Italians, like many cultures, have some fun and interesting traditions to ring in the New Year. One has been tradition in our family for as long as I can remember – lentils absolutely must be served for New Years, most often with sausages (but in a pinch, my mother just made lentil soup.) Lentils (or lenticchie in Italian) are believed to bring good luck and prosperity throughout the year due to their round shape, signifying money. The first time I celebrated New Year’s Eve in Sicily, I also learned that apparently we had been a bit lax with the tradition at home as we sometimes ate them on New Year’s Day. However, in Sicily, we absolutely would not go to bed on New Year’s Eve without having eaten lentils – it apparently doesn’t count if you consume them after going to bed, even if you hit the hay at 6AM on New Year’s Day.
Another fun tradition I picked up in Sicily was that Italians also wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve for good fortune. That first year, I had to run out to purchase some fine red lacy things and boy, do Italians do red undies! They were in every shop window….it was a red undie spectacular! I have heard that you are actually supposed to buy those fine red undies new each year for the full effect.
So with the new year quickly approaching, time to hit the stores for my lentils and red undies! Bring on the good fortune in the year ahead!
(And with the heavy food around here over the past few weeks, I made this simple sparkly citrus salad for lunch today – it’s colors were so festive that I thought it would add a bit of sparkle to your day as you contemplate your own New Year’s Eve celebrations!)
Citrus, Beet, and Fennel Salad
(Slightly adapted from Epicurious’ Blood Orange, Beet, and Fennel Salad)
- 3 medium red beets, tops trimmed
- 3 blood oranges
- 1 medium navel orange (preferably Cara Cara)
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1/2 small fennel bulb, very thinly sliced crosswise on a mandoline
- 1/4 red onion, very thinly sliced on a mandoline (about 1/3 cup)
- Extra-virgin olive
- Coarse sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Pomegranate seeds
- Fennel fronds
-Preheat oven to 400°. Wash beets, leaving some water on skins. Wrap individually in foil; place on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until beets are tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour. Let cool.
-Meanwhile, using a sharp knife, cut all peel and white pith from all oranges; discard. Working over a medium bowl, cut between membranes of 2 blood oranges to release segments into bowl; squeeze juice from membranes into bowl and discard membranes. Slice remaining blood orange and orange crosswise into thin rounds. Place sliced oranges in bowl with the segments. Add lemon juice and lime juice.
-Peel cooled beets. Slice 2 beets crosswise into thin rounds. Cut 2 beet into wedges. Strain citrus juices; reserve. Layer beets and oranges on plates, dividing evenly. Arrange fennel and onion over beets. Spoon reserved citrus juices over, then drizzle salad generously with oil. Season to taste with coarse sea salt and pepper. Let salad stand for 5 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Garnish salad with pomegranate seeds and fennel fronds.