Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Lentils and Sausage for New Years!

Our new years meal has often been black-eyed peas and collard greens. Down here in the South-Eastern United States this combination is supposed to bring luck and money for the new year, but in Southern Italy it is lentils for the New-years meal, the little lens-shaped beans  look a bit like coins, some argue, and thus they are supposed to bring wealth. I don't know about all that, but I do know I love them! My Italian grandma   used to make them with carrots, celery, onions,  and of course garlic, and she would serve them with fresh Italian bread, extra-virgin olive oil, and freshly grated Parmigiana or Locatelli cheese. We'd grate in the cheese, drizzle on the oil, and Dad would crack some fresh peeper on his. Oh, I can almost taste it now! On rare occasions my grandma would add a few sweet Italian sausages halved lengthwise to the pot to flavor the lentils. Here is the recipe:


1 1/2 cup dried lentils, washed and drained
2 cloves garlic, peeled and halves
1 small onion, peeled and halved
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 lb. sweet Italian sausage (Optional)
1 medium carrot, chopped (I like to leave them as little rounds)
4 cups beef broth
3 cups water
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 small bay leaf
1 Pinch thyme
1 Pinch oregano
In a large soup pot, combine lentils, garlic, onion, celery, and carrots. Stir in beef broth, water, tomato paste, paprika, pepper, bay leaf, thyme and Oregano. Simmer, covered, about one hour or more, until lentils are soft. Optionally:cut sausages in half lengthwise (or cut into 1/2 inch slices crosswise on the bias) and add to soup before cooking.


Lentils are "lenticchie" in Italian, and early Italian anatomy students first named the lens of the eye the "lenticchie" because it was shaped like a lentil, and in fact this is where the word "lens" first came from.

Before the American Civil War, lentils were planted as a secondary crop in the south, the alternate rotation with wheat because they release nitrogen into the soil. When Sherman made his march to the sea fields of lentils were lost but fields of black-eyed peas, little more than feed for livestock, were ignored as Union troops destroyed or stole other crops. I can find no proof of it, but perhaps there was a tradition of eating lentils on New year's Day that switched to black eyed peas after the Civil War, and that tradition of eating black eyed peas or lentils? It's Italian!