New Year’s Eve traditions may vary around the world, but there sure are a lot of similarities.
When Gianni Betti, front-of-the-house manager and co-owner of Cibo e Beve Italian Restaurant, talks about New Year’s Eve celebrations in his childhood in Florence, Italy, he reminisces about meals filled with friends and family and rich dishes to herald a prosperous new year.
“New Year’s Eve celebrations are where we get together with our best friends and wait for the new year. And we treat ourselves in the best way possible,” said Betti.
Where a Southern cook might prepare Hoppin’ John with its black-eyed peas and sausage, he would have enjoyed Cotechino con Lenticchie (Pork Sausage with Lentils). Instead of a big pot of collard greens, there would have been a big salad and a platter of Broccoli di Rape Stufati (Sauteed Broccoli Rabe) or an out-of-season splurge with fresh asparagus. But there would have been so much more.
“It’s the Cenone di San Silvestro and a night to splurge. It will be the most expensive meal you serve all year. You may go to a restaurant if you don’t want to cook, but if you’re preparing the meal at home, everyone helps,” he said.
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And he describes a meal that will include an appetizer spread that might include octopus salad, a fish soup or bruschetta with chicken liver pate. Then there’s the first course, maybe duck ravioli or cannelloni stuffed with beef. “These are special-occasion dishes that take a long time to make. You want everything to be amazing. Maybe you serve risotto with truffles. If there’s a time you want to spend money on truffles, it’s New Year’s Eve. If there’s a bottle of expensive wine in your cellar, this is the night you want to drink it.”
There will be meats. “In Tuscany, where I am from, we would serve roasted meats. Big iron skewers packed with meat. Or we might serve a big T-bone steak weighing about 2 1/2 pounds.” And side dishes including roasted potatoes, lentils and roasted green vegetables.
The absolute must? Bottles of sparkling wine. “At midnight, you count down to the end of the old year and then then open a bottle of spumanti to toast the new year.”
Dinner might be for 10 or for 50. It probably starts around 9 p.m. and goes until long after midnight with dessert or panettone or pandoro served with more sparkling wine.
Betti and Linda Harrell, Cibo e Beve’s executive chef and co-owner, have been friends since 1993 when they worked together in a Tuscan restaurant in Baltimore. Harrell was born in New York but considers herself Italian by osmosis, starting with her first job at age 13, working in an Italian restaurant in Baltimore. Collaborating with Betti, she’s adapted three iconic Italian New Year’s dishes for American tastes and pantries.
Forget Hoppin’ John and collard greens this New Year’s Eve. This is your year to celebrate Italian style! Felice anno nuovo!
Eat like an Italian before you ring in the new year.
Cotechino con Lenticchie (Pork Sausage with Lentils)
If you’re Italian, you’re going to eat Cotechino con Lenticchie for the new year to ensure wealth and good fortune. But we have to say, cotechino may be an acquired taste. About 2 inches in diameter, this is one very rich sausage. It’s available for the holidays from E. 48th Street Market in Dunwoody or Pine Street Market in Avondale Estates.
Substitute sweet or hot Italian sausage, prepared the same way, for a more Americanized version of this very traditional dish.
Broccoli di Rape Stufati (Sauteed Broccoli Rabe)
Your greens for good luck don’t have to be leafy. Try broccoli rabe instead. The extra step of blanching the broccoli rabe eliminates possible bitterness and makes the vegetable a quick saute when it’s time to eat. Serve as a side dish or with toasted Italian bread as a form of bruschetta.
Arrosto Misto (Mixed Roast)
This extravagant dish of a variety of roasted meats is a generous way to show hospitality to your New Year’s Eve guests.
This recipe calls for lamb, chicken, quail and pork. But you can roast whatever meats you wish. Rabbit? Very traditional. Pancettta in place of the pork belly? Absolutely. The mix of meats is up to you but don’t forget the Italian bread to bracket the meat on the skewers. Just be sure to use a chunk of pork belly between each of the other meats to ensure they stay basted as they roast. And be sure the mix includes poultry of some sort. You’ll cook the skewers until the poultry is done, but the lamb and other meats, while cooked beyond rare, will still be moist and flavorful.
Speaking of pork belly, you may not find it in your butcher’s meat case, but ask if they can get some in for you. Or purchase it at the Buford Highway Farmers Market or a specialty butcher.
And speaking of skewers, you’ll need some that are oven-safe. If you have metal skewers, perfect. But if you’re using bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them at least an hour before skewering and roasting the meat.
Extra aromatic salt is perfect for seasoning roasted potatoes, an excellent accompaniment for the Arrosto Misto. Linda Harrell of Cibo e Beve makes her roasted potatoes by parboiling potatoes until just tender. Then she tosses them with olive oil and aromatic salt before arranging them in a baking dish. Cook them alongside the Arrosto Misto.