materialistic: in Italian popular culture, cooking lentils on new year’s eve is a sort of good wishing for new year: it is one of those gastronomic traditions that are still very strong, up and down “lo stivale”, i.e. “the boot” (aka: Italy).
    I braise the lentils with sage and when I am in Italy, I serve them with artisanal cotechino, which is impossible to find here in London
    …but, alone or with other things, lentils must be there on the night of San Silvestro (as the eve of the new year is called in Italy
    a good 2018 to everyone

    • Domenica Marchetti December 31, 2017 at 9:42 am #

      I wish I could find cotechino around here, Stefano. It’s good to know that tradition persists in Italian kitchens, isn’t it…Auguri per un felice anno nuovo!

  5. katia4italia December 30, 2017 at 9:41 am #

    Tantissimi Auguri di Buon Anno, Domenica! We will be celebrating New Years Eve with dear friends in Civitella D’Agliano VT with multiple fish/seafood dishes and at Midnight Prosecco and Lenticchie con Zampone!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 31, 2017 at 9:43 am #

      A delightful and delicious way to ring in the New Year. Buon Anno!

  6. elisa December 30, 2017 at 9:57 am #

    Buon Anno Domenica!!! I never gave up my lentils on New Year’s day and your recipe sure is a winner! Un abbraccio

    • Domenica Marchetti December 31, 2017 at 9:44 am #

      Buon Anno, cara Elisa. Still hoping I get back to Pittsburgh one of these days so we can have un caffe e due chiacchiere. Un abbraccio!

  7. Cristina Lorenzetti December 30, 2017 at 10:25 am #

    Going to Ventimiglia’s today for for lentils and Italian sausage. Looking forward to making this!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 31, 2017 at 9:45 am #

      You mean Ventimiglia’s in Sterling Heights?? I used to shop there all the time. Buon Anno!

      • Cristina Lorenzetti January 1, 2018 at 3:07 pm #

        Yes! That’s the place. Glad I could add to your Detroit memories.:) I’ve got this dish on my stove right now. Buon Anno!!

  8. pblevitt December 30, 2017 at 12:31 pm #

    Buon Anno Domenica, a beautiful tradition for New Year’s Day which we look forward to each year.

  9. ciaochowlinda December 30, 2017 at 3:06 pm #

    Domenica – So glad you’re returning to tradition with lentils, although the black-eyed peas and rice sounds darn good too. I wish I had some of those Santo Stefano lentils. They’re impossible to find here and even in Italy, not so easy. I will have to make do with the Castelluccio lentils, which are pretty good too. Believe it or not, we’re spending part of New Year’s Eve at a Seton Hall basketball game, Ron’s alma mater and he never misses a game. Thankfully, he got a ticket for me, but I’m not cooking after the game. It’s a restaurant for us this year, but home well before the midnight madness. Best of luck with all your Italy tours next year. Lucky people who sign up!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 31, 2017 at 9:46 am #

      Thank you, Linda. A good ball game and dinner out on New Year’s Eve sounds pretty good to me. Cheers and all the best in 2018 xo

  10. Frank Fariello December 30, 2017 at 3:58 pm #

    Happy New Year’s Domenica! Glad to read that you’ve returned to the fold! Those lentils looks absolutely divine.

  11. Susan Schultz January 1, 2018 at 6:57 pm #

    Buon Anno! This was delicious! Hoping for prosperity from my Umbrian coins…

  12. Barbara January 1, 2018 at 8:42 pm #

    We made this today, delicious!

  13. David January 5, 2018 at 10:36 am #

    I suppose it doesn’t count if we had duck breast with lentils? To be honest, I have been looking for a good sausage with lentils recipe – and I just ordered your cookbook so I have your other soups and stews, as well! Happy New Year, Domenica, from our kitchen to yours!

    • Domenica Marchetti January 5, 2018 at 11:58 am #

      Happy New Year, dear David! I am going to say that duck breast does indeed count. Duck, like pork, has plenty of fat and so nicely symbolizes abundance. I hope you enjoy the book and cook from it often. xo

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