New Year’s Eve in almost every Italian homes is like history repeating itself. A 13 courses Lucullian dinner awaits to be consumed. Soon after Christmas people start planning their New Year’s Eve, whether it will be in a club, restaurant, or at home with family and friends, the end of the year is an important day of the entire year. It is a common believe that whatever one does on that evening and the first of year, one will do it for the rest of the year, therefore no crying, no paying bills, no arguing, only cooking, eating, laughing and spending a pleasant passage into the new year.
The street markets and stores stay open at least until 5:00 pm for those who need the last few ingredients, or to find the last-minute outfit for the evening.
The people who stay at home to celebrate with their loved ones, end up cooking all day long. It sounds like an awful stressful activity to do right at the end of the year, but in reality Italian people love to cook in company of other people and even with their guests. Lot of laughter and camaraderie goes on during the cooking and that is one of the many reasons food in Italy taste so good, we make them with love and pleasure.
It is customary at lunch to have a small snack of vegetables and a fruit, but at night the New Year’s Eve dinner is an act of culinary cleverness and serious professionalism. The dinner table is well set, but not overly decorated with useless stuff, the food will take a center stage on the table of this evening.
The dinner for this special night consist of 13 courses by tradition, one for each month of the year and one more in honor of the new coming year. It seems a whole lot of food to brush off in one night, but starting at 6:00 pm when everybody sits down at the table, until midnight when the champagne bottles pop, there are six hours of nothing but food paced with intervals and slow enjoyment.
It starts with many antipasti of different kind, but a mixture of raw and shell-fish is the king for this night, as it is for all the eves before an important holiday.
The evening continues on the note of fish. Any type of pasta with any fish sauce is served as a first course and grilled, fried or baked fish as a second course.
Olives and savory munchies fill the table to help passing time between those courses which need to be cooked fresh on the spot, to encourage conversation and wine drinking. In some families between the first, the second and third course, it is customary to pass a small portion of lemon or orange sorbet as a palate cleanser. What a delightful and fine dinner practice!
After the most important part of the dinner is served, all the minor plates will be parading such as, fried vegetables, fried puffy dough, food preserved under oil or vinegar, dried fruits and nuts, fresh fruit, typical regional home-made sweets and cookies, along with the store-bought sweets.
One specialty must never be forgotten before midnight strikes and that is cooked lentils with a swirl of olive oil and basil leaves. The popular belief is that each lentil represents money, more lentil a person can eat, more money that person will make. Needless to say we consume a large pot of lentils every end of the year just to wish ourselves a good financial stability.
At midnight the champagne is popped, kisses, hugs and laughter fill the air, accompanied with panettone, a typical Italian sponge cake sometimes filled with chocolate, sometimes with champagne cream, or tiramisu’ as I like, or candied fruit.
The 13 courses dinner is over after midnight, but the night is young and it is the first day of the new year. Outside, people shoot fireworks from their balconies and windows. It is important to welcome the new year and celebrate it any way people can. If people celebrate this first day, they will be celebrating many more times during the year, so the old folks saying goes. Then at 5:00 am in the streets is time to taste freshly made croissants, hot from the baker’s oven with a warm frothy cappuccino to fight the cold temperature of this winter night spent in boisterous festivity.
Buon Anno, Happy New Year to all and peace in the world.
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Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved
Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer in business since 1990 with a special passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe. She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos. She also the author of two Italian regional cookbooks available on