To mark the new year and wish friends and family prosperity, the ancient Romans would offer a gift of a scarsella, a leather purse full of lentils, with the hope that they would turn into gold coins. Their round shape symbolised prosperity and, once cooked, increased in size, and evoked the idea of abundance. In Italy, on New Year’s Eve this food tradition is still popular. The more lentils you eat, the more the new year will be full of health, luck, and prosperity. This is my wish to you all in this most challenging of years.

Lentil and ham soup with garlic and chilli oil

1x300g smoked ham hock, soaked in water overnight

250g brown lentils, castelluccio or puy

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Piece of dried chilli

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 sticks celery, peeled and finely chopped

1 fresh bay leaf

2 plum tomatoes, peeled and diced

freshly ground black pepper

For the garlic and chilli oil: 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 garlic clove, finely chopped, a crushed dried chilli

Handful finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Make the ham stock by covering the ham hock with about 1½-2 litres fresh cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour or so until the ham is tender.

Remove the ham from the stock and set aside. Check the seasoning of the stock and dilute if it is too salty.

Rinse the lentils in a couple of changes cold water.

Warm 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan.

Add the chopped garlic and chilli and sauté for a few minutes to flavour the oil.

Add the chopped onion and celery and cook in the oil until they are softened.

Now add the drained lentils to the saucepan and cover with the ham stock.

Remove the ham from the bone, take away any excess fat and add the pieces of ham to the soup.

Add the fresh bay leaf.

The liquid should be about 10cm above the lentils, add some boiling water if necessary.

Cover the pot and simmer for about 45 minutes until the lentils are softened and cooked. Add more hot water if required.

Taste the soup, adding black pepper, it should not need extra salt.

Now make the garlic chilli oil:

Add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil to a small saucepan and add a clove of chopped garlic and a crushed chilli. Sauté gently for 5-10 to flavour the oil taking care not to let the garlic blacken.

Pour this taste sensation into the soup and adjust the final flavour.

Serve with finely chopped flat leaf parsley.