One of the family traditions I love most is eating lentils at midnight on New Year's Eve. Italians love to bring in the new year with this super healthy food because superstition says if this is the first thing you eat, the new year will be full of health and prosperity. Lentils, or as they are known in Italian, lenticchie, are not only considered good luck, they are delicious, too.
Full of fiber, folate, protein, potassium and polyphenols (antioxidants), lentils are a superfood that has many researchers looking into their healing benefits in patients with chronic illness. They are also low in sodium and saturated fat. Once considered a staple in peasant cuisine, it is a headliner on menus all over the world. You'll see it in soups, stews, cold salads, purees....And on New Year's Eve, it sits side saddle to another Italian staple: pasta.
While all regions in Italy have their preference on how to serve up lentils at midnight, the iconic New Year's lentil-based dishes come from the region of Emilia-Romagna, where lentils are often paired with cotechino (a boiled, sausage-like salami made with pork, fatback and rind) or zampone (similar to cotechino but encased in a hollowed-out pig's trotter).
My family, though, prefers a vegetarian option that showcases lentils in all their glory. Supermarket style Goya lentils work just fine, or find some fancy ones. Do what works for your family and have a happy and prosperous New Year!
250g (8 oz) lentils,
250g (8 oz) spaghetti broken into short lengths (feel free to use another short pasta like ditalini or elbowes)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 large carrot chopped
2 celery stalks chopped
1-2 cloves garlic
1 cup chopped tomatoes in their juice or canned diced tomato in sauce
2 cups broth or water plus 1 more
In a pot over medium heat, simmer the chopped veggies in olive oil until they are glistening in oil - roughly 5-7 minutes. Add the lentils to the pot and stir to coat them with oil. Add a bit more oil if necessary. Add in the tomatos and stir until combined.
Pour in the broth or water ensuring the lentils are covered by a couple of inches. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Let cook for 30 mins. At the 30 minute mark, uncover and add another cup of liquid and bring to a boil. Add in the broken up pasta and cook for another 8 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper to season. Turn off the heat and let it rest uncovered and off-heat, for at least an hour to let the favors develop.