Sunday, June 10, 2012

Barbecue, the Beautiful Game and the Azzurri

 It’s been some time since I last posted. The series of earthquakes that has rocked Emilia Romagna since May has thrown my schedule to the wind. With every earthquake I have taken flight with the children to the mountains. But that’s another story, one that doesn’t belong here and one that I have written about elsewhere – if you want to read more, visit:

No one knows who coined the phrase ‘The Beautiful Game’, but with Euro 2012 underway in Poland and Ukraine, football is on everyone’s mind here. The Azzurri – the boys in blue – make their debut this evening against one of the tournament favourites, defending World and European champions, Spain. The feeling here is not exactly one of optimism, though that’s not surprising. Football – soccer if you prefer – in Italy has always been taken with a healthy degree of seriousness. It’s never just a game – it’s much more than that. Beppe Severgnini once wrote that ‘you cannot claim to know Italians until you have seen them at work inside a soccer stadium’.

One of the most memorable moments in my life was the day my father took me to my first football game. I was barely tall enough to see over the railings. It was the European Cup leg between the legendary Italian club Juventus and the little known Glentoran, a local Irish squad. The match was played at the Oval in Belfast. I think we were the only Juventus fans in a green sea of 25,000 Glentoran supporters. That didn’t deter my father. Football was different back then – the atmosphere was electric, spirited but good-natured. Casio scored for Juventus about 30 minutes into the first half. My brother and I broke the silence, practically exploding with joy – my father, perhaps wisely, was less vocal in his celebration. Five minutes before the end of the game Juventus conceded a penalty. Dino Zoff, the legendary Italian goalkeeper, quickly put an end to any possibility of a fairy-tale ending for the Irish when he saved Feeney’s shot. But still, the Irish did well, managing to stave off the much-anticipated slaughter, losing by only one goal. I have to point out though that they weren’t so lucky when they travelled to the Stade Communale in Turin for the return leg, where they conceded 5 goals to the Italians.    

We’ve met tonight’s opponents 29 times at international level. There’s not much in it. Italy’s won 10, drawn 11 and lost 8 times. But anyone who knows anything about football will tell you that although the Italian squad has been under-performing of late, and although the Spanish are on a high, the boys in blue are never to be discounted. They’re not considered the second most successful team in the history of the game for nothing.

Food and football have much in common in Italy. Everyone’s passionate about them and everyone has an opinion. I’m watching the first half of the game with friends around the corner in the bar. Assuming all’s going well, we’re relocating to the living room at half time. Ellie’s under instructions to keep an eye on the score line. Assuming all’s going well, she’s serving bruschetta over the second half. The post game discussions will take place around the BBQ in the garden. Hopefully when it’s over we’ll be celebrating, not commiserating. But however it turns out, football makes Italians hungry – I bought in a good supply of meat!  

P.S. Next week Italy meets the Republic of Ireland in the second leg of their group matches. Although I’m a Belfast boy, my loyalties aren’t divided, least, not quite. At the bar I’ll publicly be rooting for the Italians, but at the same time, if things don’t turn out as expected, I still remember the words of Amhrán na bhFiann – that’s “The Soldiers’ Song”, the Irish national anthem, for anyone that didn’t study Gaelic at school! I might even whip up a pot of Irish stew... just to show there’s no hard feelings. Afterall, it’s only a game!

Italian Barbecue Kebabs

400g Luganega sausage, cut into chunks
400g pork loin, diced
2 thickly cut slices of pancetta, cut into 2.5cm dice
1 large red pepper, seeds removed, flesh diced
1 courgette trimmed and diced into rounds
A few sprigs of thyme leaves, chopped
A sprig of rosemary, chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

To make the kebabs, thread a piece of pancetta onto the skewer, followed by a piece of pork loin, pepper, courgette and then sausage. Repeat this sequence once more, finishing the end of the kebab off with a piece of pancetta. This amount of ingredients should make about 8 kebabs. You’ll want two kebabs per person, unless extra hungry.

To cook, lightly brush the kebabs with olive oil and sprinkle generously with rosemary and thyme. Season each kebab with salt and pepper, then place on a hot griddle or over barbecue coals. Cook the kebabs for 10 to 15 minutes, turning and basting regularly. When cooked, sprinkle with a little extra thyme and a drizzle of olive oil and serve with more Mediterranean vegetables.


  1. Nice recipe!

    I'm so sad for you and having to flee from the earthquakes!

  2. I enjoyed reading your account of the earthquake. I can't imagine.

    So, who do you cheer for amongst the Italian teams? I once asked a taxi driver in Rome if he cheered for Lazio and I thought he was going to dump me off where we were!

    1. Jane, I've always supported Juventus and, of course, the National squad. We did pretty well last night. Everyone was expecting Spain to win as they're the tournament favourites but we held our own and walked away with a 1-1 draw. Sadly, my former Irish compatriots didn't do so well. They lost 3-1!

  3. What beautiful kabobs. I was just thinking tonight that simplicity and fresh ingredients are the key to good food. I hope your family is doing well. :)

  4. Simplicity is key, I could not agree more with you ... and we are all doing fine now. The earthquakes seemed to have calmed down. Thanks for looking in!

  5. Mario, well I won't tell you who my husband supports since you are a Juve fan! Calcio is a national obsession in Italy. My husband loves to read the 'gazzetta' and discuss with his mates what's going on with the national squad and mostly serie A. I still don't fully understand the game (when I was growing up my dad would mostly watch rugby, cricket and tennis). Are you pleased with the 1 - 1 result? Courtesy of the Italia mag subscription email service I have already read your other article. Really moving. I hope your kids aren't too worried about it. Thank goodness it is school holidays. Love the look of those BBQ kebabs :)

    1. I'm happy with a draw Cathy. Italians seldom start a tournament well, coming to their own in the latter stages when it really counts. I bet your hubbie's a Napoli fan!!! I won't laugh, I'm partial to them myself!

    2. No, not Napoli. Inter! It's a good thing I don't like or follow football.

  6. My mouth is watering as I am scrolling through your site. Everything is gorgeous and makes me want to come back to Italy so badly!!!

  7. We just bought a barbeq grill...i can't wait to make these kabobs! They look delicious!!!
    - abeer @

  8. Just checking up on you, Mario. Been awhile since you've posted!

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