When I lived in Rome my Roman roommate (and soul sister), Enrica, made lentils for lunch one day. In Italy you can get lentils in a can, pre-cooked, like you buy baked beans here. They’re called lenticche in Italian. Enrica emptied the can into a small saucepan and heated the lentils. Then in a small saute pan she heated a little olive oil, added a garlic clove, and cut a few slices of bread into small triangles and fried them to crispy. We each sat down to a bowl of hot lentils topped with crispy garlic croutons. It was, actually, heaven in a bowl.
Lentils are adorable. Have you ever really looked them over? What a sublime invention of nature. So it’s no surprise to me that they represent the possibility of good fortune and prosperity. That they are the go-to traditional meal of New Year’s Eve in Italy. That they are the little horn-blowers to ring in the new year and make everyone rich (well, if not in moneta, in spirit).
On that night, lentils are also accompanied by sausage or cotechino or zampone. To make my life easier I just go for the Italian sausage (already made, bought at the store).
The resulting concoction (of supposedly homey and unsophisticated ingredients) is downright exciting. You feel you are finally having the meal that your body is craving and that your soul scurries up from the depths of you rushing like a very happy puppy for the mana you have (finally) fed it.
If lentils resemble coins, and therefore symbolize the potential for a bigger bank account, well, then, all the better.
Here’s how I make this Happy New Year treat (note: any ole time is perfect as well).
Peel two carrots and slice into rounds. Cut 2 stalks of celery into half-moons. Peel an onion, cut it in half and cut into thin half moons. Saute this mirepoix in a couple of tablespoons of hot olive oil in a medium saucepan.
When softened, add 2 cups of rinsed lentils. Let them get coated and hot. Add a 1/2 cup or so of dry white wine. Let it evaporate. Then add 4-5 cups water (or broth). Stir, season with salt & pepper. Add a little aleppo or crushed red pepper flakes.
Let simmer for about an hour or so until lentils are soft. I partially cover the pan.
When done add a small 8-oz can of “tomato sauce” the kind you can just buy or any tomato sauce you have. Simmer a few minutes more.
Meanwhile, heat about an inch of water in a medium saute pan till boiling. Add 3 Italian sausages. Poke them with a knife in a couple of spots. Let them cook, with water simmering, until no longer pink.
Let water evaporate and add just a bit of oil and let sausages brown and cook through. Place pan under broiler if you like for more browning. When done, cut into rounds.
I have to add the Enrica part, too. In a small saute pan (or use the pan the sausage cooked in using the leftover oil) heat some olive oil. Add a couple of peeled, smashed garlic cloves. Then add a couple or three slices of bread cut into small triangles or squares. Saute till golden and crispy.
Put it all together: In each serving bowl, add a couple of ladles-full of lentils, a few rounds of sausage, a sprinkle of croutons, and (optional) some fresh minced sage. Grated pecorino is a nice topping at the table, but it’s perfectly lovely without.
Happy New Year!