It is almost the New Year. Every holiday has its own traditions and celebratory foods; as we enter a new year, it seems that the world shares the belief that certain foods bring good luck and prosperity.
Each culture has a unique spin on these good-luck foods. The wonderful thing is that the availability of ethnic ingredients makes it possible for us to cook traditional dishes here, no matter our country of origin.
Coming from a family with one side of Italian heritage and the other side of Polish heritage, traditions were occasionally celebrated side by side. The pig in many countries signifies good luck because hogs cannot look or see behind them without completely turning around, and therefore only look forward.
In Italy, lentils are eaten as a symbol of good luck and prosperity because they resemble tiny coins. Tuscans eat lentils with "Cotechino", a large pork sausage. People in Bologna and Modena eat lentils with "Zampone", the sausage mixture stuffed into the skin of a pig's foot. In the Piedmont, little grains of rice symbolize money, so New Year's Day menus feature risotto.
Good luck begins at the stroke of midnight for many German and Polish people eating a shiny pickled herring. In the U.S. pork is served the next day with green cabbage, signifying green money.
In Greece, the dish is “vasilopita.” The cake is named after St Basil - Aghios Vasilis (the Greek Santa), the bearer of presents and the Saint of blessings and wishes, whose feast day is celebrated on 1st January. This is a large cake with coins baked into it. Of course, the person who bites into the coin is assured good luck during the coming New Year. It is important to serve the cake in the proper order. The first piece is “for the house”, then in order of oldest to youngest, making sure to leave pieces for family that could not be there and one for Christ.
The Chinese New Year's menu features long soba noodles that are eaten whole, actually sucked up into the mouth, one strand at a time. This is to ensure a long life. Sticky rice is formed into little cakes. These are broiled or simmered in soup. The whole family partakes, guaranteeing good health, good luck and wealth all year.
In the United States it seems most traditions come from the south. For example, a popular dish is collard greens, which symbolize greenbacks or money. Black-eyed peas are considered especially lucky and create wealth as they resemble coins. And corn bread is eaten because it resembles gold.
However you celebrate the New Year, we leave you with a family saying: “May you enjoy great Health, much Happiness, and just enough Wealth.”
We will share with you some recipes for the food/countries mentioned above over the next couple of days. Pick what you want and enjoy.
Risotto with Fondue (serves 4-6)
8 ounces Fontina cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup milk, heated to lukewarm
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 bay leaf
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
4-1/2 cups beef broth
1 tablespoon flour
1 egg yolk, well beaten
Salt and white pepper
Put the cheese in a bowl with the warm milk.
Heat the oil and butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
Add the garlic, bay leaf and rice and sauté 3 minutes.
Add the wine and cook until it has evaporated.
In another saucepan heat the broth to a boil.
Begin adding it to the rice a half cup at a time, stirring continually.
It will take about 20 minutes until all of the broth is added and absorbed.
In the top of a double boiler over simmering water, combine the Fontina, milk, and flour.
Stir until the cheese is melted. Add the egg yolk. Season with salt and pepper.
Form the rice into a mound on a serving platter.
Make an indentation in the middle and pour the cheese in.
Sausage and Lentils (serves 4-6)
1-1/2 cups lentils
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup pancetta, diced
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 pound Italian sausage (substitute cotechino)
1/2 cup traditional tomato sauce
1 bay leaf
Salt to taste
Place the lentils in a large saucepan. Add 2 quarts of water and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook 45 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
Drain and set aside.
In a skillet, sauté the pancetta, onion, carrots, and celery in olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes.
Remove mixture and set aside.
In the same skillet, cook the sausage until golden brown.
Remove the sausage and cut into pieces. Discard the fat from the skillet.
Add the reserved vegetable mixture to the skillet with the tomato sauce, lentils, and bay leaf.
Cook over low heat, covered, for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Pour the lentils onto a serving platter and arrange the sausages around them. VASILOPITA Photo courtesy of Parent Map
1 cup butter, softened
1-3/4 cups white sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Preheat oven to 325ºF (165ºC).
In a large bowl, blend the butter and sugar together. Separate 3 of the eggs; add the yolks and the 2 remaining whole eggs to the butter mixture. Stir in the vanilla and water.
In another bowl, sift the baking powder and flour together. Add these dry ingredients to the creamed mixture.
Beat 3 egg whites until they are foamy. Add 1 tablespoon sugar and continue to beat the whites until they are stiff. Fold the whites into the batter.
Pour the batter into a greased 10 x 4 inch tube pan. Wrap the lucky coin or a charm in foil, and press it down into the batter until it is completely hidden. Sprinkle the nuts and seeds on top of the batter.
Bake the cake for about 70 minutes, or until done.