An Italian menu for good luck in the new year, with coin-shaped lentils for money and sweet oranges for love


As I get older, I find myself growing a bit superstitious, and coming as I do from an Italian family, my superstitions tend to center around food. The Italians have always eaten for luck on New Year's, and in the following menu, I've put my own spin on tradition.

In Tuscany, lentils, since they're coin-shaped, are said to ensure financial security for the coming year; they're often served with sausage, especially the spiced cotechino of Emilia-Romagna. Sicilians serve store-bought pasta on New Year's Day, the theory being that starting the year by spending money will bring in money. Here, I've used the sausage-braising liquid to sauce the pasta, making for an easy but elegant first course.

The ancient Romans gave their friends New Year's offerings of dried figs and dates in honey with a branch of bay leaves, and in Naples, New Year's desserts are still made with honey. Oranges are supposed to bring those who eat them the promise of love. So not only do my desserts incorporate many of the traditional good-luck ingredients (figs, honey, bay leaves, oranges), they're also richly indulgent sweets for a cold winter's day.

Finally, my New Year's Day foods aim at helping me recover from New Year's Eve. I always assume that what we crave when we're hung over is what the body needs: warmth, saltiness, garlic--and a little more wine. Anchovies and olive oil are also at the top of my list. A crisp endive salad with anchovies and lots of lemon will really wake up a Champagne-soaked palate!

Erica De Mane's Pasta Improvvisata will be published by Scribners this spring.