New Year in Italy involves fireworks and lentils. Fireworks I suspect because they are rumoroso and lentils because they resemble small coins and will bring good fortune to the home. We celebrated with friends over a meal of lentils, sausage, radicchio with grapes and creamy rainbow chard. I think you will want to make these dishes at home.
Start preparing the radicchio. Place two heads of radicchio in a roasting dish with clusters of seeded black grapes and 3 cloves of garlic, halved. I used radicchio rosso di treviso and rosso longo because I could, but you can use any radicchio you can find in your market, or perhaps your garden. Sprinkle with sage leaves and a tsp of fennel seeds. Drizzle with olive oil and 75ml grappa plus an equal amount of cold water. If you don’t have grappa use brandy. Put a knob of butter on the top and cover tightly with foil. Bake at 190 degrees for about 45 minutes.
While the radicchio is cooking get the lentils underway. Sweat 2 sticks of celery, 1 carrot and 1/2 a fennel bulb in olive oil with a pinch of sea salt. Dice the vegetables almost as small as the lentils. Quarter a lemon and cut each segment into three. Rinse the lentils – I use Puy at home but I used the more traditional green lentils here. Add 2 cloves of minced garlic and 3 bay leaves to the soffrito, then add the lemon and lentils with 1/2 a cinnamon stick and 4 tbsp passata. Add water to cover , bring to the boil and turn down to a simmer. Cook the lentils until soft but not mushy. This will take 40-50 minutes and you will need to add water as you go. Just adding enough water to prevent sticking as they cook will help prevent the lentils turning to mush. When they are done, season and add a glug of olive oil and some chopped parsley.
Serve with wilted chard cooked in cream with a dash of nutmeg and sautéed Italian sausage. With this meal inside you, your year is off to a great start.
I was beginning to feel that we only had the short dark days ahead until spring. I went into my local panetteria this morning and I spied creations that defy description. I asked for my grissini and streghe, then I enquired, wide-eyed, “cosa sono questi”!? The panettiera explained that these are the sweet pastries typical in Bologna for Carnivale. I then noticed that the presepio in her window had been replaced by Carnivale decorations. I have a bag of these delights in my kitchen right now and winter will not defeat me after all.