Lentils and cotechino may be an all but forgotten New Year’s dish.Lentils and cotechino is a sweet and rich delight that needs to be revived. When I call upon my memories from childhood, I see two soups for New Year’s dinner: straciatella, what folks these days call, Italian wedding soup, and lentil soup.
I can see them clearly served in my great-grandmother’s art deco gold rimmed bowls. Memories powers are such that the hot sweet fragrance and the deep rich flavors are still alive in my nose and on my tongue.What each of these two soups share is the metaphor of wealth and prosperity. In the straciatella, the orzo pasta (or sometimes rice) promises fertility and life. The carrot slices and little round meatballs suggest money.
Jacob and Essau
James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum of Art
Lentils, from the most ancient times, have been a symbol of generation.In Genesis (25:34), Essau sells his birthright, his generation, to his brother Jacob for a bowl of lentils.In the traditional Italian New Year’s dish the lentils are accompanied by sliced cotechino.The cotechino rounds, resemble coins.But I do not recall ever seeing cotechino in a bean recipe.The only cotechino I recall was hard salami kind that you found at the deli or in a hoagie. What had become of fresh cotechino in the Italian American kitchen?
My research online using Google Italy, introduced me to fresh cotechino and its inclusion in the lentil soup. The word "cotechini" comes from the Italian, "coteca" which means "rind" and refers to the lesser valued cuts of the pig. I had never seen fresh cotechino. Where would I find it? No sooner did I pose the question than I knew the answer: D’Angelo Brothers on 9th Street in Philadelphia.
When I picked up my New Year’s porchetta, I asked Sonny, the butcher, in very casual way if he had any “good – ah- gheen?” (I used the Italian American pronunciation.) Sonny politely corrected me by repeating the word properly.He answered, “You mean, “co-tay-KEE-no?”” “Yes,” he said, “I have cotechino. Do you know how to cook it? ” Yes, I did know. I had researched it carefully. Fresh cotechino needs to be soaked and then boiled. Why fresh cotechino vanished from the Food Table was clear. Fresh cotechino was the creation of a master butcher, one who knew not only who to create the finest pork sausages but one who had tradition still alive within him.
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