New Year’s Eve can be very dangerous in Italy; “out with the old” can mean broken plates and even larger items being thrown out of windows. So stay away from open windows! Italy is no different than many other countries in having foods which symbolise wealth and good fortune when eaten. At New Year’s lentils, beans and grapes are eaten in abundance as they symbolise coins and are meant to bring wealth.
Probably the most traditional dish is Zampone or Cotecchino with lentils and mashed potatoes. The Zampone, a whole pig’s foot may put you off, but is actually a large sausage, boiled slowly using the pig’s skin as a casing. For the weak of heart, you can buy vacuum packed slices of Cotecchino which are quite easy to warm up without dealing with the whole foot!
Lentils come in many sizes and colors and are very earthy. Florentines are known as bean-eaters, the traditional white cannelloni, being the bean of choice. I prefer the light yellow Zolfini from the Val D’arno when I can find them. Slow cooked Tuscan Beans can be served simply with Black Caviar for a wonderful opening dish for New Year’s dinner.
Beans, chickpeas and lentils are easily found in the grocery stores, but I get mine in bulk at my local Civaiolo. The civaiolo is probably one of my favorite shops in Florence, where I can find almost anything I need for my house. From paper towels to plastic bowls, from copper pots to wooden gnocchi ridgers and a huge selections of beans and grains, perfect for a macrobiotic diet. Stop by your neighbourhood shop and start your New Year off with a healthy meal. Lentils are easily cooked with some chopped onions in salted water, and as the Italians say, cook till done! Depending on how old and large the lentils are, the cooking time varies. Ask the shop owner for advice. Tuscan white beans are slow stewed in water with a garlic clove and a sage branch, and only salted at the end of the cooking time.
My new favourite dish for New Year’s is from Umbria. I was visiting a hotel owned by a friend of mine and had a fabulous warm chickpea (garbanzo bean) and farro salad called Chicchi. This warm salad, seasoned with black truffles is easy to prepare and a show stopper. You can put it together using canned chickpeas drained, giving yourself more time to celebrate!
(Warm Truffled Spelt Salad)
During my last visit to Il Castello di Poreta in Umbria, Chef Donatella Lauteri, the young wizard in the kitchen, shared this incredible recipe with me — warm truffled farro (spelt) salad.
Most recipes in Italy are passed on by word of mouth and measurements are not very specific. Use fresh herbs and tomatoes in tiny amounts, pinches, as they are only to accent, not overpower the truffles. Truffle oil may be substituted for the black truffles.
10 ounces dried chickpeas
10 ounces farro (spelt)
3 ounces sliced black truffles or truffle oil
2 garlic cloves, sliced
-Soak the chickpeas in cold water for 12 hours, changing the water 3 times. (If you use canned chickpeas, rinse them thoroughly!) Cook the chickpeas in the same water for about 1 hour.
-Cook the farro in lightly salted water until tender, about 20 minutes. Do not overcook the chickpeas or farro!
-Finely chop the garlic, basil, sage, rosemary, chili flakes, and oregano.
lightly sauté the herbs in olive oil, then add the tomato bits.
-Add the drained chickpeas and farro.
-Off the flame, stir in the truffles and serve with slices of fettunta. Garnish with chopped parsley.
(Fettunta is Tuscan garlic bread. A thick slice of Tuscan style bread is toasted and then lightly rubbed with a clove of garlic. The best extra virgin olive oil is poured over the bread. Then it’s seasoned with a little salt.)