Here’s why Italians eat lentils on New Year’s Eve

Here's why Italians eat lentils on New Year’s Eve
Lenticchie con cotechino (lentils with pork sausage) are a New Year delicacy in Italy. Photo: Flickr/Edsel_
Toasting the arrival of New Year with champagne is nice, sure. But after the stroke of midnight, you may find Italians are more interested in eating dishes of lentils. Here’s why.

With coronavirus restrictions in place again across Italy this New Year’s Eve, it’s going to be a quieter one than usual. But luckily, an Italian NYE party is easy enough to recreate at home.

To make it authentic, you need only three key ingredients: Prosecco, cheesy disco music, and steaming heaps of lentils.

As dishes of lentils are handed out to partygoers just before the countdown, any new arrival to Italy would be forgiven for wondering what’s going on.

READ ALSO: Panettone or pandoro: Which is the best Italian Christmas cake?

Lentils, or lenticchie, are believed to bring good luck in Italy, and eating them at New Year – shortly after midnight – is a tradition that’s said to date back to ancient Rome.

To wish friends luck and prosperity in the New Year, ancient Romans would give a pouch full of lentils as a gift. The coin-shaped legumes, which increase in size when cooked, were believed to represent ​​abundance.

The tradition is still popular today – so much so that lentils of all shapes and sizes are usually sold out in Italian supermarkets by December 31st.

READ ALSO: Why you shouldn’t suck prawn heads during an Italian Christmas feast 

Particularly in northern Italy, lenticchie con cotechino is the traditional dish served after midnight. Cotechino is a type of slow-cooked, spiced pork sausage. It’s a hearty and warming dish perfect for a cold winter’s night.

For even more good luck, some people serve lentils with zampone. Another speciality of northern Italy, this is a whole, boned pig’s trotter stuffed with the gelatinous part of the trotter and pork meat. 

So is that part of the traditional dinner on New Year’s Eve? Sometimes – more often on New Year’s Day, as the lentils are meant to be eaten once the New Year begins.

But even if lentils featured on your NYE dinner menu, you’ll get more of them later if you’re at any sort of formal event. This midnight snack is to be eaten shortly after you’ve finished your four-course meal (naturally, Italian New Year’s Eve parties are more about eating than drinking or dancing.)

Regardless of how much you’ve already eaten, you’ll need to find room for plenty of lentils. The more lentils you eat, the luckier you’ll be in the coming year. And we could all use some extra luck in 2021.

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  1. I lived near Castelnuovo Rangone, which boasts a festival with the world’s largest zampone. This is in Modena province. Zampone is definitely an acquired taste.

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