If you work in the food service industry, chances are you work most holidays. Popular holidays like the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Yom Kippur and in LA, the night of the Academy awards, are practically impossible to not work. So if you’re a traditionalist and insist on getting time off for all the major holidays you can most certainly can kiss your restaurant job good bye. Or you can suck it up, work the holidays, and schedule your life around the restaurant’s required hours of business. And so it goes. That’s just the nature of the food service business.
Most non-industry people see this way of thinking depressing/tradition ruining/frustrating, but I just see it as an opportunity to avoid preconceived notions, required moments of pomp, traffic and crowded shopping. Instead, every year I celebrate holiday MY WAY and on ANY DAY I LIKE.
So while Joe Public is getting messy drunk and spending way too much money on New Years because he feels he has to, Joelyne Server like me makes lots of money I can spend on a less pricey night with a million times less social stresses. Friday or Saturday night on the town with all the rest of the 9 to 5ers? No thanks! I’ll work on the weekends and forgo the line at the door for an amazing meal on the town on a quiet Monday night!
Which brings me to my point. Finally.
Since both my husband and I had to work New Years Eve at our restaurant jobs, we decided to celebrate the beginning of 2008 on first night of the New Year. Though I’m against celebrating big holidays with the masses, I am all about creating a great big traditional meal with friends. So while the rest of LA suffered through their lingering hangovers, husband and I were just gearing up for a night of incredible food and wine with our two wonderful foodie friends, Leah of spicysaltysweet and her boyfriend, Neal.
NEW YEARS NIGHT MENU
Cotechino con lenticchie
With hearts set on making a traditional New Year’s meal, we decided to make Cotechino and Lentils. According to Mario Batali, Cotechino con Lenticchie is the most traditional dish of all Italian New Year’s dishes. The humble dish of pork, it is said, originated in Emiligia-Romana (while others say Modena) with the peasants who made the sausage from left over ends of a newly butchered pigs.
Quick to dive into research, I learned that Pellegrino Artusi, author of Italy’s first popular cooking book in 1891, believed that Cotechino was “not a refined dish” and was fit to be served only to very good friends who wouldn’t mind its rusticity. Undetered, by this information and descriptions of the sausage’s strange “tacky” texture (which comes from the gelatinous matter that is released from the pig skin component of the sausage), Leah and I went in search of Cotechino.
Though Cotechino is sold in two ways: pre-cooked and uncooked, I could only find the pre-cooked variety at local LA gourmet markets. The nice people at Froma on Melrolse sold me Umbrian black lentils and a reasonably priced pre-cooked l lb Cotechino sausage (Under $14). I skipped the $25 cotechino at Joan’s on Third I put my $$ towards a luxury bottle of $40 fresh pressed olive oil (harvested and pressed in October of 2007) from Gianfranco Becchina and a slice of Gorgonzola Torta (A layer “cake” of Gorgonzola and marscapone topped pine nuts).
On New Year’s day I arrived at Leah’s apartment with my ingredients in hand to cook our special meal together. While Leah rolled out her dough on the dining room table,
I started cooking the lentils.
Instead of following a recipe, however, I decided to go on instinct. Here’s what I came up with:
EVOO Olive oil (enough to coat the pan)
1 Onion (finely chopped)
1 Carrot (finely chopped)
A handful of sage
2 cloves of garlic
1 bag of Umbrian lentils (1/2 pound)
Chicken stock (2-3 cups)
1 tbl of tomato paste from a tube
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup fresh press EVOO
Chop the onion and carrot finely. Heat a large sautee pan on medium high. When hot, add enough olive oil to coat the pan. Add the finely chopped onion then carrot. Throw in the un-sliced garlic. Sautee down the onion and carrot until they become soft and transformed into cohesive, soft duo of texture. Add the lentils. Sautee for 3 minutes and then begin adding ¼ cups of chicken stock until the pan is filled with liquid. Allow to cook down and continue adding chicken stock and water from the cotechino pot (see below). Cook for 30-60 minutes, depending on the texture. The lentils are done when they are no longer al dente. Finish with vinegar and olive oil. Season to taste.
COTECHINO (pre-cooked prep)
Prick the Cotechino sausage with a toothpick and then drop into a pot of cold water. Bring the water to a boil—approx. 20-30 minutes. The sausage is done when it appears plump and a new shade of pink.
**Save the Cotechino water for adding to the lentils.
Slice the Cotechino and serve on the Umbrian Lentils. Serve with Mostarda di frutta or Salsa Verde (a sort of pesto of olive oil, parsley, garlic, S&P).