Lenticchie in umido (braised lentils)

Have you been overtaken by holiday madness? This year has been remarkably stress free for me, probably because we decided to go low key for the season.

Last week the citizens of Milan woke up to this:

And while it isn’t snow, it still gave me that warm, Christmasy feeling. It is frost, but more than that, it is the fog that froze on the trees – if that makes any sense to you.

I found it so beautiful that I just had to take pictures of it. That alone would have been enough to put me in a good mood but this time of year always makes me more than a little giddy.

My home is decked for the holidays and so are the city streets. I have been baking like a woman possessed for several weeks and my freezer, which had been overrun by cookies (which were all given away) is now back to normal.

We (my husband and I – I wasn’t temporarily possessed by the spirit of Queen Victoria) have been talking about our New Year’s menu, with 40 of our closest friend! Luckily it will be pot luck, so we won’t have to do all the cooking.

There is one dish that we and (literally) millions of Italians will be eating this holiday season – on New Year’s Eve to be exact – and that is lentils.

The finished dish

We enjoy them throughout the winter, but at this time of year they seem to have special significance.

Italian tradition says that eating lentils on New Year’s Eve (actually New Year’s Day because they are usually served just after midnight) will bring you good fortune in the New Year, specifically more money – who can’t use more money?

Perhaps it is because the lentils look like coins, but whatever the reason folks all up and down the boot will be eating them as their very first meal of 2011.

This is how we (still not Queen Victoria) make them.

(Note: We use Castelluccio lentils – which are the really small ones – because they are my husband’s favourite)

Ingredients

Serves: 4 – 6

250 gr Castelluccio lentils

1 carrot, peeled

1 celery stalk, cleaned

2 cloves of garlic

1 small onion

40 gr butter

1 litre hot water

Parsley

1 or 2 Bay leaves

100 gr tomato paste

1 piece of cotenna (uncooked pig skin – optional. You can cut it off the back of a piece of pancetta as seen in the photo below. You can substitute a piece of pancetta or bacon)

Salt

Pepper

Chili peppers (optional)

Pick through the lentils to remove any stones.

Looking for stones

In a casserole pan melt the butter and then sweat the onion. Before the onion colours, add the lentils and stir over low heat for a few minutes.

Add the hot water, the garlic and the carrot and celery cut into large chunks (aside from adding flavour they are useful for timing the cooking process).

The veg

Add the herbs and cover.

Bring to a boil over a low heat.

Add tomato paste and cotenna then let simmer until liquid evaporates and the dish has thickened (around 30 minutes).

Cutting the skin from the pancetta

Simmer until it thickens

Season with salt, pepper and chili pepper to taste.

These are traditionally served with cotechino.

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