Italian custom has it that if you start the New Year by eating lentils, it will bring you wealth and good fortune throughout the year (the coin-shaped lentils are symbolic of fortune). Apparently this custom stems from an ancient Roman tradition of giving a scarsella (a small leather bag used to keep money) filled with lentils at the end of the year in the hope that each lentil would turn into a coin, making the recipient one lucky and prosperous person.
Cotechino and Zampone
In Tuscany, lentils are eaten with Cotechino, a large pork sausage, while in Modena and Bologna they are usually served with Zampone. The latter is essentially the same sausage mixture, but less finely minced and less spiced, stuffed into the skin of a pig’s trotter, the skin representing the bag to hold the incoming money. Combined with pork the meal becomes exceptionally propitious, as pork carries its own legends of good fortune.
Raisins, rice and almonds
Lentils are not the only Italian lucky foods eaten at New Year. Just like lentils, the small, round-shaped raisins, swell when cooked, a sign that is looked upon as a symbol of wealth. A traditional Christmas food containing raisins is panettone.
Almonds have long been served, too, as a symbol of good luck and fruitfulness, for example, in torrone (nougat candy) or with other nuts, known as frutta secca.
In the Piedmont region, prosperity is symbolized by rice grains, so New Year’s Day menus traditionally feature risotto. Risotto with lentils thus doubles your odds for success!
Photo credits: cotechino and lentils © Marzia Giacobbe