How the Italians love a game of tombola, especially at Christmas and on New Year's Eve! Time and again, after you have feasted, out come the cards and the bag or container of numbers. These days the cards come with little plastic shutters that you can slide over your numbers as they are called but at one time pieces of orange peel were used and you ate the oranges during the game. I never used to play "bingo " in Britain, but I can see the attraction of tombola as a family game during these festivities: it is convivial, as it is played around a table; any number of people, of any age, can play; and its fascination may go back to the ancient idea that man's fate is somehow linked to numbers. I had great fun, yesterday and on Sunday night, learning the Italian nicknames for the numbers - I don't even know them in English, apart from "legs 11" and "clickety-click" - and there is a list on the right here if you are interested, though there will be regional and local variations. Some of the names are comical, as in English, whilst others have religious overtones, such as Natale for 25, Santo Stefano, whose day it is today, for 26 and gli anni di Gesù [the age of Jesus] for 33. [How many British people would know that these days, I wonder?] I particularly like "le pantofole del Papa" [the Pope's slippers] for 88! Every now and then, a number would be called as "so-and-so's age" and the speed at which every family member worked out which number it signified astonished me, as I couldn't tell you the age of any of my cousins or second cousins! [So here is yet another indication of the closeness of the Italian family.] A game takes ages to set up, by the way: first there is great debate over who will "call", then another over the stakes, then the "pot" has to be worked out and finally everyone has to decide what number card [s] they want, so they will think aloud back to the last time they won and try to remember their "lucky" card number. So much good-humoured ribbing, reminiscing and fun are to be enjoyed during the playing of this simple game.
Now I want to begin to share with you some of the food I have been lucky enough to have been offered over the past two days: the peperoni in the first picture were dried in the sun during the summer and were then lovingly conserved in oil, strattù [tomato paste] and herbs. Then we have Linda's pasticci di verdure or little vegetable pies, filled with Swiss chard. The crimped edge may remind you of pasties in Britain, but the texture of the pastry is much softer, as the flour used here gives a very different result. The third picture shows a tomasino, a pastry filled with sausage and ricotta. More on the next post!