Pork Cotechino with Polenta and Green Lentils

I am often asked what the typical Italian Christmas dinner is, and the truth is: there isn’t one. Every family has their own traditions depending also on where in Italy they live, so it’s hard to pinpoint a specific meal and say with certainty that it’s what most Italians will be cooking up and down the country on 25 December. It is, however, easy to guess what Italians from Turin to Palermo will be eating on their New Year’s Eve dinner: lo and behold, I give you the cotechino.

Its origins are shared between Emilia Romagna, Lombardia, Veneto and Molise, all regions that suffer from very bitter winters. Cotechino (pronounced coteh-keeno) is therefore a hearty, filling dish that is served with polenta or mashed potatoes and always paired with lentils, which, according to the Italian tradition, bring good luck and prosperity for the whole year ahead. Cotechino is a sort of large salami made of pork meat, and its name derives from the word cotenna (rind). The traditional recipe consists of creating a salami of pork meat (in the past they used to stuff it with all the parts of a pig that wouldn’t get any other use) and wrapping it in pork rind, then letting it cook for several hours. Nowadays, however, most people buy the ready-made, precooked version of this dish, which doesn’t include rind and cooks in an airtight pouch for only 20 minutes. I served it with some instant polenta and tomato green lentils.

Pre-cooked cotechino as it is sold at the supermarket.

Pre-cooked cotechino as it is sold at the supermarket. The outer box suffered a little during transport.

I decided to introduce my partner, who is British, to this dish, and despite the initial hesitation due to the admittedly slightly startling description, he much enjoyed the richness of the meat. The very high fat content is not for the faint-hearted, but eaten once a year it’s a great tradition and one that I will love to keep up.

This recipe served three of us very generously.

What you’ll need:
1 precooked, good quality cotechino (I brought mine back from Italy, and bought it from the equivalent of the “finest” range from the supermarket Coop)

For the lentils

  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large golden onion
  • 1 stick of celery, leafy end removed
  • 250gr green lentils, soaked overnight to ensure quick cooking times, and rinsed
  • 2 very ripe, medium-sized tomatoes, chopped into cubes
  • 2 bay leaves, rinsed
  • 2 rosemary sprigs

For the polenta

  • 1 lt vegetable stock
  • 250gr instant polenta
  • 1 generous knob of butter
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Sorry about the steam, it was very hot and I couldn’t wait to eat it!

 Preparation:

Fill ¾ of a large sauce pan or a spaghetti pot with water, bring to the boil and put your cotechino, still in your sealed pouch, deep into the water, making sure it’s all covered.

In a large frying pan place your diced onion and celery and sweat in the hot oil to make a soffritto. Once the contents of the pan are translucent and soft, but not brown, stir in the lentils, bay leaves and rosemary and mix all well. Let everything bind for a minute or two and add the tomatoes and just a splash (about 100ml) of water. Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat and cover, letting simmer for about ten minutes. Once ready, add a generous pinch of salt and pepper and keep warm.

Bring the vegetable stock to the boil in a large pan. Slowly stir in the polenta, whisking continuously. Keep stirring over the heat for 15 to 20 minutes. You can add a little more water to make it the right consistency. Add in the butter, season and serve straight away, before it hardens by cooling. While you cook the polenta, take your cotechino out of the water after the 20 minutes’ cooking time very carefully, discard of the water and, once the airtight pack is cool enough to handle, cut it open with a pair of scissors and remove it from the meat, which should have a soft but firm consistency and the shape of a large sausage.

Once everything is ready, split a serving plate between the lentils and the soft polenta, and place the sliced cotechino on top.

Make sure you serve this rich meal with a medium-bodied red wine, such as a Merlot or a Bonarda.

All plated up.

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My Trip to New York 1

Part One – the Food

A few weeks ago, I returned from New York, where my friend Sara and I stayed in Brooklyn at Robin’s, the swellest girl in the whole city. It was my first time in the US, and, despite knowing that the Big Apple is not a true representation of the whole of the United States (just like London is not really synecdochic of the UK), being there highlighted how New York and London are so very different. Sure enough, Manhattan’s vibrant streets were heaving with people of all sorts of backgrounds and trades, buzzing with flickering lights beckoning passers-by, and steaming with an endless array of memorable scents, just like London’s Westend. But it made me realise that the British are a population of their own. With their self-pride, friendliness, exaggerated mannerisms, heartfelt involvement and loud enthusiasm when saying even the mildest of things, I would be more inclined to likening New Yorkers to the French or the Italians, rather than to their British counterparts. Of course it is not right to generalise to a smaller degree, such as saying whether I found one people more helpful in giving directions than the other, but I can definitely say that New York seemed to hum that little bit louder.

The food was outstanding, though that could have been that Sara and I were painstakingly selective when choosing where to have our next meal, but my favourite restaurants, which I would definitely recommend, were as follows:

Babbo

Not that it needs recommendation – this restaurant was the most up-market stop of the whole trip. Robin, Sara and I felt very much like grown-ups here, and despite only sharing a starter, a bottle of wine, a dessert, and only having a full primo (pasta main) each, we left feeling very full, which made this restaurant surprisingly affordable, particularly for its atmosphere and outstanding quality. The waiters were also impeccable – we were highly impressed by how they scooped up the crumbs from the tables making a spoon dance and glide on the tablecloth. The jewel-clad lady sitting next to us even commented on that little trick to the Jeeves-like waiter.

Luke’s on the Upper West Side

This has to be my second favourite meal of the trip, simply because now, if I were ever allowed one last meal in my life, my choice would have shifted from Osso Buco to a mighty, mayo-free but butter-soaked lobster roll. The huge chunks of lobster are velvety and melt in your mouth faster than you can say “fishing lobsters in Maine”. This roll is unfussy, simple and doesn’t need anything else added. It’s perfect. Go have it.

Luke’s on the Upper West Side. Picture taken by Sara.

Lobster Roll

Katz’s Delicatessen

This classic sammich deli did not disappoint. The sharpness of the pickles and sauerkraut cut through the richness of the pastrami, and the wholeness of the rye bread binds everything together beautifully. Needless to say, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, and in hindsight we should have just ordered one to share. After we were done with (half of our) platefuls, we both silently pretended we still had a good reason to sit there for a little longer, just because neither of us could even waddle. And no, I didn’t do a Meg Ryan impression, the place was so rammed and loud that nobody would’ve noticed, anyway.

Sara with two strangers.

What she’s having.

Shake Shack

Ooh that Shack-cago hot dog was excellent, and the curly fries were a bit different – was it maybe the first time I ever had curly fries? I think it might well have been.*

A collage of our Shake Shack experience made by Sara.

230 Fifth

We didn’t eat here, but I had a delicious Dirty Vodka Martini and the view from the rooftop was breath-taking. It was a sunny yet windy late afternoon, so they provided warm, hooded red capes for everyone. Doesn’t get much better than sipping a vodka drink in a dressing gown in front of a beautiful view – and nobody seemed to care! I really loved the vintage-like lanterns all around the rooftop.

Another cool collage made by Sara.

A small part of the view from the rooftop.

Beautiful lanterns.

Watch this space, as I am soon to post about the little fashion gems I found in New York.

*I have since discovered that what we ate were actually crinkle fries — goes to show…!

Cold Summer Outfit

Believe it or not, being Italian, one of the reasons why I decided to move to the UK was the climate. I never really liked excessively hot weather and where I’m from, that’s what you get from mid-June to early August. I always loved the British summer, with a gentle breeze, a shy sun and the occasional need of a light cardigan.

All this was true until last year. This year, things have changed. We saw one week of scorching heat at the end of May and then back to 10°C, rain and gusts of ice-cold wind. Which means that the sunglasses in my handbag looking at me with hopeful little eyes are completely redundant, just like all my sandals, floaty dresses and summery hats in my room.

To try to raise the morale in my wardrobe, I decided to keep warm while wearing summery colours. So here’s what I put together.

Dust pink silk shirt and cashmere and lace cropped jumper from Italy, pink gold necklace and pendants from Braï Jewellery, leather-look leggings from ebay, pastel-green Superga plimsolls, beige trench coat from Banana Republic and Classic Q Hillier Hobo bag Marc by Marc Jacobs in black with golden hardware.

A Quick Look into the Italian Fashion Scene

I’ve recently got back from Genoa, Italy, where I went to visit my family. That little trip inspired me in putting together a super brief list of my very favourite designers who are either up-and-coming or established but still fairly obscure to the British audience.

PENNYBLACK is produced and distributed by Manifatture del Nord, one of the companies which belong to the Max Mara Fashion Group. Born in 1978, PENNYBLACK is characterised by a sophisticated yet easy-to-wear style. They utilise high-quality materials and pay great attention to detail, and their international team of innovative designers constantly create fresh looks which quickly become modern classics.

PENNYBLACK

PENNYBLACK

Claudia Tacchella is a young designer who lives and works in Milan and currently collaborates with Flashstone, another name to make note of. Her latest standalone collection was called Chromophobia, and it featured monochrome contrasts, elegant cuts in faux leather, black sheer micronet and crisp white silk. Different textures and contrasting fabrics are juxtaposed to highlight curves and blazers feature strong, structured shoulders to balance hyper-feminine hips wrapped in tight skirts and leggings. Claudia explains that inspiration for this collection was drawn from the apartheid and the contrasting roles of the white and black races. The designer said the aim of this collection was to recall through the garments the feeling of the rigidity of the segregation and, at the same time, the freedom that ensued.

One of Claudia Tacchella's designs.

Giuro Che Domani Smetto (GCDS), literally ‘I swear I’ll give it up tomorrow’, was developed from an idea by Veronica Massa, Walter D’Aprile e Vincenzo Paccone. GCDS is a journey through one-night parties which are accompanied by a clothing line. Every party tells the story of each one of us, who after excess drinking and ‘good times out’ reflect on the possibility of quitting the party lifestyle. These parties take place in Naples one Saturday per month. Tailored videos are created for each party, which encourage the people attending to take part in the next event. The clothing line that accompanies the events is GCDS’s second means of communication. Through the T-shirts, which are becoming increasingly fashionable, they communicate the main message of each event. They are ironic and mock many of the classic situations that take place during nightlife and partying. Next to the simple black or white Tees features also a more complex, edgy line: Giuro Che Domani Smetto Wardrobe, which is like a little trunk filled with unisex clothing through which men and women alike can swap clothes.

GCDS

Max & Co. is by far and away my favourite, favourite Italian brand, and every time I go to Italy I spend a small fortune in their shop in central Genoa.  Max & Co. also belongs to the Max Mara Fashion Group and was born in 1986. The lines are clean and fuss-free but at the same time edgy and stylish. The designs are classic and modern at the same time and extremely easy to wear. These guys know how to do justice to the Italian sartorial tradition with a very high attention to detail and only the best materials. The quality is outstanding and the designs are always on trend.

Max & Co.

Max & Co.

These are my top four favourite Italian designers/labels. Which are yours? Do you have any new names to suggest?

My Very First Thanksgiving

Being an Italian living in London, I never really had a chance or official reason to celebrate Thanksgiving. I never quite knew what it involved, exactly. This year, however, thanks to my change of jobs in May, I had the luck to meet a new friend, Sara, who is from Ohio and super keen on anything Thanksgiving-related. I had no more excuses! So on Saturday 26 November I went to her house in the morning and we cooked all day long to put together an American feast for six.  We scoured through the internet to find the best Thanksgiving recipes and I think we definitely found some brilliant ones. All the pictures were taken by Sara.

Here is the menu we had on the day, click on the dish name to find the recipe:

I absolutely loved Thanksgiving and really hope we will repeat it next year.