Cotechino with Lentils. The Great Italian New Year’s Eve Classic

Cotechino with lentils is a succulent dish typical of Italian tradition and the Christmas festivities.

In Italy we have the custom to enjoy Cotechino with lentils especially during New Year’s Eve dinner, as a symbol of good luck for the New Year.

But what is cotechino? Cotechino is a sausage made from pork, rinds, spices and salt. These ingredients are ground and then stuffed into a casing, either natural or synthetic. Cotechino requires cooking in boiling water. It cannot be eaten raw.

cotechino with lentils

The texture is tender and gelatinous. It may be more or less fatty, depending on the amount of rind compared to the amount of meat.

You can use fresh cotechino, which you can buy from your local butcher. It requires cooking for about 3 hours depending on the size. If possible, choose homemade, preservative-free cotechino for a tasty and healthy end result.

If you are short on time, you can use precooked cotechino. Just follow the cooking recommendations on the package. Typically, 20 to 30 minutes is enough for this type of Italian sausage.

cotechino with lentils

Cotechino with lentils is a rich and flavorful dish. A perfect and balanced mix of flavors that belongs to the Italian tradition. It’s typical especially of Emilian cuisine but now widespread throughout the peninsula.

This dish belongs to the Italian cucina povera. It used to be consumed only by farmers and ranchers. They used the pork waste and the less valuable parts. And then they accompanied it with legume soups and minestrone.

Today, cotechino, especially artisanal and homemade, has become a prized product. It’s a must on the tables of Italians for New Year’s Eve dinner paired with lentils and often presented in a gourmet version as well.

cotechino with lentils

Find out how to prepare Cotechino with lentils by following the step-by-step procedure and tips also on how to present it on the table.

With cotechino and lentils you will celebrate New Year’s Eve the Italian way and discover a truly amazing dish!

cotechino with lentils


Ingredients

PLEASE NOTE: Preparation time does NOT include soaking time for lentils, which is not always necessary (see the following section about soaking lentils).

  • Prep Time: 30 Min
  • Cook Time: 50 Min (If using fresh cotechino, add 2 hours to the cooking time.)
  • Servings: 6

  • 1 Cotechino (about 600 g-1.3 pound if fresh 500 g-1.1 pound if precooked)
  • 380 g (2 cups) of dried lentils
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1 medium celery stalk
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3-4 cherry tomatoes or 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)

How to Make Cotechino with Lentils: Instructions

To make the recipe for cotechino with lentils, you need to cook the two ingredients separately and then combine them in the serving dish.

Cooking Fresh Cotechino

Cooking fresh cotechino takes much longer than pre-cooked cotechino (see below), but if the cotechino is of excellent quality, it’s definitely worth it.

cotechino with lentils step 1

Step 1) – Wrap the cotechino in aluminum foil and seal it like a candy. Then prick it in several places with a fork or toothpick.

This will prevent the cotechino from cracking during cooking. It also helps to drain off excess fat.

cotechino with lentils step 2

Step 2) – Place it in the bottom of a pot large enough to hold it. Cover the cotechino with cold water and simmer gently for at least 2 hours from the time it begins to boil.

When cooked, remove it from the pot and discard the aluminum foil.

cotechino with lentils step 3

Step 3) – Place it on a cutting board. Remove the skin and slice. Do not make slices too thin as they will break due to the soft texture of the sausage.

With Pressure Cooker

Cooking fresh cotechino in a pressure cooker greatly reduces cooking time.

  • Wrap the cotechino in aluminum foil and poke holes in it. Cover the cotechino with water.
  • Close the lid and place on high heat. When it starts to whistle, reduce the heat to low and cook for 40 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat and allow the steam to release completely. Then open the pot and remove the cotechino.

How to Cook Pre-cooked Cotechino

If you are using pre-cooked cotechino, you will find all the detailed instructions on the package. Anyway, here are the few steps:

  • You will need to soak it in cold water without removing it from the aluminum package.
  • From the time it starts to boil, cook for about 20-30 minutes, the time varies from brand to brand.
  • When it’s cooked, cut off one corner of the bag, let all the cooking liquid out and then open the bag completely. Place the cotechino on a cutting board to remove the skin and cut into slices.

How to Make Lentils

cotechino with lentils step 4

Step 4) – Rinse the lentils to remove any impurities. If they were soaked, drain and rinse them under running water.

Peel and chop the carrots. Do the same with the celery and onion.

In a saucepan, sauté in oil the chopped vegetables for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

cotechino with lentils step 5

Step 5) – Next, add the lentils. Cover with hot water. Season with salt and pepper and add 2 bay leaves. Cook for 20-30 minutes or more, depending on the consistency you want, more or less thick.

cotechino with lentils step 6

Step 6) – If necessary, add a little hot water during cooking. To add some color add half a tablespoon of tomato paste or a few chopped cherry tomatoes. When cooked, remove the bay leaves and keep the cooked lentils warm.

Serving Cotechino with Lentils

cotechino with lentils step 7

Step 7) – Arrange the sliced cotechino and lentils in a serving dish and serve piping hot.

cotechino with lentils

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How to Store Cotechino with Lentils

Refrigeration

If you have leftover cotechino with lentils, allow it to cool to room temperature before storing. Then place the cooled lentil cotechino in an airtight container. If you have a large quantity, consider dividing it into smaller portions for easier reheating. Store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for 3-4 days.

Freezing

If you want to store it for a longer period of time, cotechino with lentils can be frozen. Again, use airtight containers. Properly stored, it can last up to 1 month in the freezer. Label the container with the date so you can keep track of how long it’s been stored. Freeze only when you have used fresh ingredients!

Reheating

When you’re ready to eat, reheat the cotechino with lentils until it’s steaming hot. If you’ve frozen it, you can thaw it overnight in the refrigerator or use the microwave’s defrost setting.

cotechino with lentils

How to Serve Cotechino: Some Variations

Each variation I’m going to show you highlights the versatility of cotechino, pairing it with different textures and flavors to create a range of delicious dishes.

  • With lentils in glasses as an appetizer: Cook the lentils according to my recipe above. Crumble the cotechino and layer it with the lentils in a few glasses or small glass bowls. This makes a sophisticated and flavorful appetizer.
  • With potato puree: Prepare a creamy mashed potato dish seasoned with butter, milk and a pinch of nutmeg. Serve thick slices of cotechino on top of the mashed potatoes, allowing the flavors to meld for a comforting and hearty dish.
  • With polenta: Cook the polenta until smooth and creamy. Serve the cotechino sliced or diced over the polenta. This combination provides a wonderful contrast of textures.
  • With buttered spinach: Sauté fresh spinach in butter until wilted and season with salt and pepper. Serve the cotechino with the spinach, allowing the rich flavors of the sausage to complement the buttery spinach.

cotechino with lentils

Is it Always Necessary to Soak Lentils Before Cooking Them?

No, not all types of lentils need to be soaked before cooking.

Dried lentils are the most commonly used in many Italian recipes. Instructions on how best to cook them can usually be found on the package.

Unlike other legumes, lentils do not always need to be soaked in water before cooking. Soaking means placing them in water for several hours to soften and rehydrate them.

Larger lentils are usually soaked overnight (about 6-8 hours). Small lentils (such as the Castelluccio di Norcia lentils used in our recipe) do not need to be soaked. However, soaking them in water for at least 1 hour improves their digestibility and reduces cooking time.

Dried lentils, whether sold loose or unopened in their packaging, are still a product of the earth. For this reason, even if you choose not to soak them, you should rinse them thoroughly before use. They may still contain some pebbles or soil residue.

cotechino with lentils

Why do Italians Eat Cotechino with Lentils on New Year’s Eve?

Cotechino con le Lenticchie is an iconic dish that everyone in Northern Italy has tried at least once. In fact, it’s a traditional dish that can be found almost everywhere during festive evenings.

In Italy you can find cotechino and lentils from the gourmet restaurant to the inn, from the osteria to the agriturismo, and in the kitchens of every home.

But why have lentils and cotechino become a traditional dish?

History and Curiosities

It’s a tradition that dates back to the ancient Romans, who introduced the custom of eating lentils after midnight on December 31 to celebrate the New Year.

According to the ancient beliefs of our ancestors, the lentil was a symbol of good omen for future investments. For this reason, it was customary not only to eat lentils during sumptuous feasts, but also to give a small bag of lentils to relatives and friends, hoping that it would turn into money in the near future.

The cotechino, next to the lentil, was probably approached in medieval times, almost certainly in 1511.

It seems that in that year Pico della Mirandola, a great philosopher and humanist of the time, advised his fellow citizens, besieged by the papal troops of Julius II, to slaughter pigs in the stables and to preserve the meat directly in the pig’s skin with spices.

This method not only made it possible to preserve the meat for a long time, but it was also appreciated for its quality and the time it took to prepare it. The meat was ready in about 15 days, which is why the custom of slaughtering it around the feast of Saint Lucy (December 13th) was established, so that it would be ready for the New Year’s celebrations.

The idea was so good that it quickly spread even to local delicatessens in many areas of northern Italy, especially in Emilia Romagna, Lombardy, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto.

However, the original recipe remains linked to the province of Modena, so much so that today Cotechino di Modena enjoys the European Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).

cotechino with lentils

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