New Year in Italy is a celebration like any other; quality time spent with family and friends is at the heart of La Festa di San Silvestro. As we prepare to say goodbye to 2019 and welcome in the New Year, it’s a time to reflect on old values. We can look back at lessons learned over the past 12 months and plan for the future, using traditions to pave the way forward. No matter how dark things may seem at times, there is always a wee ray of light to be found, often shining from the kitchen.

As with Christmas before it, La Festa di San Silvestro is a feast, bringing everyone together around the table to prepare the celebratory meal. Generations work together to make everything from scratch, with absolutely nothing wasted. This time of year is all about love: love of cooking, and love of family and our precious time together.

My mother’s own Christmas and New Year celebrations in 1950s rural Southern Italy were simple affairs – a time that was free of commercialism and breathed genuine devotion. She recalls with fondness gifts of oranges and oven-dried figs. Their home was lit with candles made from animal fat poured into spoons, the wick replaced with the torn petticoats from her grandmother’s skirt. They would huddle round the hearth, cooking chestnuts in the embers, feasting on dried nuts and fruits. Lentils would always be eaten at New Year, to signify prosperity. In the darkness of their simple home shone the love of a family, united around a table that went beyond the mortal significance of a Christmas or New Year gathering.

This year, we’ll toast with Franciacorta, Italian fizz which is aged for two years in the same way as Champagne, and only drunk at special events. Whatever this wonderful time of year brings for us all 70 years later, its spiritual significance lives on. This is a time to pause and reflect; on Christmas past, on New Year still to come, and all the possibilities the next 12 months will bring.

Poached figs, hazelnut cake and dark chocolate sauce by Giovanna Eusebi of Eusebi Deli in Glasgow

Serves 4-6


For the poached figs:

250g figs, halved

200g caster sugar

50g honey

250ml water

1 cinnamon stick

1 clove

1 star anise

1 vanilla pod, split and scraped (keep the pod for the poaching liquor)

Peel and juice of one orange

A pinch of nutmeg

For the hazelnut cake:

225g hazelnuts, blitzed into a fine powder

225g bitter chocolate, blitzed into a crumb

225g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

225g caster sugar

4 large eggs, separated, whites whisked to soft peaks

Flour, for dusting

For the dark chocolate sauce:

150g dark chocolate

60ml double cream

40ml golden syrup

A pinch of Maldon salt


For the poached figs:

1. Place all the ingredients apart from the figs in a medium sized pot. Bring to the boil, then simmer for around 10 minutes.

2. Take the liquor off the heat and drop on the figs. Allow them to cool in the liquid so they absorb the spices.

For the hazelnut cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C.

2. Grease a 20cm round tin with butter and dust with flour.

3. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then whisk in the egg yolks one by one and fold in the hazelnuts and chocolate.

4. Fold in half of the egg whites, then gently fold in the other half, being careful not to over work the cake batter.

5. Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 45 minutes. Use a metal skewer to check the cake; if it is cooked, it will come out clean.

For the dark chocolate sauce:

1. In a small pot, bring the cream up to the boil.

2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the remaining ingredients.

To assemble the dish:

Place a slice of cake on each plate and top with a few poached figs. Finish with the chocolate sauce and a scoop of your favourite gelato or whipped cream.