1. A Few Italian New
2. Zampone and Cotechino
3. Recipe: Sausage
A Few Italian New Year Traditions
To welcome in the New Year, it is traditional to
light petards (a kind of firecracker) and fireworks
that set the night sky aflame on New Year's Eve
and New Year's Day. This tradition is recognizable
nearly around the world, but in Italy, many folks
still throw old possesions out the window, in the
hopes of forgetting past misfortunes and clearing
the decks for good luck in the new year. Although
it has not happened to me, I have a friend that
insists he was nearly knocked out by a small sofa
flying out of an upper story window, right after
midnight on New Year's.
A more common way to salute the beginning of the
year is to toast it with sparkling Italian wine.
For the New Year's Day dinner, eating pork products
accompanied by lenticchie, or lentils, is a tradition
followed in most regions of Italy. The pork is said
to represent the fat, or riches, of the land, and
the lentils symbolize money or good luck. Some say
that the lentil dish should be enjoyed on the last
day of the year, some say the first. Whichever,
the traditional pork accompaniements are the zampone
Zampone and Cotechino
This wonderful description of zampone and cotechino
comes from my dear friend Paolo Maietta, an authority
on all things delicious. According to Paolo, both
of these traditional New Year's dishes are centered
around casings stuffed with minced pork meat. "The
zampone is made (by) filling the skin of the lower
pig leg (the shin) including the toe little bones;
the meat is minced to bigger chunks than usual sausages
and it's a bit greasy. The original place from which
it comes is Modena, in the Emiligia-Romano region
It became a tradition there to eat zampone with
lentils at the New Year. As we said earlier, sources
give differing opinions on just whether these treats
are to be enjoyed on New Year's Eve or on New Year's
Day. We don't think it much matters which you choose,
and our friends across Tuscany and the rest of Italy
all seem to do just as their families have done,
choosing one day or the other to eat these traditional
It is said that the lentils served on New Year's
Day are traditionally representative of money, and
that the casing of the zampone (the pig's shin and
trotter) represent the bags to hold the incoming
money. Since I practice a money-gathering tradition
of my own on New Year's Eve (leaving money outside
the house, in the hope that it will bring more in
during the coming year), I find this idea appealing.
An old story has it that a seige conducted by Pope
Julius II during the winter of 1511 left the people
of an Emilian town facing starvation. In order to
continue to eat, they were forced to use every bit
of their native pigs for food. Zampone was invented
when they decided to take all the scraps of pig
innards that they had left, and mince and stuff
them into the only thing available to hold them:
the skin of a pig's shin and trotter. It is said
that they even stuffed the toes of that pig!
Zampone is not readily available outside of Italy,
and even in Italy it can sometimes be difficult
to find. The best time to try it, is, of course,
at the New Year.
Both lo zampone and il cotechino are eaten with
a combination of mashed potatos and lentils. According
to Paolo, "the cotechino is a sort of big sausage,
with the same filling (as zampone) but much more
finely minced and more spiced. It has a very distinctive
taste and it comes in smaller sizes (max 500 gr.)
than the zampone (750/1000 gr). Both are served
as traditional New Year's Eve food, served with
mashed potatoes (pure' di patate) and lentils (lenticchie).
The latter are believed to be a good sign of much
money for the New Year."
Recipe: Sausage With Lentils
Our recipe forsalsiccia e lenticchie is a modern
and convenient take on the traditional lentils and
zampone. This recipe should serve 4 to 6 people
and should be accompanied by mashed potatos for
the full Capodanno effect!
- 1 1/2 cups green lentils
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 pound prociutto, pancetta, or bacon, diced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 small fennel bulb, diced
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage with fennel
- 1 medium can of chopped tomatoes
- 1 small dried chili pepper, or red pepper flakes
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and pepper to taste
Most lentils sold these days do not need to be
soaked ahead, but it is best to follow any package
directions that come with the lentils you buy. Put
lentils in a pot of boiling, salted water; when
the water boils again, cover and simmer for about
30 minutes or according to package directions. Drain..
Saute the bacon, onion, carrot, fennel, shallot
and garlic in the olive oil in a large skillet.
When vegetable are soft, remove and brown the sausage
in the same skillet. Set sausage aside on paper
Remove all fat from the skillet and return the
bacon and vegetables to the pan; add the tomatoes,
hot pepper, and bay leaf, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add the sausage and heat through, simmering for
5 minutes or more.
Season with salt and pepper and serve on a large
platter accompanied by mashed potatos.
A chianti is a good wine to enjoy with this dish.