Countries across the world celebrate New Years, although each culture has its traditions and superstitions. Italians certainly have their own traditions that they religiously observe to bring in each new year. In the past, Italians, particularly those in southern Italy would throw out old pots, pans, and even old furniture out the window which is said to symbolize “letting go” of unhappiness and problems. Another unique tradition Italians follow is to wear red underwear to bring luck in the coming year. This tradition holds for both men and women, and If you happen to be in Italy during the holiday season, you might be surprised to see store windows filled with red underclothing for sale.
New Year’s dinner historically is zampone e lenticchie (pig’s trotters and lentils). Folklore suggests that eating sausage before midnight is a good omen for the New Year and that the high-fat content of the sausage symbolizes abundance. Across Italy, lentils are a symbol for coins, and by eating them for New Year’s, it is thought that they will bring wealth in the new year, while in Piedmonte rice symbolizes coins, so the traditional meal includes Risotto in Bianco (white risotto). Often the New Years dinner is finished off with dried fruit and grapes, and since it is thought that it takes great willpower to conserve some grapes from the grape harvest until New Year’s Eve, this indicates that everyone at the table will be wise and frugal with their newfound wealth. To ensure a sweet new year, ancient Romans gave each other jars of dates and figs in honey, along with a bay branch for good fortune. This tradition is still is practiced, especially in Naples, where people exchange figs wrapped in laurel leaves each new year.
Although I do not believe that wearing red underwear will change my luck for the coming year, when we lived in Milan for eight years, I started a family tradition of eating zampone or cottechino with lentils on New Year’s Eve for luck and prosperity for the coming year. Now that I am back in North America where zampone is difficult to locate, I find that I need to herald in each new year with some type of lentil dish. My braised lentils or lentil soups often contain sausage, but not always if I am looking for something lighter. This year I decided to create an Umbrian version of my favorite Umbrian lentil soup that includes farro. I kept this soup vegetarian, choosing to forgo sausage or pancetta in this version, but this soup is so hearty you really will not miss the meat!
Lentils are also extremely healthy for you and are a very low-cost source of protein. This small bean is truly a nutrient powerhouse. They are fat-free and are high in iron, phosphorus, copper, vitamin B, potassium, fiber, manganese, and folate. Best of all, compared to other dried beans, they are much faster to cook and easier to digest. Farro should be cooked just until it is tender to the bite, but it should still be relatively firm. Nothing is worse than overcooked, mushy farro in a salad! To cook your farro, simply bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and then drop in your farro and cook until tender, or “al dente”. I often used pearled farro in my soups and salads, which cooks quicker than regular farro, taking just about 15 minutes to cook. Just check your package directions as cooking time will depend on the variety of farro you choose. In place of the farro, you can use another grain like barley or even quinoa if you prefer. When serving this soup, you can top it with a dollop of pesto as shown in my photos, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, or some grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
Some Of My Favorite Lentil Recipes For New Years:
Deborah Mele 2017
New Year's Day Lentil & Farro Soup
- 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 Large Onion, Peeled & Diced
- 5 Celery Stalks, Diced
- 5 Medium Carrots, Trimmed & Diced
- 4 Garlic Cloves, Peeled & Minced
- 8 Cups Vegetable Broth
- 1 1/2 Cups Chopped Canned Tomatoes
- 1 1/2 Cups Small Lentils
- 1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
- 3 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Basil or Parsley
- Salt & Pepper To Taste
- 2 Cups Finely Chopped Kale
- 1 1/2 Cups Cooked Farro
- Topping of Choice (See Notes Above)
- In a large stockpot, heat the oil until sizzling, then add the onions, celery, and carrots.
- Cook over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent.
- Add the garlic, and cook another minute or two.
- Add the broth, tomatoes, lentils, oregano, basil, salt and pepper and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook just until the lentils are tender to the bite, about 25 to 30 minutes.
- Add the kale and farro, and stir to mix.
- Cook until the kale has wilted and the farro has warmed, about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Serve very warm in individual bowls with topping of choice.