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.
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. 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.
But it was worth it. Cotechino is delicious. Put in a pan of cold water, brought to a boil and then simmered 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.
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.