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Happy New Year / Buon Capodanno

As 2010 winds down, folks will be celebrating the arrival of2011 in a variety of ways.  Earlier inDecember, I was at a lecture about Italian Holiday Traditions at the 92nd Street Y on the Upper East Side featuring Francine Segan.  Listening to her speak brought me back tosome wonderful times that I’d spent ringing in the new year with friendsoverseas.
As she explained, many of these traditions feature specificfood items, and, as with most things in Italy, also have regionalvariations.  In Bologna, a typical dishis a pile of lentils (to symbolize money) topped with slices of zampone (astuffed pig’s trotter) or cotechino (a sausage variety), and garnished with potato purée.  Eating this meal on New Year’s Eve(capodanno), in addition to wearing red undergarments that evening and/or the first day of January, issupposed to bring good luck and fortune in the coming year.

While I don’t know how accurate that legend actually is, I can tellyou that the savory, melting fat and spices from the zampone / cotechino flavors the lentils justwonderfully.  The hearty taste andtexture of the flavored legumes is a perfect balance to the smooth and creamy potatomixture.  If I could get my hands on thepork component of this dish here in Virginia (our usual sausages aren’t quitethe same thing), I would make this for my family to eat tonight.

My mom used to make something of a similar nature for NewYear’s Day.  For us, we would gatheraround for a special meal to start off the year, usually featuring a ham ofsome sort, if I remember correctly.  Shewould also try to feed us Hoppin’ John, a Southern classic made with black-eyed peas and a ham hock, with the similargood luck aura of the Bolognesi lentils. This, I distinctly remember as not a hit at the dinner table.  I don’t recall it making an appearance morethan a couple of times.
However, for us, tonight it will be dinner with a toddler,his parents, and my dad.  We’ll be havingthe Spaghetti and Meatballs that I wrote about ages ago as being a familyclassic.  Having made this same dish overthe summer with my two oldest nieces, it seems like the next generation is alsobecoming a fan of it (and one of my nieces is a pro at making evenly-sized and -shaped meatballs).  Even ifthere aren’t any beans to represent money, the sauce for this dish is very red,so maybe that will be enough to bring us all good fortune for 2011.
Buon appetito and Buon Anno Nuovo!