Dec 312011

Olive tree in winter, Spoleto, Umbria. Photo by Clarisse Schiller

Put them together for the quintessential Italian New Year dish, lenticchie di capodanno (lentils for the new year). Lentils, round and copper-colored, should remind you of money; pork shouts fatness and increase. And the olive oil? Nectar of the gods. “A drop of olive oil on the head, a drop of wine on the lips” remembers writer Bill Marsano, was an infant’s blessing in Italian households. It anoints the breasts of monarchs at their coronations and marks the foreheads of the dying in their final breath of life. In your food, it’s no less a benediction.

New Year is an antidote to the retreat of Christmas, time to toss out the old and bring in the new. Not long ago people threw everything from cracked plates to broken bidets out their windows. Cars zoomed around Rome in their usual traffic frenzy, brooms tied to their front tires to prevent them from being shredded by all broken china on the streets. Wherever you are, it’s a giddy night. Safer to get yourself some lentils (if you can find the tiny, plump Casteluccio lentils from Umbria, all the better) and sausages and get to work in your kitchen whipping up some tasty good luck grub for New Year’s day.

Note: Thanks to my friend, Clarisse Schiller, for the photos of her land in the Umbrian hills.

Before moving on to the recipe, a shot I took of Casteluccio lentils, stewed, at the Umbrian olive oil estate and agriturismo, Frantoio Marfuga, Colli-Assisi-Spoleto.

A “thread” of the oil goes on top of the lentils at serving for a burst of its clear, uncooked flavor, some of which is lost in cooking.

New Year Lentils with Roasted Sausages

for 6 to 8 people

2 cups dried brown lentils
2 bay leaves
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
2 large cloves garlic, bruised
2 celery stalks with leaves, minced
1 large carrot, peeled and minced
1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste
sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 Italian-style sweet pork sausages

1. Pick over and rinse the lentils in cold water. Put them in an ample pot with the bay leaves and cold water to cover by 4 inches.  Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until not quite tender, about 15 minutes. Skim off any foam that forms at the top. Turn off the heat. Drain the lentils and set them aside, reserving their liquid.

2. In a large skillet warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté over low heat until it is nicely colored but not brown, about 2 minutes. Add the celery, carrot, and onion and sauté over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the drained lentils. Dilute the tomato paste in a few tablespoons of some of the lentil cooking liquid and add it to the pan, stirring to distribute. Now add enough of the lentil cooking liquid to cover by about an inch. Simmer until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes, adding more of the lentil cooking liquid as necessary to keep the lentils moist: the consistency of the stew should be loose but not watery. When the lentils are cooked, pluck out the bay leaves and turn off the heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and let  stand while you cook the sausages.

3. To cook the sausages, preheat a broiler and roast them until they are nicely browned all over and cooked through. Alternatively, fry them in a heavy pan on the stove top.

4. Transfer the lentils to a wide serving dish. Drizzle with additional olive oil to taste. Slice the sausages and arrange them over the mound of lentils, or keep them whole if you have one sausage for each person.  Serve hot.

Note: The lentils can be made 2-3 days in advance of serving. Roast the sausages just before serving.


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  10 Responses to “FOR THE NEW YEAR: Lentils for Luck and Sausages for Plenty, Infused with Holy Oil”

  1. I’am going to make a New Tradition this year with your receipt lentils and sausage. Thank you, and Happy New Year from Debbie. 2012

  2. When we spent a year in Umbria (1997-8) we had a massive fireplace in the old (unheated) farmhouse we rented, and roasted the world’s best sausages (made by our butcher in Citta della Pieve) on a wrought iron grate over the glowing embers. I can taste it now! From time to time we also roasted pig liver (fegato) wrapped in caul fat, a true delicacy. Unfortunately, both of those items are hard to find in local stores. I feel my cholesterol level rise just thinking about it, but once in a while it’s worth the indulgence.

    • Oh my!! How I hunger for those sausages now! After all, the Umbrians are the most famous sausage makers in all of Italy ( I speak not of cotechino and such, but fresh sausages). I think we are among the blessed to have wandered in Umbria, no?

  3. Yum!
    I invited a few friends and served it with crusty Italian bread and plenty of wine. It was a hit! From now on it will be my traditional January 6th dish. I never realized that it was the 12th day of Christmas. I like that.
    Happy New Year

  4. Hi Giulia,

    I have never made lentils and sausage, and have missed Epiphany by a couple of days, but I am going to try now. My challenge: finding something approaching an Italian pork sausage that my daughter (also Julia) will want to eat. She swore off beef and pork a couple of years ago, in response to concern about the environment. So I buy free range beef and tell her that beef grown of smaller farms where they range free is not the same as feed-lot beef in terms of its environmental impact. I can’t remember seeing free-range pork, but I might be able to buy some pork sausage from a local farmers market if the winter markets have opened since the holidays. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

    All best. Happy New Year to you and Nat!!!

    Claire Schiffman

    • Hi Claire,
      Getting naturally raised pork is a challenge, particularly finding good pork sausages. I buy pork from a CSA, Lewis Waite farms–you can Google them and see if they deliver anywhere near you. As for sausages, I’ve found Niman Ranch pork sausages to be quite good–they’re the closest fresh organic/natural pork sausages that are close to Italian “sweet” pork sausages that you’ll find. I know the NIman operation and can vouch for the high quality of their meats. Keep me posted!

      Happy New Year to Andrew and the children.

  5. I will try this sounds tasy love lentils, it’s good for you and different and who doesn’t like Italian sausage with fennel!!!!

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