Rome – the Eternal City – has seen it’s fair share of New Years. For some of the city’s buildings, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, midnight tonight sees them closing in on their 2000th turn around sun. Romans then, more than most, cannot be said to be short on experience when it comes to heralding in the New Year. So what are their age-old traditions, the time honed charms guaranteed to bring forth luck, happiness, prosperity? Committed as I currently am to living the adage, ‘when in Rome…,’ I was intrigued to know, ready to follow instructions to the letter…
The answer? Lentils. And red underwear. The little green pulses resemble coins, the more you eat at the stroke of midnight, so it’s said, the more prosperous your new year will be… And the underwear – legend has it that it must be received as a gift and worn at midnight if it is to work it’s magic, foremost good fortune in matters of the heart. Not exactly the examples of centuries old wisdom that I had hoped for… Or so I thought, until, unwrapping my newly-gifted racy red luck charms this morning, the little label at the back caught my eye – ‘one size fits all’ it coyly proclaimed. As does every single red pair sold across the capital over the last few weeks, to be given, received, and worn today. Age-old wisdom, maybe not, but wisdom most profound for this modern-age, most definitely!
New Year Lentils
The traditional version of this recipe sees the lentils served along with cotechino (a large sausage that is boiled and sliced into discs), or, more rarely, zampone, pig’s trotter. Unable to bring myself to start an new year eating boiled sausage (or worse) I’ve come up with the below – a little ‘watered-down’ on the meatiness front, but much spiced-up with the addition of coriander seeds, cumin, and turmeric. I’ve also snuck in some dark green cavolo nero, it’s not exactly a ‘detox’ dish, but just about a virtuous enough for a relatively guilt-free start to the new year.
- 1 brown onion – finely chopped
- 2 small sticks celery – finely chopped
- 1 large carrot – finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic – crushed
- A couple of tablespoons of olive oil
- ½ teaspoon whole coriander seeds
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 175g Castelluccio, Puy, or other small green/brown lentils
- 100g dried chickpeas
- 250mls vegetable stock
- 4 spiced Italian sausages
- A few leaves of cavolo nero – roughly chopped
- Small bunch of fresh thyme
- Squeeze of lemon juice
- Extra olive oil for drizzling
Soak the chickpeas overnight, then gently boil in a large pot of water for 30 minutes. Drain and put aside.
Heat the olive oil in a wide heavy-based pan and lightly fry the onion until soft, add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring to ensure that it doesn’t burn. Next, add the spices, along with the carrot and celery and cook for a further few minutes until softened.
Add the lentils and chickpeas, along with the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, cover, then turn the heat to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, or so, then add the cavolo nero, continuing to cook for another 5 minutes or so until the leaves wilt a little, and the liquid is mostly absorbed.
While the lentils are cooking, heat a little oil in a separate pan and fry the sausages over medium heat, browning on all sides. Keep turning the sausages until they are cooked through – about 15 minutes should do it.
To serve, squeeze the lemon juice over the lentils and stir this through. Also stir through the picked thyme leaves.
Pile the lentils into shallow bowls, drizzle some olive oil, and top with the sausage, whole, or sliced into pieces, as you prefer.
Skies full of Starlings
Winter has been slow coming to Rome this year. The last time it rained was October, and while the mornings are always cold, the days are bright and sunny, temperatures hovering around the mid-teens.
I first noticed the starlings at the beginning of November, in the trees around the Forum, around Piazza Venezia, along the river. Every evening near sunset, the swirling would begin, shifting patterns in the sky, a crescendo in numbers just as the sun finally dropped, and then back to the trees in a cacophony of squawking before settling for the night.
From what I’ve heard, these ‘murmations,’ as they are called, are typically a brief spectacle. The birds don’t stop long on their migratory journey south. This year however, they must have decided that the weather suited them to stay a little longer…