A New Year’s Tradition: Cotechino con lenticchie (Emilian Sausage with Lentils)

Cotechino e lenticchie

New Year’s Eve for Italians—like so many other holidays—is marked by a large, festive meal, often an elegant seafood dinner, called the cenone di San Silvestro or cenone di Capodanno, the word ‘cenone‘ being Italian for ‘big supper’. For me, a seafood risotto like risotto alla crema di scampi would be a perfect primo, followed perhaps by a roasted fish dish. Dessert could be a tiramisù or Montebianco.

Midnight, however, is the time to break out this hearty dish, as Italian custom has it that if you start the New Year by eating coin-shaped lentils, it will bring you prosperity. While most people just take a little dish of the stuff—remember, this is coming after you’ve had a major dinner—the more lentils you eat, the richer you will be. Or, at least, that is the theory…

While it may sound like culinary heresy, most people (and I do the same) buy pre-cooked cotechino that is sold in a large vacuum-packed pouch. That makes life really easy. All that’s left to do is to simmer the lentils and serve. Everything can be done ahead and brought out in time for the stoke of 12.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6, or more 

  • One cotechino, pre-cooked (or not: see Notes)

For the lentils:

  • 500g (1 lb.) lentils
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 sprig of fresh sage or rosemary
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A chunk of pancetta or a few slices of prosciutto, finely minced (optional)

Directions

You just simmer the cotechino, still in its pouch, in enough water to cover for about 20-30 minutes to reheat it. The sausage is quite fatty and it needs to be hot enough to start melting that fat, which gives it a wonderfully unctuous texture and flavor. For a large cotechino, I find that a fish poacher is ideal; an oval Dutch oven also works for smaller ones. You can keep the cotechino warm almost indefinitely until you are ready to eat. (For notes on preparing an uncooked cotechino or an American cotechino, see the Notes below.)

In the meanwhile, prepare the lentils. There are various ways to do this, but my personal favorite is the simplest: simmer the lentils in water with a sprig of thyme or sage or another aromatic herb and a clove of garlic until just barely tender. In a separate pot, make a simple soffritto of onion (and if you like, some finely minced prosciutto or pancetta) in olive oil and butter until quite tender. Strain and add your just cooked lentils to the soffritto, allowing them to insaporire for a few minutes, then add a ladleful or two of rich broth or the lentil cooking liquid or, best of all, the juice from the cotechino (see next paragraph). Simmer long enough for the flavors to meld and the lentils to become entirely tender. Do not overcook the lentils, however, or they will become rather stodgy.

When the lentils are just about done, carefully remove the cotechino from its pouch by cutting open up one side and allowing its contents—the cotechino itself and a fair amount of fatty juice—into a deep serving dish, preferably oval in shape to accommodate the cotechino comfortably. That juice has wonderful flavor: I like to add a ladleful or so to the lentils and let them absorb that flavor.

To serve, remove the cotechino to a cutting board and slice it thickly. Then lay out of ‘bed’ of the lentils in a large serving platter, then the cotechino slices in a pleasant arrangement on top of the lentils. You can, if you like—and I do—add a bit more of the juice on top of the lentils for even more lovely flavor and unctuousness.

Notes

The cotechino is originally from Emilia-Romagna, specifically from the city of Modena. It is made from pork, fatback and pork rind, along with various spices. Some producers add wine as well as other flavorings and preservatives. Cotechino has TGI status, so one made outside its designated area is not a real cotechino. Although originally a local specialty, thanks to modern industrial production and marketing, in modern times cotechino (like panettone, originally from Milan) has become a national holiday tradition.

Preparing an uncooked cotechino (which are available, or used to be back in the day, in Italian areas of New York) is a bit more elaborate: you prick the sausage all over with a pin. (Don’t use a fork as it creates holes that are too big; the skin may rupture and the stuffing, which is rather soft, may start to ooze out.) You then wrap the cotechino up in cheesecloth and tie it up with some cooking twine. The cotechino is then simmered in water for 2 hours for a big cotechino, 45 minutes for a small one. The resulting ‘broth’ can be added to the lentils as indicated above. (By the way, some recipes will tell you to degrease the broth before adding it to the lentils—but why throw away all that lusciousness? After all, it’s the holidays.)

In the US, Beretta markets a domestic pre-cooked cotechino that is not half bad, but not the real deal. It is a rather leaner rather smaller than a real cotechino, and comes ‘dry’ wrapped in clear plastic. You remove the plastic and simmer it for only 10-20 minutes. You will not have that luscious juice, however, to use. They can be found in Italian delis and are available online.

Of course, if you don’t have a cotechino on hand, you can always use ‘regular’ Italian sausages, sautéed gently in some olive oil until golden brown and well cooked. When they are done, deglaze the pan with broth, some wine or just water, and add the sucs to the lentils.

As mentioned, there are various ways to make the lentils. In particular, many people prefer to use the classic soffritto italiano of onion, celery and carrot rather than just onion. But I personally find that the addition of carrot and celery for some reason gives the lentils an ‘off’ taste. I prefer the pure lentil flavor you get with a simple onion soffritto. Some recipes call for adding tomato which, to my mind, denatures the taste even more. For some recommendations on choosing and cooking lentils, see the post on Ham and Lentil Casserole (which would make for a nice substitute, by the way, if you can’t find a cotechino and have some leftover Christmas ham in the fridge). Obviously, this is not an everyday dish, but both cotechino and zampone can be eaten on occasions other than New Year’s Eve. In fact, I actually prefer to eat this dish for lunch on New Year’s Day. For one thing, after a large cenone, there is not much room for yet another dish—and a very rich one at that—and, an added plus, all the fat in the dish is great if you happen to have been’ over-served’ the night before…

While lentils are obligatory on New Years, cotechino is also very nice served with mashed potatoes or other kinds of legumes such as cannellini beans.

New Year’s Eve is known in Italian as San Silvestro, after Pope Sylvester I (reign 314-335) who was buried on December 31. After Sylvester was canonized, the date became the liturgical feast of Saint Sylvester. Like others, Italians like to drink sparkling wine on New Years and enjoy firework displays. One old tradition, especially in Naples, was to throw out something old from your window at midnight to say ‘goodbye’ to the ending year. And it is also said that wearing red underwear will bring good luck in the coming year, although this is one tradition I have never followed!

By the way, cotechino is not the only kind of sausage eaten on New Years. Personally, I rather prefer the zampone, which is a pig’s trotter stuffed with the same mixture. The presentation is much more dramatic and the pig’s skin adds even more lusciousness to the final dish.

Though not associated with New Years as far as I am aware, there is a similar sausage from Ferrara called the salama da sugo. It has a more accentuated flavor, being more heavily spiced (usually with nutmeg but sometimes also with cloves or cinnamon) and personally I find it even more delicious than the other two. The salama is typically eaten with mashed potatoes or a purée of zucca (Italian pumpkin)—the flavor is just too intense to eat on its own. (See this article for a description in English.) Unfortunately, it is little known outside Italy and, as far as I know, unavailable in the US. I have found this online source for those in the UK.

Post Scriptum: Since writing the above post, fellow blogger Laura Pazzaglia of hip pressure cooking published a great post on making both cotechino and lentils in the same pressure cooker. If you have a pressure cooker—and you definitely should!—it’s a wonderfully clever way to make short work of this dish using a ‘real’ cotechino. Well worth a try!

Related recipes from Memorie di Angelina
Related articles from foodie friends

A New Year’s Tradition: Cotechino con lenticchie (Emilian Sausage with Lentils)

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: Serves 4-6, or more

A New Year’s Tradition: Cotechino con lenticchie (Emilian Sausage with Lentils)

Ingredients

  • One cotechino, pre-cooked (or not: see Notes)
  • For the lentils:
  • 500g (1 lb.) lentils
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 sprig of fresh sage or rosemary
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A chunk of pancetta or a few slices of prosciutto, finely minced (optional)

Directions

  1. Simmer the cotechino, still in its pouch, in enough water to cover for about 20-30 minutes to reheat it.
  2. In the meanwhile, prepare the lentils: simmer the lentils in water with a sprig of sage or rosemary or another aromatic herb and a clove of garlic until tender.
  3. In a separate pot, make a simple soffritto of onion (and if you like, some finely minced prosciutto or pancetta) in olive oil and butter until soft and translucent. Strain and add your just cooked lentils to the soffritto, allowing them to simmer together for a few minutes, then add a ladleful or two of rich broth or the lentil cooking liquid or, best of all, the juice from the cotechino (see next paragraph). Simmer long enough for the flavors to meld and the lentils to become entirely tender. Do not overcook the lentils, however, or they will become rather stodgy.
  4. When the lentils are just about done, carefully remove the cotechino from its pouch by cutting open up one side and allowing its contents—the cotechino itself and a fair amount of fatty juice—into a deep serving dish, preferably oval in shape to accommodate the cotechino comfortably. That juice has wonderful flavor: I like to add a ladleful or so to the lentils and let them absorb that flavor.
  5. To serve, remove the cotechino to a cutting board and slice it thickly. Then lay out of 'bed' of the lentils in a large serving platter, then the cotechino slices in a pleasant arrangement on top of the lentils. You can, if you like, add a bit more of the juice on top of the lentils for even more lovely flavor and unctuousness.

You can keep the cotechino warm almost indefinitely until you are ready to eat.

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26 Responses to “A New Year’s Tradition: Cotechino con lenticchie (Emilian Sausage with Lentils)”

  1. 1 January 2014 at 00:40 #

    wonderful bowl of goodness Frank, so wish I had the ability to find a sausage like this, you make it sound better than any New Year’s wish… and, you, buying precooked? I am shocked…
    btw, I am still dabbling when time with my WP site and if you don’t mind, I added you on the Food page… let me know if this is not okay but I didn’t think you would mind, it links right to you…

    • 2 January 2014 at 13:25 #

      Drick, It’s a real honor to be listed on your Food page! Thanks so much for thinking of me.

      And, btw, you’re not the only one who was surprised I buy precooked for this recipe! But as I’ve said before, I’m not against precooked when it tastes good and actually saves time. And this is one of those (few) cases!

  2. 30 December 2012 at 22:15 #

    I’ve been looking for cotechino in the Twin Cities and the only place I could find – was 45 minutes away. I want this in my life. I adore lentils and particularly with sausage. So there is vacuum-packed cotechino?

  3. 30 December 2012 at 18:03 #

    looks wonderful love lentils, happy new year

  4. 30 December 2012 at 10:12 #

    Auguro a te e alla tua famiglia un 2013 pieno di felicità, salute e fortuna,un abbraccio da Trieste !

  5. 31 December 2010 at 09:38 #

    This house loves lentils – this is a great recipe. I've never had lentils with Italian sausage in there, but will definitely give it a try…it sounds delish!

  6. 31 December 2010 at 09:11 #

    Great post! I'd always wondered why Italians called
    New Year's Eve. San Silvestro.

  7. 12 January 2010 at 20:01 #

    Champagne! So many visitors are absolutely deserved, you're a great food blogger! :)

  8. 9 January 2010 at 10:42 #

    @Simona: I am duly chastised, lol! But unfortunately where I live at the moment I am lucky to have found the pre-cooked variety!

  9. 7 January 2010 at 12:54 #

    I love cotechino, but a gourmet like you are shouldn't use the precooked one, of course if you can find a “real” one in US.
    Buon Anno Nuovo!
    ciao
    Simona

  10. 6 January 2010 at 00:20 #

    Thanks for sharing this lovely traditional recipe!

  11. 3 January 2010 at 12:11 #

    A friend brought a big ugly cotechino and bean to a New Years party years ago… it didn't look like much but what flavor… with all the fancy food that night it was at the top of the list of favorites!! Your recipe brings back those great flavors… now to find a good chunk of it to make it again!!!

  12. 3 January 2010 at 10:56 #

    We posted the same exact cotechino and lenticchie post Ciao and BUON ANNO!
    Eleonora

  13. 3 January 2010 at 10:52 #

    Thanks everyone! And best wishes for the New Year!

    @pTsaldari: Curious to know about “Greek style” cotechino e lenticchie…

    All the best,
    Frank

  14. 3 January 2010 at 06:50 #

    I wish I can eat more lentils. This dish looks delicious.

  15. 3 January 2010 at 06:20 #

    I had zampone and beans for Xmas dinner! It was quite an explosion of flavours!

  16. Second day of 2010, willthis year be happy for you with more recipes
    Greeting from Belgium
    http://blog.seniorennet.be/louisette/

  17. 2 January 2010 at 10:56 #

    here is to a healthy new year and another great year for your blog – you have come so far in its short time and you have a special touch in reaching your viewers – keep it up Frank….

  18. 2 January 2010 at 10:17 #

    Need to add “eat more lentils” to my resolution list! Hope you had a wonderful New Year!

  19. 2 January 2010 at 10:03 #

    Eating lentils is really such a healthy way to start a new year… we had a fish meal at home :-)… and Happy 2010, Frank!

  20. 2 January 2010 at 09:08 #

    Great stuff here, Frank! Looking forward to reading more of your blog :)

  21. 1 January 2010 at 21:08 #

    Delicious! Cotechino hard to come by here. Was going to go to about 40 minutes away for some and then the snow came… and the below zero stuff. So made do with lentil soup. Do I still get luck? Oh how I love that dish!

  22. 1 January 2010 at 21:05 #

    Happy new Year love your blog i am doing this next year did American tradition of black eyed peas next Italian LOL

    Rebecca

  23. 1 January 2010 at 21:04 #

    Love this dish! Coming from an Italian background my Chilean grandmother would make lentils for New Year's. Now I know the background!

  24. 1 January 2010 at 19:20 #

    I love this dish and make it Greek style. Your presentation, the recipe and blog are so beautiful. I'm enjoying following you very much.

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