With strict coronavirus rules in place across Italy this New Year’s Eve, we won’t be going to many parties. But luckily, an Italian NYE party is easy enough to recreate at home. 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.
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.
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.