Why Lentils Are A Staple Italian New Year's Dish

Cotechino con lenticchie
Cotechino con lenticchie - OlgaBombologna/Shutterstock

On January 1, billions of people around the world will eat a meal that's not just nutritious or delicious — but lucky. In the Southern U.S., they'll have Hoppin' John with greens (symbolizing money). In Spain, each person will eat 12 grapes (one for each month of the year). Italians eat grapes, too, but they also have their own tradition: Lentils.

Like other traditional New Year's food around the world, that bowl of lentils is more than just a meal. Picture a small, round lentil. Does it remind you of anything? It reminded ancient Romans of coins. They would give each other bags of lentils in the hope that they would turn into real, clinking currency. That may be why Italians associate them with wealth and prosperity in the New Year.

No matter how lucky lentils may be, most people wouldn't want to eat them plain. Italians usually don't. It's traditional to add pork, but there are certain things to keep in mind when attempting the classic New Year's dish.

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What Ingredients Go Into Italian New Year's Lentils

Sausage and lentils
Sausage and lentils - Aizram18/Getty Images

If you aren't lucky enough to be ringing in the New Year in Italy this year, you can still eat lenticchie, or lentils. A great lentil dish starts with — surprise, surprise — great legumes. Look for the queen of Italian lentil varieties: Castelluccio di Norcia. This little legume has Indicazione Geografica Protetta, a type of protected status reserved for local specialties. Their delicate texture and nutty flavor mark them a cut above the rest. That said, all lentils are good lentils. If you can't hand-harvest Castellucio lentils from the plains of Umbria, storebought is fine.

Once you've acquired your lentils, the next step is choosing the pork to go with them. One traditional choice is cotechino. Like the Castellucio lentil variety, cotechino Modena has protected status. It's made of pork rind, meat, and fat seasoned with salt, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. The whole mix gets stuffed into sausage casing. Zampone is basically the same thing but in a trotter. (You read that right — a trotter, as in a pig's foot.) If you can't get your hands on cotechino or Zampone, any other pork product will do. No one will complain if you serve a more familiar Italian sausage and lentil soup for New Year's.

More Italian Classics To Eat With Your New Year's Meal

Glasses of prosecco
Glasses of prosecco - Fotojuwelier/Getty Images

For a truly traditional Italian start to the year, you need more than just lentils. Before the clock strikes midnight, grab a bunch of grapes -- raisins will also work. With each toll of the bell, eat one; if you got your timing right, you'll eat twelve in total, one for each month of the year. Then, it's time to break out the lenticchie e cotechino. Romans say that if you eat grapes and lentils on New Year's, you'll count coins all year long.

It wouldn't be a celebration without breaking out the bubbly. To ring in the New Year Italian style, skip the champagne and pop some prosecco as a stand-in instead. If that's a little too obvious, try another Italian sparkling wine. Asti, franciacorta, and lambrusco are tasty (and fizzy), too. Raise a glass to good food, good wine, and good luck in the New Year. Buona fortuna!

Read the original article on Daily Meal.