Sep 072016
 

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On this date in 1893 several English ex-pats living in Italy founded the Genoa Cricket & Athletic Club. Cricket was their primary sport but “athletics” included football. By the turn of the century football had overtaken cricket as the predominant sport and by then the club had become the Genoa Cricket and Football Club, and still retains that name (and playing cricket), even though the club is almost exclusively known for football nowadays.

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Since the club was set up to represent England abroad, the original shirts worn by the organization for football were white, the same color as the England national team shirt. At first Italians were not permitted to join the club. Genoa’s sporting events took place in the north-west of the city in the Campasso area, at the Piazza d’Armi.

The names of the founders are listed in their founding document.

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These include Sir Charles Alfred Payton MVO (1843 – 1926) who was an English diplomat and writer. He had been appointed as British consul in Genoa in February of that year. It also included Daniel G. Fawcus (1858 – 1925) who had been a professional football player in England, and an administrator active throughout Europe. His presence accounts for the swift rise of football in the club. It should be remembered that football was an “athletic” sport in England at the time, designed primarily to keep cricketers fit in the off season.

Football in Italy stepped up a notch with the creation of the Italian Football Federation and the Italian Football Championship in 1898. Genoa competed in the first Italian Championship in 1898 at Velodromo Umberto I in Turin. They defeated Ginnastica Torino 2–1 in their first official game on 8 May, before winning the first championship later that day by beating Internazionale Torino 3–1 in extra time.

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Genoa returned for the following season, this time with a few changes. The name of the club was altered to Genoa Cricket & Football Club, dropping the Athletic from its name. A change in shirt color was also in order to reflect the fact that they were starting to loosen ties with England, and began to admit Italians. They changed to white and blue vertical stripes; known in Italy as biancoblu. Genoa won their second title on 16 April 1899, by beating Internazionale Torino 3–1 for the second time. On their way to winning their third consecutive title in 1900 and proving their championship dominance, Genoa beat local rivals Sampierdarenese 7–0; a winning margin which would not be bettered by any team in the league until 1910. The final was secured with a 3–1 win over FBC Torinese.

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The club strip changed again in 1901. Genoa adopted its famous red-navy halves and therefore became known as the rossoblu — these are the colors used to this day. After a season of finishing runners-up to Milan Cricket and Football Club, things were back on track in 1902 with their fourth title. Juventus emerged as serious contenders to Genoa’s throne from 1903 onwards, when for two seasons in a row Genoa beat the Old Lady in the national final.

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Don’t think that cricket has been entirely forgotten, though. Whilst football reigns at the club, they still turn out a cricket side annually. They use the football pitch for the wicket and I wouldn’t say it is the world’s finest – nor the players. Looking at the stands you can also see that locals are not avid fans either. To be fair, I’ve attended cricket matches in England with about the same or fewer in attendance.

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Genoa’s (and surrounding Liguria’s) most famous culinary specialties are its classic pesto and focaccia, both plain – flavored only with olive oil – or topped with onions, olives, sage, cheese, or whatever. Other specialties include filled pasta, such as traditional ravioli and the local pansotti (with a Swiss chard, egg and ricotta filling); corzetti from the Polcevera Valley, a fresh pasta made in the shape of small figure eights (unlike the corzetti of the Aveto and Vara Valleys, fresh pasta discs embossed with symbols and decorations); savory herb pies, such as torta Pasqualina (a puff pastry pie filled with cooked Swiss chard or artichokes, zucchini, spring herbs, eggs and cheese); stuffed (or fried) zucchini flowers, and cima, served in slices and made up of a slim pocket of veal stuffed with minced offal, bread crumbs soaked in broth, spring vegetables, grated cheese, diced mortadella and eggs.

Pesto, more fully, pesto alla genovese, is a sauce originating in Genoa, the capital of Liguria. It traditionally consists of crushed garlic, European pine nuts, coarse salt, basil leaves, Parmigiano-Reggiano  and pecorino sardo (cheese made from sheep’s milk), all blended with olive oil.

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The name is the contracted past participle of the Genoese verb pestâ (Italian: pestare), which means to pound or to crush, in reference to the original method of preparation: according to tradition, the ingredients are crushed or ground in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle. This same Latin root, through Old French, also gave rise to the English noun pestle. Strictly speaking, “pesto” is a generic term for anything that is made by pounding and so the word is used for several pestos in Italy. Nonetheless, pesto alla genovese  remains the most popular pesto in Italy and the rest of the world.

Pesto is thought to have two predecessors in ancient times, going back as far as the Roman age. The ancient Romans used to eat a similar paste called moretum, which was made by crushing garlic, salt, cheese, herbs, olive oil and vinegar together. The use of this paste and how to make it is mentioned in the Appendix Vergiliana, an ancient collection of poems traditionally ascribed to Virgil.

Then singly each o’ th’ garlic heads be strips
From knotty body, and of outer coats
Deprives them, these rejected doth he throw
Away and strews at random on the ground.
The bulb preserved from th’ plant in water doth
He rinse, and throw it into th’ hollow stone.
On these he sprinkles grains of salt, and cheese
Is added, hard from taking up the salt.
Th’ aforesaid herbs he now doth introduce
And with his left hand ‘neath his hairy groin
Supports his garment;’ with his right he first
The reeking garlic with the pestle breaks,
Then everything he equally doth rub
I’ th’ mingled juice. His hand in circles move:
Till by degrees they one by one do lose
Their proper powers, and out of many comes
A single colour, not entirely green

In Virgil’s paste parsley gave it its light green color. The introduction of basil, the main ingredient of modern pesto, occurred in more recent times and is first documented only in the mid-19th century, when gastronomist Giovanni Battista Ratto published his book La Cuciniera Genovese in 1863:

Take a clove of garlic, basil or, when that is lacking, marjoram and parsley, grated Dutch and Parmigiano cheese and mix them with pine nuts and crush it all together in a mortar with a little butter until reduced to a paste. Then dissolve it with good and abundant oil. Lasagne and troffie are dressed with this mash, made more liquid by adding a little hot water without salt.

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Modern Italians buy pesto readymade for simplicity, or else use a blender or food processor at home. Proper cooks still use a mortar and pestle though, because no other method creates the right texture, consistency, and blend of flavors. Here’s the list of ingredients from the winner of the 2012 Genoa Pesto World Championship.

4 bunches of fresh D.O.P. basil from Genova
30 grams (about 2 tablespoons) pine nuts
445-60 grams (about a pound) of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
20-40 grams (about one ounce) of Pecorino cheese, grated
1-2 garlic cloves from Vassalico
10 grams (about 1.5 teaspoons) coarse salt
60-80 cc (1/4 to 1/3 cup) extra-virgin olive oil, D.O.P., from the Italian Riviera

D.O.P. is short for Denominazione di Origine Protetta (“Protected Designation of Origin”) which means that if you want to try to replicate this recipe you’re going to need basil grown in Genoa. Well, you’re going to need a host of ingredients from northern Italy. The main thing is to work quickly because you don’t want the ingredients to oxidize excessively whilst you work.

Rinse the freshly cut basil leaves in cold water and leave them to dry, without rubbing them. Crush the garlic clove and pine nuts in the mortar until smooth; add some of the salt and basil, and pound it some more. (According to the recipe, you should use “a light circular movement of the pestle against the sides). Keep going until the basil drips with a bright-green liquid. Then add the cheese and the oil to blend. Done !! Serve over pasta.

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