If you read my previous post about our New Year’s traditions, you know about the importance that Italians place upon some food symbols of plenty. This occasionally verges on the superstitious, and on New Year’s Eve you will see some people stuffing themselves with lentils and grapes as if there’s no tomorrow. The Spanish also follow this custom of eating grapes at midnight, but they stop at 12, one for each month of the new year.
Both in the Judeo-Christian and in the pagan/Greek-Roman traditions, grape clusters deliver such a symbolic punch that it’s quite clear why they have become the center of our celebrations for Capodanno (New Year’s Eve); either in their natural form, which can be appreciated by everybody beyond age, cultural and religious barriers, or in the form of wine – the bubbly, sparkly spumante for the midnight toast! As proven by countless sculptures, frescos and paintings, grapes in Italy have been for hundreds of years the allegory of wealth and well-being.
In Venice and the Veneto, another food associated with images of fertility and of prosperity is rice. Rice is thrown at the bride and groom at a wedding to wish them a lifetime full of blessings (in Roman times, wheat was used for this purpose – but given the role that rice has played in Northern Italian economy and gastronomy for the past 500 years, it has long earned pride of place!)
Finally, all of these ingredients together – grapes, spumante and rice – find their place from time immemorial on my family’s New Year’s table. About half an hour before midnight, I start cooking my signature risotto, which I keep “all’onda” (like the waves, creamy and liquidy – that’s how we like it in Venice) and toss with really good butter and parmigiano. With a pomegranate salad and sides of lentils and salmon, followed by a slice of panettone and a fragrant flute of spumante or prosecco, it’s the perfect start to a delicious new year!
Happy 2013! Here are a few recipes from some of my favorite bloggers that would also be perfect for an Italian New Year’s Eve:
- Rossella’s Stewed Lentils
- Frank’s Spaghetti with Salmon Roe
- Silvia’s White Chocolate Nougat
- Jul’s Ricciarelli Cookies from Siena
- Tori’s Pomegranate martini
And Here is my New Year’s Risotto:
- 4 cups or as needed, vegetable broth
- 4 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 shallot or ½ white onion, very finely chopped
- 3/4 cup Vialone Nano or Arborio rice
- 3/4 cup Brut Spumante, Prosecco or Champagne
- 1 cup white or rose’ grapes (seedless or seeded), halved
- 1/4 cup or to taste freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
Directions (serves 4, about 30 minutes)
In a saucepan, bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat and keep at a low simmer.
In a large heavy or non-stick saucepan, melt 1 tbsp butter, add the shallot and cook for 3 minutes until tender. Add the rice and stir , coating it in the butter. Continue “toasting” the rice, stirring, for 3 minutes Add the Prosecco, Brut or Champagne, and simmer until it has evaporated. Add 1/2 cup of hot broth and stir until almost completely absorbed (2 minutes). Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth a ladleful at a time, stirring almost constantly and allowing the broth to absorb before adding the next ladleful, until the rice is “al dente” (tender but firm to the bite) and the mixture is very creamy. About half-way through the cooking add the halved grapes. It usually takes about 20 minutes total. Turn off the heat, adjust the salt and pepper, stir in the remaining butter, and parmigiano cheese to taste. Serve immediately.