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After Bob and I spent New Year’s Day out and about in the beautiful 53-degree weather (unheard of in the Northeast in January), we came home and had our traditional Italian “good luck” foods to bring in the first day of the new year.
The Italian food tradition for Good Luck in the New Year all comes down to eating lentils and some sort of pork product. Pigs symbolized prosperity so my family would eat “cotechino” which is a traditional pork product for this holiday.
Cotechino is an Italian, large pork sausage requiring slow cooking. Usually, it is simmered at low heat for several hours. It is made from pork, lard, and other spices but was never a favorite of mine because it is very fatty.
This is what cotechino looks like if you have ever seen it in a grocery store or Italian butcher and wondered what it was.
As I said, not a favorite of mine so I substituted it with another pork sausage- this time a pork sausage ring mixed with cheese and parsley as the spices.
I roasted the pork sausage with red grapes- a fabulous combination. A fantastic recipe was given to me by my friend Marie Renello (from Proud Italian Cook- great website, check her out ). She is a fabulous chef and I will post her recipe below.
Lentils are the next good luck food and they are supposed to bring good luck and prosperity so we had our traditional lentils & honestly, I love this dish so much, I could easily eat it every day (recipe below).
The shape of lentils represents a coin and they say that each lentil is a penny so the more you eat the more money comes your way. In addition, I added broccoli rabe (spinach can be substituted) which also brings good luck and prosperity because it is the green color of money.
I made lentils this year with another pork product for extra good luck and that is pancetta made from pork belly.
Not to be confused with prosciutto which is made from the hind leg. Pancetta is similar to bacon but is not smoked.
There are a few other traditions that we followed.
On New Year’s Day, Italians make sure they start the new year right by having some money in their pocket or wallet. This tradition is based on superstition.
Apparently, if you leave home with money in your pocket on the first day of the year, you’ll always have something in your pocket to spend every day of the year.
My grandmother would give each of her grandchildren five dollars on New Year’s Eve to carry in our wallets. She wanted to make sure we had enough cash in our wallets at all times.
I know it sounds odd but even today after all the years that have passed since grandma gave us cash on New Year’s Eve, I always tuck the New Year’s Eve money in a compartment in my wallet and I call it the “emergency fund”. I make sure Bob and my son still have extra cash in a compartment in their wallet for their emergency fund and we carry it for the entire year. Some family traditions just don’t go away even after years and years.
The next tradition that we followed when my grandmother was alive was to ” Frighten away spiteful spirits”.
Some Italian families have fireworks for this reason (especially true in Naples, Italy where my maternal side is from). Instead of fireworks, we went out into the streets in front of our homes banging pots and pans with wooden spoons to scare away evil and spiteful spirits that were supposed to be lurking in the shadows during the transition from the old year to the new year.
As children, we loved to just make lots of noise and not get in any trouble for 20 minutes or so (it helped that grandma was front and center)….ahh, the good old days.
The last tradition that was introduced to us as children by my grandmother was to wear red undies on New Year’s Eve to bring good luck to you for the full year to come.
I had to research the reason behind this (courtesy of google) because grandma stopped at “it brings good luck”.
“Lots of market stalls and shops in Italy sell red underwear on the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Apparently, in order to get the most out of this good fortune, Italians only wear red underwear on December 31st.”
“For the red underwear to be really lucky, it should only be worn on NYE and thrown out the next day. The reason behind this New Year’s tradition dates back to the ancient Romans who wore red tunics during battle which represented blood and strength and instilled fear in their enemies”.
I know there are so many more Italian traditions but these are the traditions that my family practiced.
Have a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous Year with all the Good Fortune your heart can hold…. and thank you for being so supportive of my blog all year. I love sharing recipes, stories, and life’s ups and downs with you. Enjoy the recipes…
Italian Sausage with Grapes
courtesy of Marie Renello from Proud Italian Cook
- 1 lb. Italian sausage, sweet or hot, good quality with fennel spice kept in a ring or rope style
- red seedless grapes, 2 to 3 cups, stems removed, rinsed, dried, and left whole
- sprigs of thyme
- olive oil
- Heat oven to 400 degrees.
- Skewer your rope of sausage together using 1 skewer through one end and out the other so it stays held together while cooking.
- Heat a 10 or 12-inch oven-proof skillet, medium-high, drizzled with a tiny bit of olive oil on the bottom of the pan.
- Add sausage ring and don’t move it until it forms a nice deep golden color, then flip it over carefully and continue cooking for 1 minute.
- Remove from heat and sprinkle grapes around, be careful not to crowd them in because as they cook they release their juice, and if you have too many it becomes too liquidy and all will not caramelize like it should. I would say a good rule of thumb is to leave some space between the placing of your grapes.
- Drizzle with olive oil and scatter some fresh thyme leaves around.
- Place the whole pan into the oven, uncovered to finish cooking the sausage, ( keep checking for doneness, it depends on thickness) during the process your grapes will wrinkle and begin to release their juices.
2 tbsp. olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 medium red onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
1 (14 ½ oz.) can of diced tomatoes with their juices
1 bag of lentils (usually 16 oz.)
8 cups low sodium chicken broth (2 boxes) or homemade broth
4- 6 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 cup grated cheese
Cooks Note: I always make lentil soup when I have the bone of a spiral ham. You could use a ham hock, bacon, or pancetta, or skip this ingredient entirely.
- Sort lentils for any stones, rinse with cold water – set aside
- Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. If you are using the pancetta render the pancetta in the pan and then remove and set aside.
- Add the red onion, celery, carrots, and a pinch of salt to sweat the vegetables.
- After 2-3 minutes add the garlic and pinch of red pepper and sauté until all the vegetables are tender about 5-8 minutes
- Add the tomatoes with their juices
- Simmer until the juices evaporate a little and the tomatoes break down, stirring occasionally for about 8 minutes
- Add the lentils and mix well to coat. Sauté 1-2 minutes
- Add the broth, bay leaf, thyme springs
- Bring to a boil over high heat
- Cover and simmer over low heat until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes
- Discard the bay leaf and add the pancetta back to the pot.
- Add salt and pepper and taste for seasonings
- When serving, you can drizzle the soup with a little olive oil and serve it with grated cheese
Cook’s Note– salt the lentils at the end of cooking, rather than the beginning, so that they don’t remain hard.
Until my next post, make every day a celebration!