This zampone recipe is what I recommend for your New Year’s Eve dinner. Zampone or cotechino served with lentils is what most Italians eat for dinner at New Year’s Eve. Zampone is a stuffed pig’s foot which has been deboned and filled with ground pork meat and rind mixed with spices, while cotechino is a large size sausage filled with the same type of mixture. Eating pork for New Year’s Eve comes from the old belief that in order to bring good luck and prosperity into the new year one has to consume only the meat of animals that eat their food pushing it forward with their snout, like pigs, instead of moving it back or closer with their feet, like chicken or turkey.
Zampone originated in the northern city of Modena in the 1500’s, during a long besiege which left the inhabitants of the city without food and forced them to cope with what they had, using anything that could be eaten. Zampone is in fact a different – and rather tasty – way to preserve and eat pork meat, and it has become a popular dish all over Italy, where it is served throughout the winter season.
This recipe is made from scratch, using raw zampone, but pre-cooked zampone is available in many Italian delis and stores and is also very good. It reduces preparation and cooking times and it is normally ready in about 15 minutes, after simmering it in its own foil package.
Ingredients and Instructions (serves 6):
- 1 pound/500 grams zampone or cotechino
- 1/2 pound/250 grams of dried lentils
- 1 onion
- 2 celery stalks
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 ounces/50 grams of pancetta, finely diced (non-smoked bacon can do)
(If using pre-cooked zampone or cotechino, cook it according to the instructions on the package and go directly to step 5 of this recipe)
- Thoroughly rinse the zampone with water and puncture it here and there with a fork. Wrap it up in a clean kitchen towel, tie it up with twine and lay it submerged in cold water in a pot large enough to accommodate it horizontally.
- Let the zampone boil very slowly for at least a couple of hours. After this time, strain it, leave it in the kitchen cloth and keep it warm wrapped in aluminum foil. Reserve the cooking water for the lentils.
- Wash well the lentils then put them in a pot with abundant salted water and when boiling, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for at least 2 hours, together with the celery and half of the onion. When cooked, drain any remaining water and remove the celery and the onion.
- Finely chop the other half onion, then sauté in a large skillet with the oil and the diced pancetta. Add the lentils, cover with 2 ladles of cooking water from the zampone and simmer slowly until all the liquid is absorbed and the flavors are well blended. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
- Remove the foil and the kitchen cloth from the zampone, slice it leaving the skin on (it can be removed if someone does not like its texture, but it is delicious).
- Pour the lentils in warm serving dish and lay the sliced zampone on top. Serve immediately while still warm.
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