As 2010 winds down, folks will be celebrating the arrival of 2011 in a variety of ways. Earlier in December, I was at a lecture about Italian Holiday Traditions at the 92nd Street Y on the Upper East Side featuring Francine Segan. Listening to her speak brought me back to some wonderful times that I’d spent ringing in the new year with friends overseas.
As she explained, many of these traditions feature specific food items, and, as with most things in Italy, also have regional variations. In Bologna, a typical dish is a pile of lentils (to symbolize money) topped with slices of zampone (a stuffed pig’s trotter) or cotechino (a sausage variety), and garnished with potato purée. Eating this meal on New Year’s Eve (capodanno), in addition to wearing red undergarments that evening and/or the first day of January, is supposed to bring good luck and fortune in the coming year.
While I don’t know how accurate that legend actually is, I can tell you that the savory, melting fat and spices from the zampone / cotechino flavors the lentils just wonderfully. The hearty taste and texture of the flavored legumes is a perfect balance to the smooth and creamy potato mixture. If I could get my hands on the pork component of this dish here in Virginia (our usual sausages aren’t quite the same thing), I would make this for my family to eat tonight.
My mom used to make something of a similar nature for New Year’s Day. For us, we would gather around for a special meal to start off the year, usually featuring a ham of some sort, if I remember correctly. She would also try to feed us Hoppin’ John, a Southern classic made with black-eyed peas and a ham hock, with the similar good luck aura of the Bolognesi lentils. This, I distinctly remember as not a hit at the dinner table. I don’t recall it making an appearance more than a couple of times.
However, for us, tonight it will be dinner with a toddler, his parents, and my dad. We’ll be having the Spaghetti and Meatballs that I wrote about ages ago as being a family classic. Having made this same dish over the summer with my two oldest nieces, it seems like the next generation is also becoming a fan of it (and one of my nieces is a pro at making evenly-sized and -shaped meatballs). Even if there aren’t any beans to represent money, the sauce for this dish is very red, so maybe that will be enough to bring us all good fortune for 2011.
Buon appetito and Buon Anno Nuovo!