Casa Mia

Casa Mia

Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year is always the year of the pig

In my family, every holiday is steeped with tradition, some meaning behind the foods we use to celebrate and commemorate the occasion, but I never quite understood our New Year's menu. When I was young, the "eve" was celebrated at home with my parents and siblings, watching Guy Lombardo (the father) or Dick Clark, with what I now consider Super Bowl fare: cheese fondue, pigs in a blanket, Italian cold cuts - prosciutto, capicolla, sopresatta - and sausage with "cipolline," an antique Calabrese dish that combined fresh sweet sausage from “Guido’s” Italian specialty and delicatessen with dried tiny onions, impossible to peel, in a frying pan. On New Year's Day at my grandparents, aside from some simple pasta, there was always some kind of pork roast and greasy, crunchy potatoes; one year, there was an entire pig with an orange in its mouth that although tasty, freaked us all out. (We had exchanged the apple for an orange to accomodate my grandfather who could not abide the smell or taste of an apple of any kind.)

Perhaps you have figured it out already: the sacrificial lamb of my family's New Year's table is the pig. Many years later when I lived in Italy, I discovered that pork, particularly sausage, is the traditional and classic ingredient of the occasion, and an integral component in ensuring success for the upcoming new year. In Italia, the new year begins with "cotechino e lenticchie”. Cotechino is a delicious, savory, fresh pork sausage and lenticchie (lentils) are said to bring good luck and prosperity in the new year. For those adventurous souls, I am providing the recipe for this classic Italian dish. Keep in mind that the cotechino isn’t easy to come by – It’s from Northern Italy but you can try Dean and Deluca or the Calabrese pork store on Arthur Ave. If you don’t want to try that hard, here’s my variation on the theme. You can serve the lentils separately, as a soup, or try our thick version. As for the sausage, it’s pretty easy to just roast it and serve separately. Add a loaf of crusty bread and some Prosecco and you have a real Italian New Year’s feast.

New Year’s Lentils and Roasted Sausage – my style
For the lentils
1 bag of green lentils
1 stick of dried sweet sausage, peeled and cut into equivalent chunks per serving
Extra virgin olive oil good enough for dipping bread
Dried sweet red peppers or crushed red pepper (optional)

Rinse lentils in a strainer.
In a 3 quart saucepan, add lentils and water to cover. Add a pinch of salt and the chunks of Italian sausage. Bring to boil, lower gas and cover, stirring until all water is absorbed and lentils are tender. Note that you may need to add some more water to complete cooking.

If you have dried red peppers which you can either buy at an Italian specialty store or make yourself in a dehydrator like my mom does, sauté a few and after removing them to a dish, salt them sparingly. You can replace this ingredient with crushed red pepper but remember, this will make the dish spicey.

Serve the lentils into individual bowls and top with a swirl of olive oil and crumbled dried fried red peppers.

For the sausage
3 lbs of sweet fresh Italian sausage with fennel
6 potatoes
1 onion
Olive oil

Lightly coat the bottom of a roasting pan with 2 T. olive oil. Add the sausage, potatoes cut in quarters and sliced onion. Pierce sausage with a fork and sprinkle with oregano and a touch of salt. Bake in a 375o oven for 30 minutes; turn sausage and potatoes and bake for another 30 minutes until sausage is browned and potatoes are browned and crunchy.

Note that although the sausage will be fully cooked in that time frame, you can continue to cook longer or remove sausage so that potatoes may continue to brown and crunch up as desired.

The original "Cotechino e Lenticche"
One 1-pound cotechino, preferably uncooked
1 pound green or brown lentils, picked over & rinsed
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups chicken broth
Salt & black pepper

In a large bowl, soak the cotechino in water to cover for 1 to 2 hours.

Place the lentils in a soaked 3-quart clay pot. Stir in the carrot, onion, celery, and garlic. Add the broth and 1 cup of water. Cover the pot and place it in a cold oven. Set the oven temperature to 450 degrees F and cook for 1 hour, until the lentils are soft but not mushy. (Check the lentils after 30 minutes, adding an additional cup of water it the liquid has dropped below the surface of the lentils.) Season with salt and pepper to taste.I Meanwhile, with a fork, pierce the cotechino in 8 to 10 places. Place the cotechino in a deep skillet and add enough water to cover. Cover the pan, bring the water to a simmer, and cook the sausage gently for 20 minutes if using cooked cotechino, 50 minutes if using uncooked. Spoon the lentils onto a serving platter. Cut the sausage into 3/4-inch slices and arrange over the lentils.

Welcome to my World

For a long time, I have collected recipes: some originate with my family and have been modified throughout the generations, and others are taken from cook books, magazines and cooking classes I have taken both in the US and Italy, also modified throughout the years. Not only are they tried and true and taste great, they have one thing in common: each has a very special meaning to me as they are associated with a particular person, place or occasion in my life which brought happiness.

For a long time, I have been dreaming of combining them - the story with the recipe because, among other things, I am also a writer. No longer the writer I had once hoped to be, but still one who likes to finesse the words in just the right way so the reader will understand a procedure better, thanks to me. Providing communications about technology to technology users has trained me to do that well. Understanding that anyone who eats usually associates the food with traditions, occasions and people, makes the combination of the story and the recipe more "digestable."

And so, this blog comes from my passion for great food that uses fresh, mostly healthy ingredients, the love of the people that I have cooked for and served and the funny, happy, and sometimes sad memories around each and every recipe. I hope you enjoy the stories and will use this recipes to create your own memories.