Cotechino and Italian New Year

Cotechino is an Italian sausage traditionally eaten at New Year. Simmered, rather than fried, it is sliced into rings and served with lentils, the round shapes of each symbolising coins and therefore hopefully good fortune for the coming 12 months.

I’m never averse to a bit of good fortune and neither is my bank manager, so when the opportunity came to make home-made cotechino with my online friend Stefano Arturi of Italian Home Cooking, I leapt at the chance.

Image of Greg Strohlenberg

Greg battles the pork rind

While Stefano busied himself making up the spice mixture and bravely booking train tickets to darkest Suffolk, I enlisted the help of another friend, Greg Strolenberg of Lavenham Butchers.Β  Cotechino (it’s cot-eh-KEEN-o, not cot-eh-CHEEN-o, I’ve been mispronouncing it for years) contains large amounts of rind and fat as well as actual pork. My domestic mincer wouldn’t cope so I asked Greg to do it … and even his heavy-duty machine blew a fuse. Greg, who to his eternal credit didn’t swear once (not in my hearing anyway), persevered and I came home with a huge bag full of frankly revolting-looking pork squidge.

I’m probably not selling this to you, am I? It didn’t help that the casings I’d bought online were delivered ‘off’ (I will spare you a detailed description) and we had to use ordinary sausage skins, which are smaller than is traditional.

Image of Stefano Arturi

Stefano makes the cotechino

But it was worth it. Cotechino is delicious. Put in a pan of cold water, brought to a boil and then simmeredΒ very, very slowly for up to two hours, the rind breaks down into something lip-smackingly unctuous, most of the fat escapes into the the water and you are left with a lightly spiced and surprisingly clean-tasting sausage.

Stefano and I used (mostly) a recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, tweaking the spicing here and there, although Stef politely disagreed with the advice to cure it by hanging it in a shed. Cotechino, he says, is always eaten in Italy as a fresh sausage.

In Italy it’s traditionally served, apart from the lentils (green or brown, not orange) with mostarda di frutta, a condiment made from candied fruit in a mustard-flavoured syrup, and sometimes also with salsa verde. The combination of the soft, gentle cotechino, the texture of the lentils (I cooked them in chicken stock with onion, carrot and celery), the hot, sweet fruit and the sharp, herby salsa was little short of divine.

Image of cotechino with lentils, salsa verde and mostarda di frutta

There was something medieval about the combination of tastes and textures and although it’s a horrible culinary cliche, it really was a meal that was more than the sum of its parts. I think we have a new New Year tradition in our house … after all, generations of Italian cooks are not to be argued with.

As not everyone is quite as keen on cooking from scratch as me and Stefano, you might like to know you can buy cotechino ready-made and part cooked, as well as mostarda di frutta, from good Italian delis or online. Whatever you choose to eat to bring in the New Year in your home, I’d like to wish you all the best for 2019 … good health, happiness and of course, good fortune.

24 thoughts on “Cotechino and Italian New Year

    • It was great fun, in spite of the stinky sausage skins, and lovely to meet Stefano at last. Thanks, Margaret, very happy to have you on board! All the best for 2019. Lx

  1. One of my favourite things ever for the chilly months. In the ‘life’s too short to stuff a mushroom’ philosophy, I usually buy pre-made, on-line. Garlicky lentils with a slug of aged balsamic works for me.

  2. Wow, I’m truly impressed, Linda! Making your own cotechino is quite a chore. but I’m sure the result was fabulous!

    I, on the other hand, usually resort to the vacuum-packed, pre-cooked variety… This year I bought a fresh one and thought I was being ambitious. Little did I know, lol!

    • Thank you, Frank. It was a lot of fun, actually, although probably not something I’d do every week! Stefano gave some to an Italian chef friend who said it was as good or better than any UK-made ones, which I opted to take as a major compliment. πŸ˜€ Happy New Year!

      • That *is* quite the compliment, Linda! Glad it turned out so well. As for me, well see my comment to Stefano below… Happy New Year!

      • Haha, never let it be said that Italians are unpatriotic! So sorry to hear of your less than stellar experience this time. Lx

    • good on you. remember to hydrate it in cold water if it feels a little dry (1 hr is enough) then u have to pierce the skin few times (not too closely, otherwise the skin will burst)
      You can steam it instead of boiling: I found it a little better (about 3-4 hrs fo 1 cotechino). In many old recipes the lentils were cooked with some of cotechino cooking water: very tasty they become (and rather heavy– but hey… it is capodanno…)
      ciao Fr

      • Unfortunately the cotechino was a disappointment… Domestically made, it didn’t have nearly enough fat and came out dry. Who in the world would think it was a good idea to make a “low fat” cotechino? And not very tasty, either.

        I did add some the cooking water to the lentils (as always) but of course it was just as insipid as the cotechino itself, compared with the rich and intensely flavored elixir that it should have been. I guess it’s back to the pre-cooked variety for me… Or making it myself? I have a whole year to prepare… πŸ˜‰

      • Oh Frank, I’m so sorry! If you are thinking of making it yourself it is really easy if you have a sausage stuffer on your food processor (doesn’t everyone? πŸ™‚ ) and as I mentioned to Ron elsewhere on this page, you can pre-cook the rind to make it easier to mince. I hope next time you have a better experience and meanwhile, I wish you a very happy 2019. Lx

  3. It sounds a delightful learning (and eating) experience. I think rind is much undervalued! Thank goodness for your friendly butchers mincer.

  4. … as an aspiring vegan πŸ™‚ … I enjoyed it immensely… as an experiment and eating it.
    it is right now simmering away (I am cooking it sous vide) + lentils done this morning.

    on mostarda:I do not have mostarda unfortunately. for anyone interested in mostarda by the way there are hugely interesting articles in E David’s Nutmeg book (she liked that sort of things) – I made something with pears last year and it was pretty good (u need mustard oil, which is very very powerful, be careful)

    making cotechino (apart from technical issues), made me realise how easy this sort of fresh sausages are
    happy new year to everyone stefano

  5. Happy New Year to all as it is nearly 12 hours old here as I pen this πŸ™‚ ! Such a familiar dish with which to have great fun on New Year’s Day !! Just love the photo of Stefano . . .but am also hugely happy to see Hugh F-W’s name in the credits . . . hate to think how many years he has been teaching me . . . a great way to begin a New Year which may as yet have many problems outside the world of food . . .

  6. Linda your post brought back wonderful memories of dining on Cotechino and lintels on New Year’s day with a dear departed Italian friend. We always enjoyed a small side dish of this no matter what the other dishes were. I love to make sausage and have a small setup, but I’m not sure it can handle Cotechino. Luckily we have a great Italian butcher shop about an hour away. Happy New Years.

    • Thank you, Ron, I’m happy that it brought back good memories. If you were ever tempted to make your own, there is one method (from Michael Ruhlman) whereby you cut the rind into squares and simmer it for about an hour before mincing with the rest of the meat and fat. It makes it easier to get it through a domestic mincer and reduces the overall cooking time. But if you have a good Italian butcher to do the work for you, why worry?! Happy New Year and thanks for all the visits … do drop by again soon! Lx

Leave a Reply