An Interview with Bruno Sammartino

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Jack De Leonibus hanging out with Bruno at an event in Pittsburgh, PA.

By Jack De Leonibus

From his humble beginnings as an Italian-born American who devoted his time to becoming a weightlifter to ultimately headlining Madison Square Garden as a professional wrestler, Bruno Sammartino’s penchant for being one of the most popular Italian-Americans in the Pittsburgh region sparked a long-lasting and rewarding career. Pittsburgh has been home to many great athletes—but none loom larger than Sammartino himself.

Born October 6, 1935, Sammartino is best known for being the longest-running champion of the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), holding the title across two reigns for over 11 years—longest in the history of professional wrestling history. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he was one of the most popular American wrestlers of all time. Fans not only adored his mat skills, but his personal charisma and charm as well.

Beyond Delicious: Learning to Cook with Chef Giuseppe Siragusa

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I first met Giuseppe Siragusa a dozen or so years ago at an agriturismo near where I’d gone to spend a quiet week writing. Once I tasted his cooking, I became a regular, whether I was writing or not.

When he left there, I followed him to another agriturismo a few kilometers away, and then a few kilometers further to yet another. It wasn’t a schoolgirl crush, it was the FOOD! I had never experienced anything like it. Having spent the past decade in the culinary paradise that is Rome, I was gastronomically spoiled and nearly impossible to impress. But Giuseppe’s food was something beyond good Italian cuisine.

It was creative, delicious, and so beautifully presented we all took pictures of our dishes before digging in. Whenever friends blew across the Atlantic for a visit, I packed them into the car and dragged them off to Umbria to eat Giuseppe’s food, wherever he was cooking at the time. We started our days with his home-baked pastries and finished them with his molten-chocolate filled cakes. We ate ricotta flan with basil cherry sauce, handmade fettuccine with wild boar sauce, beef stew in red wine with a celeriac puree, perfectly grilled chops. We ate and we ate, and we washed it down with good local wines.

Nothing that good lasts forever, so I was more bereft than surprised when Giuseppe announced that he was moving to Hamburg to create a menu for a restaurant there. It was too far for me to bring friends but the lucky Germans loved it. On Tripadvisor, one ecstatic client wrote, “Can you give more than five stars?”

A couple of years later, I got a phone call from Giuseppe. He was back in Italy and wanted to take me to meet Guido Giusti, the owner of, Casacocò, an estate just outside Rome near Lake Bracciano. It was August. Rome was hot and Giuseppe said we could swim in the pool there.

The place was gorgeous. The light and shade of the lawns, the olive groves, the tree-lined paths, the stone and mosaic pool that seemed to melt into the landscape —and the flowers, my God, the flowers. The air was perfumed with the mingling scents of aromatic herbs, lilac, wisteria and clematis, not to mention thousands of roses. Guido carefully nurtures a garden of 600 rose bushes, exotic varieties, historic varieties, all magnificent.

He wanted Giuseppe to teach cooking classes in the big kitchen he’d built there. They both wanted to know what I thought. So we began to talk. By November, Guido had developed a week-long package vacation— four three-hour cooking classes with Giuseppe, workshops with wine, cheese, and olive oil producers, a guided tour of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, dinner at one of Rome’s best trattorie, a visit to the ancient city of Viterbo, a sunset meal on beautiful Lake Bracciano.

Companions who didn’t want to cook could play golf, take guided nature walks, ride horseback, or loll around the grounds in a hammock. Guests would lodge in one of the two buildings on the estate: the ecologically built Country House, or the rambling old family dwelling, historic Villa Ventosa. And they would eat, cook and then eat more of Giuseppe’s amazing food paired with the appropriate wines.

Giuseppe is fluent in German and his native Italian but not English. That’s where I would come in, interpreting for Giuseppe during the classes.  Within a week, and without any need for persuasion, my besties had signed up to fly over from Los Angeles. We hope new friends will join the party. The week-long event takes place May 22 to May 28, when Guido’s roses will be at the top of their game.

For more information or to book, visit: http://www.inromenow.com/site%20templates/CookingVacationsItaly.html

Giuseppe Siragusa has been creating unforgettable menus for many years — in Umbria at Fattoria di Vibia, Villa Selva and the Entropia Country House, in Rome at the Hotel De La Ville Intercontinental, and the Hotel Belvedere Lavinio, in Nettuno at the Cavallino Bianco, in Latina at Regina Campoverde and Il Portolano, and in Hamburg at Lo Stivale, Il Tinello and La Tana.He has shared his culinary knowledge and skill at the Instituto Professionale in Rome.

Joie Davidow is the author of five published books, a co-founder of the L.A. Weekly newspaper and founder of L.A. Style magazine in Los Angeles. She is currently a writing coach, editor and translator.and webmaster of the site www.InRomeow.com  She lives in Umbria with her Italian greyhound, Diana.

Basil—The Royal Herb

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We came across a great essay written by Frank La Rosa from L’Italo-Americano Newspaper recently. Here’s the piece in its entirety:

Whenever I smell Italian tomato dishes being prepared in the kitchen, I immediately think of basil, or basilico. Italian cooking and the herb basil are inseparable. Basil, or Oncimum basilicum derives from India where it is very highly revered. The Indian “Holy Basil” is used in many religious ceremonies.

In Rome, orators put a leaf of basil in their mouths to give their words sweetness and truth. In fact, the Roman and Christian basilicas take their names from the same root word, the Greek “basilikon,” which means the place of royalty. And of course, there is the area in Italy called Basilicata on the instep of the peninsula.Basil or basilica is one of the most popular and easiest of herbs to grow. It does like warmth, good earth and ventilation.

Cool, foggy weather often causes it to get molds and fungi which appear as whitish spots. So always plant it in a warm, moderately sunny place or as the proverbial “pot of basil.” In this way, you can move the pots around as the weather dictates.   It is probably best to buy six-packs of basil at the nursery centers.

Carefully lift the seedlings from the pack and plant them in separate pots using a very well draining potting mix with half parts of peat and crushed pumice. Mix into this some rich garden soil. This mix will hold water but will not become soppy so as to encourage fungus and root rot. If you want to sow basil from seed, (as many people do) use the same potting mix, cover the seeds ever so lightly with a sprinkling of earth, water from the bottom of the pot (by placing the pot in a container of water), and keep the pot in a warm place. The seeds take 7-14 days to sprout, at 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are many wonderful varieties of basil to choose from, and they can now be bought as seedling plants almost everywhere. The most popular are the large leaved types; “Genovese,” “Napolitana,” and “Italian Large Leaf.” These are very tasty on Italian dishes and good for pesto as well. There are some good large leaf purple types that are beautiful; “Amethyst Improved,” “Dark Opal,” and “Purple Ruffles.”   The small leaved basils are also available at garden centers. There is “Fino Verde” which I grew up hearing it called “the good basil,” “Spicy Bush,” the very smallest basil, and “Fine Leaved Superbo.”

These fine leaved types are my favorites because they are so piquant and rich, but in the growing of them they do tend to need a bit more warmth and not too much watering.For a change in varieties, do try the S. E. Asian “Thai Basil” and the large, perennial “African Blue.” These are both attractive as garden plants and delicious in various kinds of ethnic cooking.

I really enjoy “African Blue” at my favorite Vietnamese pho restaurant.Basilico is, for me and for many Italian cooks, the royal herb, and you can tell an Italian backyard or home by the pots of basil growing there. My grandparents adored basil, and very few, if any, dishes were cooked in their homes without basilico.

The Evolution of the Stove-Top Espresso Maker

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Italians consume over 70 million cups of coffee per day in 200,000 coffee bars. In Italy, you’ll find a coffee bar in just about every city neighborhood and in every village. Coffee bars are known as a place to get together and discuss topics such as soccer and politics, play cards, and just people-watch.

Of all the types of coffee Italians drink, espresso is the most popular. While many will rely on a professional barista to create the perfect cup, thanks to manufacturers like Bialetti, Italians and many Italian-Americans can enjoy their own cup of espresso at home.

And did you know that the idea for the home-based, stove-top espresso maker actually came from a washing machine?

During the 1920s, Alfonso Bialetti, the owner of a small workshop manufacturing metal household goods, watched as women from his hometown in Crusinallo washed clothes in a sealed boiler with a small central pipe. This pipe would draw up the soapy water from the bottom of the boiler and spread it out over the laundry. Bialetti wondered if he could model an espresso-type of coffee maker after this very same concept.