Mediterranean New Year’s: dining in the name of a prosperous future

Mediterranean New Year’s: dining in the name of a prosperous future

agnello alla greca

New Year’s, as the term itself indicates, is the first day of the year that, in the modern world, falls on the 1st of January of the Gregorian calendar, used in the majority of all countries. It is a day of celebration and tables everywhere reflect good will and abundance. To be precise, there are other new year’s even in the Mediterranean: For those who follow the Julian calendar, proposed by Julius Caesar in 46 A.S. (previously the first day of the year was 1st March), for example some Orthodox churches, religiously celebrate on the day corresponding to January 14th on the Gregorian calendar.

In the various countries, the celebrations started at times and with meanings that differed, until in 1691 Pope Innocent XII revised the calendar of his predecessors, establishing that the year should begin on January 1st. In Italy, beginning at midnight of 31st of December, people eat lentils, as an augury of money, cotechino or zampone (cooked spicey sausage) for abundance, and fruit, especially grapes, as a symbol of life.

In Spain, for example, was midnight sounds, people eat grapes. Even pomegranate and chocolate in the shape of gold coins bring good luck, like small pigs made of marzipane do in the North. Southern Italy has a variety of customs at the table.

CastagnelleFrom Salento to the Gargano, the holidays meann baccalà (dried, salt-cured cod), not only fried as they prefer in Bari, but also oven-baked with onions and potatoes, together with the yellow-bellied eel fished in Lake Lesina: this is the fish of the enogastronomic trade union. The festivities conclude with desserts made at home by mothers and grandmothers: Cartellate (round biscuits made of fried in oil), castagnelle and sassanelli (biscuits with chestnuts or almonds and chocolate), paste reali (also made with almonds), dried figs in chocolate.

In Calabria, around Cosenza, the end and the beginning of the year taste like giurgiulena, a sort of nougat made with sesame seeds, honey, and almonds. In Trapani, the seaside city with stronger Arabic and Mediterreanean roots, there are no important traditions other than those from the north and memories of a turkey stuffed with macaroni that the older families would make, or the flan of the Gattopardo, a pasta seasoned with broccoli (which is also eaten at other times of the year),meat, tuna, and then turned out onto a dish. Things are different at Christmas: the evening before, baccalà and broccoli, then at lunch, cous cous with fish. In France, people celebrate with foie gras, oysters, snails, and shellfish.

lukanikaIn Greece, even though Easter is the favourite national family holiday, the traditional dish par excellence is lamb alla glastra, cooked in a bed of ashes dug into the ground as was done centuries ago. The lukanika is the sausage filled with onions and, on request, even with roasted oranges, accompanied by prassopita and spanakopita, a tart of feta cheese and vegetables. And of course, pastizio is a must: this oven-baked timbale consists of pasta, ground meat and spices. When it comes to desserts, kurabiedes, very sweet biscuits, melomakarono with roasted walnuts, and kataif made with walnuts, are always popular. And on the first of the year, people cut into the Vasilopita, the cake in honour of San Basil of Caesarea with a coin baked inside: whoever finds the coin is guaranteed a lucky year. Another tradition is that of the pomegranate, according to which each guest who enters the house of a friend or relative must break the fruit by dashing it onto the floor: the more seeds that spatter, the luckier the homeowner will be. Then people also eat dried fruit, pastries, and melomakarona, biscuits with honey or syrup.

In Malta, one of the richest crossroads of Sicilians memories and Ottoman – even if the Ottomans never succeeded in conquering the island – Arab-Tunisian and English influences between Christmas and New Year’s can be found especially in sweets, so it is not rare to find English sweets next to Mediterranean pastries.

Ilaria Guidantoni