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This past weekend found my family, not to mention millions of Italians worldwide, glued to those little noisy boxes with screens that under normal circumstances I avoid like the plague.
FIFA World Cup Finals 2006, in Germany, between France and Italy. Nothing less than this momentous event would find me voluntarily watching television. Not only watching, but add to that the fact that we (my children, their significant others and myself) went to Little Italy to watch. We arrived at Bar Azzurri, walking distance from Grace on College Street, at 10:30 am. Keep in mind that the game started at 2:00 pm.
But thank goodness that we did get there early. By noon the place was standing room only. By 1:00, even floor space was at a premium.
How did we fill the hours between then and game time??? We played Scopa (a game similar to Casino), drank world class espresso and ate. The bar itself keeps its kitchen fare simple. There’s usually some kind of pasta, Sunday’s selection was a passable lasagna (the sauce had a distinct burnt undertone), veal and peppers on a bun and the inimitable Italian sausage on a bun. Simple fare but signature in its “italian-ness” so it seemed well suited to the day.
The bar had an air of celebration even before the kick off. It was odd to see regulars, older men who would normally make an espresso last the full length of a game of Briscola, mingle with the young upstarts and carry on serious discussions of games past and what should have been done; girls who usually wear designer jeans wearing the green white and red of the Italian flag; young men with their buzzed and spiked hair, cell phones at the ready; everywhere throughout the room, the Italian colours held place of honour.
In that bar, in fact everywhere fans gathered to watch the game, what mattered most was that we were all Italians.
During the game, the room was darkened but not silent. Each time Italia gained an advantage, the room would erupt in mayhem. Cheers, whistles, shouts, banging, you name it, we did it. Each time the other side gained an advantage, the let down was palpable.
The tone of the afternoon was set for me when they played the national anthem. I’m as staunch a Canadian as they come. In fact, I was born a Canadian and only visited Italia once, at the age of 13. Only one of my four kids has actually been to Italy, yet, when asked, they’ll all identify themselves as Italians. There’s something about national pride that transcends these things. I sang Fratelli d’Italia with each one of those team members and with tears in my eyes.
Despite the controversy that tried to cloud the fact in the days after the game, it was a match well played and fraught with suspense and drama. Right down to the last penalty kick, the game could easily have gone either way. Both teams gave it their all and so did the fans. Sadly, only one team can win.
And me??? Though the victory was a great one for Italy and for its fans, for me the moment that defined the day was when I looked at my youngest son, Anthony, and saw him crying tears of joy. A second generation Canadian of Italian descent, who barely speaks the language, Sunday, 9th July, 2006 will be a memory he will treasure and hold dear always. The day he watched as gli Azzurri claimed for theirs the FIFA World Cup of Soccer. The day a city came together to celebrate the victory. And he watched it all unfold, right in the thick of things.
This is my adaptation of their version, but as close as it gets, without the burnt sauce.Sauce
4 (28 oz.) cans Italian plum tomatoes, crushed
1 cup water
2 tsp. each basil and oregano
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 dried Sicilian devil peppers
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Olive oil to coat the bottom of your pot
Set your sauce pot on high heat till it’s extremely hot and add the oil so that it sizzles immediately. Add the tomatoes and break them up or crush them as much as possible. Use the water to rinse out that cans and add it to the tomatoes in the pot. Add your seasoning, included the peppers and garlic. Stir constantly till it reaches a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer, partially covered, for at least three hours, stirring often. Be careful not to allow it to stick and burn. Near the end of the simmering time, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
Lasagna noodles (your favourite kind are fine)
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 cup grated parmiggiano
3 cups frozen peas
Cook lasagna till al dente, drain and keep in cool water for easy handling.
In your pan, start with a layer of sauce, then a layer of pasta (pat noodles dry with a clean kitchen towel), sprinkle with peas, and cheeses, then coat with sauce and repeat. Continue in this manner until your pan is full, ending with a noodle layer and a further sprinkling of parmiggiano.
Bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Allow to rest 10 to 15 minutes before attempting to cut and serve. Bar Azzurri served it with a couple of pieces of crusty Italian baguette and an extra ladling of sauce over top.
Still basking in the sweet victory, I’ll leave you with these words to ponder:
”It takes but one positive thought when given a chance to survive and thrive; to overpower an entire army of negative thoughts.” -Robert H. Schuller