Two Traditions, Twelve Round Fruits & Lentils wtih Cotechino

The clock is almost striking midnight and my father, in his ridiculous light blue shirt with white polka dots hurries around the house opening closet doors and switching on all the lights in every room.   We all wait for him to come back outside to continue celebrating New Year's Eve with us while my brothers light the fireworks one after the other as the female members of the family watch from a safe distance.  There are all sorts of vehicles dragging empty tin cans and continuously blowing their horns. The noise is deafening, the smoke makes us all teary-eyed while we all hug and kiss each other for another year has passed and there's a new one to look forward to.   These are fond memories I replay in my mind over and over again.  I am now thousands of miles away but when I close my eyes, I feel like I am right there with familiar faces surrounding me, in our old house, in the Philippines.

Like in all celebrations, the highlight is the food.  An elaborate table adorned with savory and sweet dishes with a big basket of fruits as the centerpiece is given the spot of prominence  Twelve different kinds of round fruits signifying money and prosperity for all 12 months of the year.   People like me who do these things at the last minute never get to compose the whole collection of 12 kinds.   Oblong, pear-shaped, long, they all look round to me on New Year's Eve!

Polka dots signify money and prosperity.  The opening of the all the doors right before midnight strikes is welcoming good fortune inside the house.  Noise making sends away the bad omen.  There are so many beliefs that we think are outrageous but we keep on doing anyway.  And the amazing thing is, all countries have their own versions of welcoming prosperity and luck to changing of the year.

Red signifies good fortune and strength and the Italians take it by heart.  It's a Capodanno (New Year) tradition to wear red underwear whether you are male, female or even a child.  If you stroll at the commercial centers, you will be greeted with arrays of red underwear of all shapes & sizes.  There's no escaping the customary red this way.

On the gastronomy side, the lentils with cotechino are served after midnight.  I don't usually have the appetite left for yet another filling dish after just finishing a very long and elaborate dinner but it's the tradition.  Being round, they signify prosperity for the coming year.

The conclusion is, even if I jumped from one continent to another one, the concept is still the same.  Digest anything round and cover yourself with anything that emanates prosperity.  After you do all these, live the next 365 days with a better perspective in life and hold on to that hope that the New Year will really bring good fortune, if you still don't have it.

I dedicate this post to my Mom and Dad who both passed away 10 years apart.  30 December 2009 and 2 January 1999, respectively.   
We had a beer tonight for both of you.  
Cheers, always, in heaven!

Happy New Year everyone!

Lentils wtih Cotechino

Ingredients: Serves 4

  • 250 g. lentils
  • 2 celery stalks, minced
  • 2 carrots, minced
  • 75 g. pancetta affumicata, diced
  • 75 g. speck, diced (If you don't have speck, just replace it with pancetta affumicata.  So instead of 75 g., make it 150 g. of pancetta affumicata.)
  • 2 cloves garlic, halved
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 big tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 cups hot vegetable broth
  • pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 bay leaves
  • grated parmigiano reggiano (optional)
  • 1 pre-cooked cotechino 


  1. Sautè the garlic with extra virgin olive oil in a big saucepan.  After a couple of minutes, add the onion, carrots & celery.  Cook for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the diced pancetta and speck.  Toast & brown them, about 8 minutes.  
  3. Add the tomatoes.  Cook for another 5 minutes.  
  4. Add the lentils.  Mix them to coat with the oil and vegetables, about 3 minutes.  
  5. Pour the hot vegetable broth in the saucepan.  Add the bay leaves.  Bring to a boil.  When it boils, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender.  Cooking time always depends on the kind of lentils used.  If you see that the sauce is drying up, add some hot water.  
  6. To cook the cotechino, bring a pot of water to a boil with the vacuum-sealed cotechino submerged in the water.  Do not take it out of the foil.
    When the water boils, simmer for about 10-15 minutes, depending on what's written in the box of the cotechino. Take out the cotechino from the foil, discard the liquid then slice.
  7. Serve the lentils with slices of cotechino on top. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with parmigiano reggiano (if desired).