A tasty Italian dish that is not really typical from a particular region but common all over the country is cotechino with lentils. Hearty and fulfilling, the Italian dish for New Year known as cotechino e lenticchie is easy to make and not even too time-consuming.
The star ingredients are cotechino and lentils, and while the recipe is pretty straightforward, there is quite some room for personalization, such as adding some spices instead of others or serving the plate with some mashed potato cream.
I like to accompany every dish, this one included, with some fresh veggies, but this is totally optional and I don’t think it’s part of the original Italian tradition for New Year’s Eve.
Make sure you read our article on the dos and don’ts of eating in Italy.
How to make cotechino with lentils: Ingredients and Instructions
The recipe for the Italian dish cotechino e lenticchie served on New Year’s Eve is not a complicated one, provided that you buy a ready cotechino (pork sausage) and don’t have to make it yourself. During Christmas time, you can find cotechino for sale everywhere in Italy from supermarkets to deli shops to local butchers.
The packaged ones sold in the supermarkets are also pre-cooked so your cooking time will be less, while the ones your butcher makes, will take longer. It’s really a matter of personal preference, you can check the ingredients and see which one you like more. Whichever you choose, you either need to ask your butcher how long it needs to boil or read the cooking instructions of the precooked one you found in the shop.
Cotechino with lentils recipe: Ingredients for 4 people
- 1 cotechino. You can buy a precooked cotechino at any supermarket in Italy or order a handmade one at the local butcher. This won’t be precooked so you will need to cook it yourself. Sometimes, you might see “zampone” replacing cotechino. However, it’s good to keep in mind that they are not the same thing. Even though they are made of pretty much the same ingredients (diced pork meat, finely chopped pork rind, and spices such as black pepper, nutmeg, cloves, and sometimes even cinnamon), zampone is called like this because they use the pig trotter to stuff with the sausage, while cotechino is wrapped with the pig’s intestines.
- 350 gr of dried lentils. Green lentils are the ones usually used.
- 1 or 2 carrots. Medium size is fine, not too small.
- 1 stalk of celery. If it’s small, count two stalks.
- 1 onion. If it’s very big, half is fine.
- 1 clove of garlic. Optional.
- 1 fresh tomato. Optional.
- A sprig of parsley. Optional.
- 2 to 3 spoons of olive oil. Around 30 to 40 ml, better if extra-virgin and organic.
- Rosemary (optional). One or two pieces, better if fresh.
- Bay leaf. Fresh, 2 or 3 leaves.
- Salt. To taste.
- 500 ml of vegetable stock. If you don’t have it, hot water is fine.
- Black pepper. To taste.
Cotechino with lentils recipe: Instructions
- Cook the cotechino. This first step needs to be done only if you buy a handmade cotechino from your local butcher. Immerse your cotechino in a large pan filled with cold water, set it to boil, and cook for 40 minutes. This was the recommendation of our butcher, always ask for instructions where you buy yours. If you buy a pre-cooked cotechino, you don’t need to cook it for a long time, usually, 20 minutes are enough, but always check the instructions on the box.
- Soak the lentils. I know, lentils can be used also without soaking, but I still soak them for 5 to 6 hours before cooking them because I found they cook better.
- Prepare the veggies and the lentils. Finely chop carrots, celery, and onion. If you are using garlic, add this, too, now. Put them in a pan with a spoon of olive oil and start browning them. Meanwhile, rinse off the lentils, and add them to the pan, stir for a minute and add also the water or vegetable stock. Add the bay leaves and cook the lentils for some 30 minutes. When it’s almost ready, season it with salt and pepper to taste.
- Cut the cotechino. When the cotechino is ready, remove it from the wrapping and cut it into thin slices.
- Plate up. Dispose of the lentils on a serving plate and on top of the slices of cotechino all around. Serve warm.
History and tradition: Why do we eat cotechino with lentils on New Year’s Eve?
So what’s the thing with cotechino with lentils for New Year’s dinner in Italy? Is there a reason for this particular Italian recipe on New Year’s Eve?
Among the Italian New Year traditions, this is really the most common and one of the favorites. Eating a piece of cotechino with lentils right before midnight is meant to bring good luck, the best way to start off the new year.
Like most Italian food traditions, the cotechino belongs to the old poor man’s cuisine and was often used to give more substance to veggie soups. Sources go back as far as the 16th century with tales of how the old butchers would prepare it mainly in the territory of Modena in the Emilia Romagna region, but today it’s used all over Italy.