As much of Italy is Roman Catholic, though not all of course, many of the traditions celebrated during Christmas and the New Year are long-standing and center around church and family.
New Years Eve in Campania is a day of celebration and it is largely spent much like Christmas Eve. In the large towns and cities, such as Naples and Sorrento, crowds gather around the main piazzas for a lively day of music, drinking and dancing.
In the smaller towns and villages, people celebrate the holiday by gathering around the kitchen in their family home, preparing richly decadent dishes. Most often, fish and seafood dishes are the main course on this evening rather than meat or chicken, though it varies from family to family.
New Year’s Eve Culinary Traditions
Along the coastlines of Campania, especially the Amalfi Coast, fish and seafood entrees almost always includes baccalà (a salted cod fish) and baked eel, sardines, shrimp, octopus or squid, mussels and clams. The fish and seafood can be prepared in many ways including baked with fresh lemon and olive oil (pesce al forno) or fried (fritto). It often is added into delicious pasta or risotto dishes such as risotto di mare (risotto with fresh seafood) or pasta con gamberi e zucchini (spaghetti with shrimp and fresh zucchini) or incorporated into side dishes or “contorno” such as totani e patate (squid and potatoes).
In the early evening on December 31st, people join together around the table to eat and share memories of the past year as well as their hopes and wishes for the New Year. As with any Italian meal, the meal is paired with wonderful apertivos — perhaps a glass of prosecco and Campari or Aperol, then complemented with lovely regional wines — either the family’s house wine or one of the local regional wines such as Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo or Taurasi. No Neapolitan festive meal is complete without a sip of grappa, caffe and sweets including zeppole and fresh fruit.
At midnight, the guests open bottles of Prosecco and light Roman candles to celebrate the New Year. People of all ages also gather in the piazzas to watch the spectacle of fireworks that light up the sky or coastline; the streets are filled with sounds of laughter and music — a truly joyous evening celebrated by young and old alike.
New Year’s Day is also marked with a huge meal which begins earlier in the day than other meals. Around noon, guests make their way back to their family home and they slowly begin to enjoy yet another day of feasting. They may start with a spritz cocktail or simple glass of prosecco served with fritters to whet the palette; then an assortment of salumi and cheeses including fresh mozzarella served with fresh house preserves. Risotto or pasta such as gnocchi, lasagna or cannelloni follows with the main course not very far behind.
Main courses are often beef wellington, roast beef or roast pork. If they prefer chicken, a nice lemon chicken or chicken all cacciatora is served instead. Of course, they will partake of more fresh cheese to go with their wine and lastly, a huge platter of figs, nuts and fruits are served along with the famous panettone, which was also enjoyed on Christmas Day!
The most important ingredient of the day is the lentil. A classic combination of lentils and pasta is the most popular way to serve lentils on this day (Pasta e Lenticchie) — tradition has it that if one eats lentils on the first day of the year, it is said that the year ahead will be rich and rewarding. Also, the more lentils you eat, the richer you will become.
Throughout the day, the discussion surrounds New Year’s resolutions. It is tradition in Italy to celebrate this day with the very best of products and foods within their budget. They firmly believe and are resolved that what they do on this day will serve as a sign of things to come in the new year. Hope for good health and prosperity is on everyone’s mind — as is a good nap following a season of feasts!
Recipe: Lentil Soup or Pasta with Lentils
(Zuppa di Lenticchie or Pasta e Lenticchie)
A Traditional New Year’s Dish in Italy
500 gr Lentils (about 1 lb)
1.5 liter (or 1.5 quarts) water
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoons fresh parsley
1 celery stalk
5 cherry or Roma tomatoes
½ medium sized onion
Extra virgin olive oil
Dice the tomatoes, celery, onion and carrots and finely chop the garlic and place them in a large soup pan with the lentils, parsley and water. Simmer over a low boil for 30 minutes.
At this point, you can either serve the lentils as a soup, or you can add your favorite short pasta noodle to the lentil soup. (Note: In Campania, they typically use ditalini pasta, but mezzi penne or other short pasta shape would work well in this recipe). Continue simmering the soup until the pasta is al dente and remove from the heat and serve.
And remember, the more lentils you eat, the better your luck will be and the more money you will make in the New Year!!!
— Laura Faust
Laura Faust owns Ciao Laura, offering culinary vacations, cooking lessons and foodie adventures throughout Italy. Special thanks to Chiara Lima of Mamma Agata for contributing to the article, including the recipe.