Cotechino sausage with braised lentils
As antipodeans, cooler weather often sees us gazing northward to the food traditions of Europe. When I think of European winter food traditions, it is cotechino con lenticchie that always takes my fancy.
Maybe it’s because I love to believe in the symbolism of it all. After all, it seems far less avaricious to believe that the more lentils I eat the richer I will become in the coming year, than to buy a QuickPick in TattsLotto and dream of the millions coming my way.
Italians enjoy this dish on New Year’s Eve. Well, not exactly: for the maximum pecuniary effect, the ideal time is in the half-hour after the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day. The tradition dates from biblical times and Esau and his dish of lentils, which morphed into giving away a purse of lentils, each of which was to turn into a coin, which in turn morphed into cotechino with lentils. The lentils represent coins and the pork sausage represents not only the fat of the land, but, forward thinking, the pigs that always “root” forwards. I really do love a bit of rich food symbolism.
Cotechino is not hard to make, if you have a mincer and a sausage filler and a good butcher. This sausage requires a much larger casing than you would use for your humble snag, but is an easy one to master if you’re a beginner. Having said that, there are still plenty of good Italian butchers around who sell a damn fine cotechino.
For the lentils, I love the texture of the flinty little puy lentil for this dish. And for added unctuousness and texture, instead of the traditional boiled sausage just sliced onto the lentils, I like them pan-fried a little. Happy new year – even if we’re just exiting an Australian winter.
Cotechino sausage with braised lentils
– 1m salami casing
– 500g pork shoulder
– 200g pork back fat
– 300g pork skin
– 2 garlic cloves
– 3g black pepper
– 12g salt
– pinch nutmeg
– ¼ tsp cinnamon
– 1 tsp cayenne
Soak the salami casing in water. Refrigerate.
Chop the shoulder, fat and skin into a size suitable for your mincer. Pass through the mincer on the coarsest grinder you have. Crush garlic, grind pepper, then with all other spices and salt add to the meat, kneading well. I often find it good to do this in a stand mixer with the paddle to push out the air. Set overnight in the fridge.
Next day fill your skin nice and tightly to make a fat sausage. Tie off with string. Rest it for at least three hours in the fridge and then cook.
To cook the sausage, place it in a pot of simmering water or stock and cook for one to two hours or until the sausage floats. You can eat the sausage straight away by slicing it up, but if you wish, it
can refrigerate overnight. The sausage is fine in the fridge for
a day or two.
– 1 small onion
– 2 small carrots
– 2 celery stalks
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1 bay leaf
– 2 sprigs of thyme
– 500g puy lentils
– 1 litre chicken stock
– salt and pepper
Chop the onion, carrots and celery into a fine brunoise.
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, sweat the vegetables and herbs in the oil over low heat until the onions are translucent. Add the lentils, stir over heat and then add half the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer until cooked – about 20 to 30 minutes. Add more of the reserved stock if necessary. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
To serve, slice the sausage thickly, fry in a little olive oil and serve over the piping hot lentils. A scattering of chopped parsley is always a welcome addition.
2015 Fighting Gully Road sangiovese, Beechworth, Victoria ($26) – Carly Lauder, Du Fermier
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 9, 2017 as "Snags to riches".
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