Lentils and Sausage for Winter Dinners

There is a winter dish from the region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy of cooked lentils topped with slices of boiled stuffed pig’s trotter called zampone.  Decades ago I was lucky to live near an Italian deli that regularly carried a domestically-made zampone. Then they went out of business and once the internet was invented and Google came around I would try searching, always without much luck.  So I can’t provide links because every time I do find a link it breaks at some point before I can use it.  All I can suggest is to try whatever good quality local Italian market is near you.  In place of zampone I use the slightly-easier-to-find cotechino sausage but even that can only be found at Italian markets and not all of them.  This variation of that dish (zampone con lenticchie) is made with lentils and spinach with a starting soffritto of prosciutto fat and easily found mild Italian sausage made with fennel seed.  The salsa verde or green sauce is served with the sausages.

Lentil, Spinach, and Sausage Casserole
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Casserole
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4 to 6
  • 1½ pounds mild Italian sausages or cotechino
  • 2 cups green or brown lentils
  • 2 quarts water
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 medium onions, 1 whole and 1 very finely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, 2 cut in half, 1 finely chopped
  • 1 pound spinach, heavy stems removed, rinsed well, chopped
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces prosciutto fat, chopped
  • For the salsa verde or green sauce
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, leaves only
  • 20 large fresh basil leaves
  • 6 large garlic cloves
  • ¼ pound crushed walnuts
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Prick the sausages or cotechino with a fork, or better, a couple of corncob holders all over and wrap tightly in cheesecloth. Tie off with kitchen twine. Place the sausages in a pot or large casserole and cover by 4 inches with cold water. Bring the water to a boil slowly, about 45 minutes to 1 hour and simmer another 1 hour, about 2 hours in all. Add water as needed.
  2. Meanwhile, place the lentils in a casserole with 2 quarts water, the whole onion, two halved celery stalks, and salt. Turn the heat to medium high and when it begins to bubble, cook for 30 minutes to 1¼ hour, depending on the age of the lentils. Keep tasting to see when they are done; they should be tender but hold together.
  3. When the lentils are nearly finished cooking, add the spinach and cook 5 minutes. Turn the heat off and drain the lentils when they are between tender and al dente and set aside. Discard the onion and celery.
  4. In a saucepan, heat the olive oil with the prosciutto fat over medium heat, then cook, stirring, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the chopped onion and chopped celery and cook until golden, about 8 minutes, stirring.
  5. Add the lentils and spinach to the sautéed onions and prosciutto fat along with 1½ cups water from the pot the sausages cooked in. Simmer the lentils until the water is absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. If you have accidentally cooked the lentils so they are already soft, do not pour in the water.
  6. Arrange the lentils on a platter. Remove, drain, and untie the sausages. Cut into slices and arrange on top of the lentils, slightly overlapping.
  7. Meanwhile, in a food processor, blend the parsley, basil, garlic, and walnuts until finely chopped. Drizzle in the olive oil in a thin stream. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve the lentils and sausages with the green sauce on the side.


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