Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Lenticchie Stufate Di Capodanno Is The Flavour Of New Year In Italy

Having just turned the calendar yet again and with only two more pages until the end of 2012, my thoughts have also been turning to Christmas and the New Year.

With children having flown the nest and grandchildren not yet on the horizon, a ‘grown up’ Christmas is never quite the same is it? 

Therefore my plans are moving towards doing something completely different. What better way to breathe life into the embers of an old year than a visit to Italy in December.

Luckily, as if reading my mind, I note Flavours are actually offering a 5 day 4 night New Year’s Tuscan break which includes a day visiting Florence to enjoy the Christmas markets there. This appeals very much, I must say. Although there are many different ways to spend the festive period, being outside in Piazza Santa Croce has a special atmosphere all its own.

I also quite fancy the idea of gathering with lots of people from all over Europe to celebrate festivities within a different culture for a change. Florence is a magical city in which to soak up all the sights, sounds and flavours while imagining summers past and summers yet to come as you watch your frosted breath on a starry night.

The Piazza Republica in Florence always boasts a massive Christmas tree and the luminous decorations are quite different from anything you might see in the UK. Although there are German markets leading up to Christmas, later on, typical Italian resonates in this particular market place.

Chocolate tasting and the evocative waft of hot chestnuts can only mean it’s a specific time of year. It makes such a delightful change to be wandering around the Duormo in winter rather than in the intense heat of summer. Italy in winter has as much charm and grace as she does in August.

I also enjoy the sense of pilgrimage and the fact spiritual overtones are foremost in the Piazza Santa Croce than in some of the UK cathedrals to consumerism I could name.

It also gives me a chance to visit the Centro Storico or historic centre and pop into the trattoria Coco Lezzone featured in the Beaneaters and Bread Soup cook book. I may well enjoy a Bistecca cooked over wood. Come on, this isn’t on the menu in my kitchen; mmm, my mouth is watering at the thought!

Something I will expect to eat over New Year in Italy will be Lenticchie Stufate di Capodanno as this is traditional New Year fare. Lentils are symbolically associated with good luck, good fortune and general prosperity.

Have you ever thought, they do actually look a little like small coins and by serving them you can make sure riches will wing their way to you in the coming year. Although part of me thinks, the way it’s going that may well be all we are eating if the economy doesn’t improve!

Still, the accompaniment for lentils is Cotechino, a mild-tasting, slow-cooked pork sausage. Cotechino di Modena is a fresh sausage made from pork, fatback, and pork rind, has protected designation of origin status and dates back to the 16th where under siege conditions ways had to be found to preserve everything! So you have it, the typical Italian food philosophy: abundance, prosperity, pragmatism, frugality and most important of all: taste!

So to get me in the mood for my trip to Italy this New Year, here’s a celebratory recipe for Lenticchie. Why not give it a try. You will need:

500 g lentils – I like Puy myself
a couple of sprigs of rosemary
2 skinned garlic cloves
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
250ml vegetable broth, plus extra if needed
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste

Soak the lentils for 1 hour in cold water to cover. Drain; place in a large saucepan and cover with cool water. Add 1 sprig of rosemary together with 1 clove of garlic. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Drain, discard rosemary and garlic. Heat the olive oil in the same pot; add some fresh rosemary and minced garlic then cook for about 1 minute over low heat until you can smell the aromas. Add more garlic if you feel it needs it; I often do. Add the lentils, stock, salt, pepper, and tomato paste. Mix well. Cook until the lentils are tender. At this point most of the liquid will have been absorbed but add more stock if required. Check the seasoning and serve.

Why not do something different this New Years and treat yourself to a cooking holiday in Tuscany! For more detailed information on our Tuscan New Year, click here!

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