New Year's Day brings the possibility of better things to come. Resolutions are made and bad habits are given serious consideration, especially if you find yourself pondering them over a glass of Alka-Seltzer. To ensure starting the year off the right way, people all over the world turn to traditional good luck foods on New Year's Day. Foods representing wealth, luck and success are a common theme ranging from donuts called Olliebolen in Holland-thought to represent coming full circle, to green coin shaped lentils in Italy- thought to attract wealth.
In Japan, long soba noodles are eaten unbroken to represent long life. Sticky rice called mochi is pressed into rice cakes called omochi which are offered to the gods then cut into pieces and eaten by family member for wealth and good luck. Omochi are also served in a soup, called Ozoni.
The Greeks make cake called Vasilopita. Each cake has a coin inside and the person who gets the coin is said to be blessed with good luck for the coming year.
As I mentioned earlier, in Italy lentils represent money and are eaten with hopes of wealth for the New Year. Cotechino con Lenticchie is a traditional good luck dish of sausage served over lentils. The fatty richness of the cotechino sausage symbolizes abundance.
In Spain, twelve grapes are eaten at midnight. With each stroke of the Plaza del Sol clock, a grape is eaten to celebrate lucky years past and to hope for good luck in the year to come.
Here in America, we enjoy many food traditions often associated with the South. Greens, representing money, are commonly used in dishes with the hope of wealth for the coming year. Collard greens, mustard greens, kale and any type of cabbage can be used. Greens are often combined with pork (symbolizing prosperity) in dishes such as ham and cabbage and pork and sauerkraut. Hopping John, probably the dish most associated with the South and New Year's contains the beloved black eyed pea, also thought to represent coins and wealth as they expand when cooked.
Here is a recipe for Savoy Cabbage Gratin with Saint-Marcellin. This dish is from Molly Stevens' "All About Braising". I highly recommend both the recipe and the book. The cabbage gets tender and steeped with flavor from chicken stock and the rich creamy Saint-Marcellin. Saint-Marcellin is a soft cow's milk cheese with a mushroomy aroma. It's so soft in fact, the tiny wheels (about 3 ounce portions) come in a little crock. Saint-Marcellin comes from Dauphin in southern France. It's a salty cheese, so go easy on the salt when wilting your greens. Adding the cheese towards the end will bring the salt up to taste.
For New Year's, I've stuck with tradition and served this gratin with marinated pan-seared pork chops and coin sized potato pancakes.
Savoy Cabbage Gratin with Saint-Marcellin- serves 6
Braising time: 1hour 15 minutes
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 head Savoy cabbage (about 1 1/2 - 2 pounds), cored , halved and cut into 1/2" ribbons
1 bunch scallions, greens and whites cut into 1/2" pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 3/4 cups chicken broth, homemade or store bought
1 ripe Saint Marcellin cheese (about 3 ounces)
Heat oven to 325 degrees.
In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add cabbage and scallion with a pinch of salt and several grinds of fresh black pepper. Saute, stirring often, until the cabbage wilts and begins to brown a little, about 10 minutes. Add chicken broth, bring to a steady simmer and scrape the bottom of the pan. Cook for 2 minutes.
Scrape the cabbage, scallions and broth into a gratin dish (I used a 9x12 dish). Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place on middle rack of oven. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake for an additional 20 minutes until most of the liquid is evaporated.
Cut or tear the Saint-Marcellin into small pieces and scatter into gratin. Increase oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake for 10 minutes until the cheese is melted. Serve hot or warm as a first course, a side dish or on it's own as a light supper.