As we sweep 2021 into the dustbin of history, we wish for a better 2022. Of course, that’s what we think as most years draw to a close, but in just about every way the past have been among the hardest. We need all the help we can get.
All over the world, New Year’s culinary traditions focus primarily on wishes for wealth and success. In the southern United States, everyone eats John Hops – black-eyed peas and green vegetables, sometimes with rice – soon after the New Year begins, to bring wealth and good luck. One of Japan’s special dishes is the extra long soba noodles, which represent longevity. Argentines think that eating beans on the first day of the New Year is very beneficial. And in Italy, lentils work the magic of wealth.
This year, I wanted to do something with cotechino, a very fatty sausage that the Traverso market in Santa Rosa always had at the end of the year. After the beloved market closed a decade ago, Franco Dunn’s One World Sausage has filled the void with a delicious version. This year, a production problem made that impossible.
But there is good news. Thistle Meats (160 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, 707-772-5442) has it this week.
Good year! My wish for all of us is a calm, happy, healthy, fire-free and delicious 2022.
Cotechino is an Italian pork sausage, a type often referred to as a “boiling sausage” because it is boiled or braised. Of course, you can make this dish with another pork sausage. It will be good, but not as special as with the cotechino.
Cotechino with Lentils and Salsa Verde
Makes 4-6 servings
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 cotechino sausages
2 cups of chicken broth or broth
1 cup of dry white wine
1 ½ cups lentils (green, brown or black), soaked in water for 2 to 8 hours and drained
Italian Salsa Verde (recipe follows)
Pour olive oil into a large saucepan over medium-low heat, add the onion and carrots and sauté gently until tender and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, sauté for 2 more minutes and season with salt.
Add the bay leaf, cotechino, chicken broth, white wine and 2 cups of water. Stir in the lentils, increase the heat, bring to a boil and skim the foam that forms on top. Lower the heat and simmer very gently for about 45 minutes.
While cooking, prepare the salsa verde.
Test the lentils for doneness and continue cooking until completely tender, about 15 minutes more. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes.
Transfer the cotechino to a work surface and use a sharp knife to cut it into ⅜-inch rounds. Use tongs to remove and discard the bay leaves. Pour lentils into a large, shallow serving bowl; top with cotechino and garnish with a few spoonfuls of salsa.
Enjoy right away, with the rest of the salsa verde on the side.
With the kale: Cut 2 bunches of Lacinato kale into ½ inch wide cross strips and sauté in a little olive oil and 3 minced garlic cloves for about 10 to 15 minutes. Turn frequently until completely wilted. When tender, season with salt and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Serve with lentils and sausages.
With the polenta: Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add 2 teaspoons of salt and stir in 1 cup of coarsely ground cornmeal. Stir constantly until the mixture begins to thicken. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the polenta is tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of butter and 3 ounces (¾ cup) of grated Vella Dry Jack or other hard grating cheese. Taste and adjust the seasoning. To serve, pour the polenta into large soup plates and garnish with a few lentils and several slices of cotechino and garnish with salsa verde.
Italian Salsa Verde
Makes about 1 to 1 ½ cups
4 or 5 plump garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon of green peppercorns in brine (the Reese brand is readily available, usually on a top shelf near capers in most markets) or 2 teaspoons of capers in brine
1 large bunch of very fresh Italian parsley, large stems removed
1 small to medium bunch of cilantro, large stems removed, optional
1 medium or 2 small cucumbers, preferably Armenian or Persian, cut into inch cubes (or thinly sliced green onions, if you prefer)
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon, and more to taste
⅓ cup, approximately, extra virgin olive oil
Put the garlic in a suribachi or other mortar, sprinkle with salt and use a wooden pestle to crush it into a paste. Add the green peppercorns, if using, and mash each and stir. If you are using capers, crush them lightly. Transfer to a large bowl (you may need to add a little lemon juice to the suribachi and swirl it around to squeeze out all the garlic paste).