Italian A Day – Charlie Del Vecchio

By Christina Del Vecchio Sizemore

Charlie Del Vecchio

My father, Charlie (Marcellino) Del Vecchio was born January 9, 1911 in Rome, New York. Both of his parents had emigrated from southern Italy (Campania) at the turn-of-the-century, so he was a first generation born Italian American.

Upon graduating from the Rome Free Academy, he worked for a short period for a photographic studio in Watertown, NY. Then, in 1930, he moved to Washington, DC to work for Harris & Ewing. At that time, Harris and Ewing was the largest photographic studio in DC and took the official portraits of Presidents and other officials from Roosevelt to Eisenhower. It was at Harris and Ewing that my father really learned his trade.

In 1934, my father married my mother- who was also a first generation born Italian American-  at the Italian Church of Washington, Holy Rosary, which just this past year celebrated its first hundred years. In 1935, my started a new job with the Washington Post, where he remained for the next 43 years, garnering recognition and awards all along the way.

In 1961, he was elected President of the White House News Photographers Association, a recognition of which he was extremely proud. At the Association’s annual banquet, President John F. Kennedy joked about the fact that he was surrounded by Italians – not only was my dad Italian, but so too was his predecessor and the president-elect.

Charlie Del Vecchio 2

In 1968, my father had his first heart attack. Even though his health was not the best, he loved his job and would not retire from the Post, for another 10 years, in 1978.

When my father passed away in 1980, the Post published several editorials about him over two consecutive days – something not normally done for one of their employees. In one of these editorials, the following was said:

In the course of his years with the Post, he took photographs of just about every kind of event that occurs in the Washington area. He covered the White House, Capitol Hill, sports, civil disturbances, various crimes, including gambling in southern Maryland, the weather, sunrises and sunsets, beauty pageants and people from every walk of life.

My father was a great photographer and a very proud Italian American. In 2002, we donated more than 5,000 of his photographs to the Newseum in Washington, where they now reside for posterity.

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Un Minuto con…

By Rosario Mariani,


Vesuvius, Pompeii, Herculaneum and the festival of Vulcanalia

Every August 23, an annual festival of Vulcanalia was held in Roman times to celebrate and honor Vulcan, the god of fire, which was both beneficial and a hindrance to mankind. The holiday occurred during the harvest season, and all celebrations were conducted outside the city limits in order to avoid any harm to the area.

People prayed for protection against the destructive forces of Vulcan, but also celebrated the harvest and the all good things came along with it.  As usual the festivities went very well on August 23, 79AD, but just one day after the celebration, Mount Vesuvius  responded fiercely by erupting.

In early morning, a cloud of ash and pumice 12 miles high shot from the central cone.  Midday became like midnight as the city of Pompeii, just 5 miles from the volcano, was covered with six inches of ash and pumice within the first hour.

Herculaneum was even closer to the mountain, but being upwind of the volcano it was covered with a light coating of ash. Around midnight, the column from the volcano collapsed and the mountainside was filled with a glowing avalanche of boiling gases, pumice and rocks which flowed over Herculaneum burying the city under 65 feet of hot volcanic matter. The town was sealed as if a layer of concrete had been poured over it.

On your next visit to Pompeii, visit the ruins and reflect on the destructive forces that took place 1936 years ago, but also remember that this area became the most fertile land in all of Italy as well.


Did you Know?

 In 1499, the Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojedo, led an expedition along the Caribbean coast of South America, and his navigator, Amerigo Vespucci, observed that many Indian huts were built on stilts over water.  This reminded him of Venice so he called the area Veneziola, a little Venice which later became Venezuela.

Rosario Mariani is the owner/CEO of Europe By Choice, which promotes travel to Italy and other select European countries. He has more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, previously serving as Director of Italy Product for Italiatour and Club ABC Tours, and also in other positions with EuroFly, Alitalia and Air France.

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Italian A Day: Tony Durpetti


By Michelle Durpetti

I would love to nominate my father, Tony Durpetti, owner + proprietor of legendary Chicago steakhouse Gene & Georgetti as an “Italian a Day” feature. Started in 1941 by Gene Michelotti (Durpetti’s father in law) and Alfredo “Georgetti” Federighi, Gene & Georgetti is a family owned and operated restaurant for almost 74 years.

Tony is a born and bred Chicagoan. He is a third generation Italian (his family originates from the Marche region). Born in 1944 to simple beginnings, Tony began working at the age of 9, and hasn’t looked back since. He served his country in the mid 1960’s, spending two years in Germany. In 1969, he married Marion Michelotti.

Tony began his career in radio advertising at that time with McGavern Guild radio, a national radio advertising firm, quickly moving through the ranks to Vice President in the early 80’s. In 1986, he started his own company, Durpetti & Associates and was continuously recognized as one of the top executives in his field. Durpetti & Associates grew to 12 offices nation wide and broke sales records that no one has matched since.


Upon his father in law’s death in 1989, Tony and his wife Marion purchased Gene & Georgetti from Ida, Gene’s wife so that it would remain in the family. After seven years of managing both the restaurant and his nationally recognized company, Durpetti retired from radio after 30 years to run the restaurant full time.

A dedicated philanthropist, Tony + his wife support numerous charities including Common Threads, Hephzibah Children’s House, and The Chicago Hunter Derby. He is an active support of his community and supports many civic organizations. He is especially proud of his Italian heritage, the facility tradition and entrepreneurial spirit that Gene & Georgetti is known for. He credits his mother for being a charitable inspiration from a very young age (she was known in their River North neighborhood for assisting newly arriving immigrants with the transition to Chicago, and constantly welcomed those who were hungry or in need of assistance into their home for meals).


The joint civic committee of Italians Americans have recognized him as their humanitarian of the year, and he has served as the honorary chairman to Chicago’s annual Columbus Day parade. This week, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s annual Grand Chef’s Gala awarded their inaugural Jean Banchet “Chicago Classic” lifetime achievement award to Gene & Georgetti.

Tony is all heart. He has integrity and kindness. He is a great leader, motivator and supporter of humanity. He is also a survivor and an eternal optimist – three years ago an infection of unknown origin settled in his lungs and left him on life support for nine days. After three months of therapy, he was up walking and constantly setting new goals to reach during his recovery process. He has an indomitable will,  and is one of the most generous spirits that I have had the privilege to know, and I believe he would do your “Italian A Day” series very proud!

For more information, please visit (all of the history of the restaurant and our family is available there).

Posted in Chicago, Italian, Italian A Day, Italian American, National Italian American Foundation, NIAF, Restaurants | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Un Minuto con…

By Rosario Mariani,

“Torna a Surriento”:

The song “Torna a Surriento” was written by Ernesto De Curtis in 1902, and the lyrics were composed by his brother Giambattista. Growing in popularity over the years, the song has been sung by performers as diverse as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Enrico Caruso, Elvis Presley and Mario Lanza.

Claude Aveling wrote the English language lyrics of the song, titled “Come Back to Sorrento”, which was later re-arranged to set the lyrics for Elvis Presley.  In 1961 it was re-titled “Surrender” and went on to become a number one hit.

It is said that De Curtis composed the song on the terrace of the Imperial Hotel Tramontano at the request of Mr. Guglielmo Tramontano, who was also the Mayor of Sorrento, to commemorate the stay by Italy’s Prime Minister, Giuseppe Zanardelli.

The song is a plea to Zanardelli to keep his promise to help Sorrento build a sewerage system. The song reflects the beauty of the city’s great surroundings and the love and passion of its citizens.

I remember visiting Sorrento and standing on the terrace of the Tramontano. Overlooking the Bay of Naples, I sipped  a Campari and soda and marveled at how easily the Italians are inspired, even by a sewage system.


Did you know?

Months that start with a Sunday always has a Friday 13th.

Triskaidekaphobia – fear of the number 13.

Rosario Mariani is the owner/CEO of Europe By Choice, which promotes travel to Italy and other select European countries. He has more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, previously serving as Director of Italy Product for Italiatour and Club ABC Tours, and also in other positions with EuroFly, Alitalia and Air France.

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The Truth Behind “Italian Wedding Soup”

By Gabriella Mileti, NIAF Director of Programs

The mountainous regions of Abruzzo and Molise in Southern Italy are particularly rich in certain vegetables such as cardoons (similar to artichokes), fennel, salad greens like endive and chicory, and wild herbs such as dandelions and nettles.

All of these vegetables and greens are gathered in the fields during the spring and made into tasty soups, such as zuppa di scarola , also known as zuppa maritata (or minestra maritata). But, in American, you may know it as “Italian wedding soup.”

Yet, if you go to Italy, I can 100% guarantee you will never see this soup served at weddings. In fact, Italians will have no idea what you’re talking about.

So where is the disconnect? It’s all in the words.

The word maritata is the dialect word for “married,” since zuppa maritata is the marriage of the ingredients that go well together- whether it’s vegetables and beans, or vegetables and meatballs.

So, Italian wedding soup is the mistranslation of zuppa maritata, literally meaning married soup.

Posted in Cooking, Italian, Italian Wedding Soup, Italy, Minestra Maritata, Soup, Zuppa | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Un Minuto con…

By Rosario Mariani,

pupo italiano

Pezzo Novanta

Believe it or not!

In the movie, “The Godfather,” Vito Corleone implied that a “Pezzo Novanta,” was a person who pulled the strings and exerted lots of power – A Big Shot!

Coeleone to his son Michael:

I never wanted this for you…I thought that when it was your time, that you would be the one to hold the strings. Senator Corleone. Governor Corleone. Somethin’.”

Another meaning could have originated when referring to a 90 caliber pistol over a 45 caliber, in order to make certain the fire power was overwhelming.

The meaning I like best is the one I heard on one of my trips to Palermo, when I purchased un “Pupo Siciliano,” (see photo of 45 cm pupo). When the puppeteers were staging a show, they dressed up the puppets to represent either the common folks and soldiers, or the very powerful individuals that everybody feared or respected.

Puppeteers used 45 cm pupi (puppets), but when they introduced the powerful character, puppeteers turned to their assistant and say, “Dammi un Pezzo da Novanta,” (a 90 cm pupo).


Roman Proverb

If you are chasing 2 rabbits, you’ll catch none.

Rosario Mariani is the owner/CEO of Europe By Choice, which promotes travel to Italy and other select European countries. He has more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, previously serving as Director of Italy Product for Italiatour and Club ABC Tours, and also in other positions with EuroFly, Alitalia and Air France.

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Italian A Day – Joe Marvullo

Joe Marvullo in Pompeii in the 1970s

Joe Marvullo in Pompeii in the 1970s

By Diana Luchko, niece of Joe Marvullo

“Where there is light there is color and where there is color there is Joe Marvullo”
- Norma Quarles, CNN Arts Editor

Renowned photographer Joe Marvullo is widely recognized as a leader in the ever-changing realm of images and design. His styles were both highly charged with color dynamics in his well-concentrated studies of destinations and in his more subtle romantic atmospherics of moods with a feeling of place in exotic locales.

Born in the Bronx, in 1946 – the son of first generation Italian Americans Frank and Vincenza (Martini) Marvullo- Marvullo’s love of the arts began at a young age. He received a children’s art scholarship to the Museum of Modern Art and went on to attend The High School of Art and Design and then The Cooper Union, majority in Fine Art, all in New York City. He was awarded an Honorary Masters Degree in Science from Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California.

Former President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office with Joe Marvullo's painting, "Sax and Stripes."

Former President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office with Joe Marvullo’s painting, “Sax and Stripes.”

By his early twenties, Marvullo enjoyed a career as a jazz musician and as an art director for optics and imaging company, Nikon. While working for Nikon, Marvullo’s interest in photography was cultivated. Photographing the turbulent events and people of New York in the 1960s, Marvullo had found his forte and would go on to become an international photographer.

He became the President and CEO of Photomontage, and international multimedia and consulting firm to the photographic, digital, publishing and travel markets. For 30 years, he operated studios in New York City and Bucks County, Penn. Frequent visits to family in Bucks County gave way to a new chapter in his life and the big city photographer found himself choosing the peace and tranquility of life in Pennsylvania to spend his remaining years.

Joe Marvullo's "Sax and Stripes"

Joe Marvullo’s “Sax and Stripes”

Marvullo’s impressive resume could fill volumes, but a few achievements stand out among the rest:

  • In 1984, he published his first book, Improving Your Color Photography, and in 1989, published his second book, Color Vision.
  • He was the former Editor-in-Chief and Creative Director of the widely acclaimed breakthrough photojournalism magazine PhotoPro, as well as the chief consultant and promoter for PhotoProExpo, a photo/imaging fair held for several years in Washington, D.C.
  • One of Marvullo’s most noted photographs, “Sax and Stripes Forever,” was presented to President Bill Clinton and hung in the alcove to the Oval Office, during the Clinton Administration. Marvullo was also a special White House picture correspondent.
  • Marvullo was a contributing editor Archaeology Magazine, with a monthly photo column and feature called, “About Photography,” writing on sites around the world, from Guatemala to Jordan.
  • For 14 years, Marvullo taught a course, “Principles of Photography,” at the Fashion Institute of Technology, SUNY, in New York City.
Joe Marvullo on the set of Mad Magazine in the 1960s

Joe Marvullo on the set of Mad Magazine in the 1960s

For more information on Marvullo’s life and to see more of his photographs, visit the Facebook page created in his memory by Luchko, at

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Un Minuto con…

By Rosario Mariani,

Photo Source: Tasting Table

Photo Source: Tasting Table

Pasta alla Norma

In Sicily, many restaurants serve Pasta alla “Norma.”

Catania’s own Vincenzo Bellini (1801 -1835), who was the quintessential composer of the Italian Bel Canto, composed the opera “Norma” which premiered with great success at Milan’s La Scala.

The story goes that in Catania, after Bellini’s friends saw the opera, they were so impressed that they started comparing anything great to their friend’s opera.  If something was excellent it was said to be “una vera Norma” (“a real Norma”) Subsequently, friends began to enjoy a great pasta dishes made with melanzana (eggplant) fried and cut in cubes, tomato sauce, basil and the salted ricotta shaved over the top.  This dish was so sublime that it was una vera “Norma” Siciliana. Hence pasta alla Norma.

When in Sicily next or at your local restaurant enjoy this simple but tasty dish and give homage to Vincenzo Bellini. Don’t forget to sip down some local Duca di Salaparuta wine. They go great together!

Vincenzo Bellini

Vincenzo Bellini

Che Faccia!

“Losing Face” & “Straight Laced”—

In the late 1700’s, personal hygiene left much room for improvement. As a result, many women and men had developed acne scars by adulthood. The women would spread bee’s wax over their facial skin to smooth out their complexions.

When they were speaking to each other, if a woman began to stare at another woman’s face she was told “mind your own bee’s wax.” Should the woman smile, the wax would crack, hence the term “crack a smile.” Also, when they sat too close to the fire, the wax would melt and therefore the expression “losing face.” Ladies wore corsets that laced up in the front. A tightly tied lace was worn by a proper and dignified lady as in “straight laced.”

Rosario Mariani is the owner/CEO of Europe By Choice, which promotes travel to Italy and other select European countries. He has more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, previously serving as Director of Italy Product for Italiatour and Club ABC Tours, and also in other positions with EuroFly, Alitalia and Air France.

Posted in Culture, Food, Italian, Italy, Sicily, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Italy’s Ancient Table

the breadmakers An early portrait of Pompeii bakers

the breadmakers An early portrait of Pompeii’s bakers

Text and Photos By Lauren Birmingham Piscitelli,

An endless story, Pompeii attracts travelers to the ruins by Vesuvius – the world’s most dangerous volcano.

Buon  giorno, sei pronto!” This  is Signor  Gennaro, he’s an expert historian and  guide  on the ruins of Pompeii and has been leading visitors  here for the last 30 years. Dressed for the occasion and wearing comfortable walking shoes, sporty sunglasses and an  umbrella  to protect  against  the  shimmering sun, he begins our tour by handing me an elaborate  map of Pompeii. We enter  the ruins,  a UNESCO World Heritage  site at Porta  Marina and he quickly points out the Terme Suburane—a thermal bath on our left. We continue  along the via Marina  and instantly  you can see what life was like before  Vesuvius  violently  erupted on August 24, 79 A.D.

Until the  eruption, Pompeii was  a rich  and  prosperous hub  with traders,  merchants  and   travelers. It  was  also  a  cosmopolitan city populated with  a  sophisticated  society including the  Romans, who flocked here for their sun-drenched vacations.

After  Vesuvius  erupted,   the  Roman   city  remained  buried   and undiscovered  for almost  1,700 years, until  excavation began in 1748. The excavations that followed  and  continue today  provide insight into life during the Roman Empire.

We walk  along  the  via Abbondanza, an  organized  street  system lined with polygonal stone,  and  come to the Foro or city center.  It’s a  majestic  place  lined  with  columns  and  arches  leaving  you  only to imagine  its importance in ancient  times.  We pass  ancient  villas, temples, marketplaces and  bathhouses all exotically  named: Casa del Fauno (the  God  of dance), Casa  dell  Venere  in  Conchiglia (the  God of Venus  in her  sea shell)  and  the  Villa dei Misteri (villa of mysteries) depicting the magnitude of a culture that existed  over 2000 years ago.

Historians note  that Pompeii was founded around the sixth century by the  Osci  and  then captured by the  Romans in  80BC.  It took  its name from the Oscan  word pompe, for the number five, because it was composed of five hamlets.

“It was a bustling  city of lawyers, bankers,  doctors,  writers,  wine makers and  philosophers. People were  social,  liberated and  worked hard while  enjoying life. Eating, drinking, relaxing and  being entertained were very important in their culture,” Signor Gennaro explains.

“For example,  the  ancient  people  that  existed  here  started  their day  with  breakfast or jentaculum. The  upper class  ate  bread, honey, ricotta cheese, fruit,  bread and  olives, while honey  and  ricotta were fed to children for their nutritional value. At midday everyone stopped for lunch or  prandium (similar to  the  Italian word  pranzo) and  it  was  served  at a  thermopolium.”  His  Neapolitan dialect lets me know that he is from this part of southern Italy.

The   thermopoliums  were   snack   bars   where   lunch, snacks and wine were sold. The word thermopolium dates back to ancient Greek and translates to cook shop. Because lunches  were  quick,  light  and  always  eaten  outside  of home, the  thermopliums were a popular place  where everyone gathered. There were about 200 prosperous bar cafes of this kind  at the time  of the eruption.

Ancient Remnants - Columns and ruins still stand.

Ancient Remnants – Columns and ruins still stand.

As we walk along the via Fortuna by the Arco Onorario, Signor Gennaro  points  out the largest  thermopolium in the  ruins. “The  thermopoliums were  L  shape, built   of mortar and  stone and  had  a flagstone countertop. Built into  the  countertop  were  earthenware  storage   spaces called dolias where food was stored,” he says.

“A cauponae  was different  from  a thermopolium,”  he explains.  “They  were   l’osterias  that served   full  course cenam or dinner. Everyone, at home or eating out, dined at 6 p.m. and  the meal included six or seven courses starting with  soup  and  continuing with  meat,  fish,  vegetables and  fruits—both fresh  and  dried, olives, cheese  and  cake. Dessert or mensa seconda (literally meaning the second meal)  was  always  the  finale  and  included  sweet  cakes made with  anise  seed and  drenched in honey,  fruitcakes, puddings, eggs with sweet sauce, and sweet cheeses. Wine was always served  at each meal,” he adds.

The  poor  family’s food  was  different   and  included porridge,  barley,   millet  or  wheat  and   leftovers. Light soups made with lentils, beans or chickpeas were served for lunch, and  dinners included porridges or soups.

“Let’s  walk to the  Vicolo del Panottiere, the  street  of the  bread makers or panifici.” As we enter the  quarter immediately  you see dome-shaped ovens built into stone walls.  “The  ancients ate  bread at every  meal  and  it was plentiful. The panificio was a daily stop for everyone—rich or poor,” he says.

Bread  bakeries  had   their  own   mills,   ground  their grains,  baked  the  bread  and  sold  it  onsite.  Bread  was made with   flour   and   yeast and   baked in  large   round shapes that were scored  on top (before being  cooked) that marked it into  eight  equal  pieces.  This allowed the  loaves to bake  evenly without cracking open.  The markings also carved  out  equal  and  individual portions for  the  baker, who would later sell it to customers  lined up at the door. Families in general bought their bread and did not make it at home because not everyone had an oven. Bread bakers also stamped  their emblem  on each loaf guaranteeing its origin  and  tied it in a string  for easy carrying.  Focaccia and  pita  bread   were  also  popular.   The  lower  classes couldn’t  afford  bread  made  with  yeast, so they  bought and  ate  unleavened flatbread such  as  pita  bread. Bread dough was also fried  and  rubbed with  olive oil and  spices like the  pizzette of today.  Bread was a main staple in the food  culture. Pompeii had  thirty-three prosperous bread bakeries in operation at the time of the eruption.

Modern Artisan- Gennaro Calabrese with his artwork

Modern Artisan- Gennaro Calabrese with his artwork

The  food of Pompeii  was very vibrant  thanks  to  the fertile slopes of Vesuvius and  its micro-climate. The sea air and  rain  kept  the  terrain moist and  the  mountains in the  backdrop held  the  moisture and  the  sun’s warmth in. Vegetables and  fruits  grew  abundantly and were consumed by all.

Vineyards   and   wine   production  made Pompeii  the most important commercial center for its wine  trade. Wine  was an important part of  the  food  culture, and drinking wine was a very democratic  practice enjoyed by all—women, slaves and the lower classes.  It was  also  part of their religion, as people  worshiped Bacchus, the god of wine, for healthy harvests.

The  wines  of  Campania   were  so  good that they were considered  the wines of the emperors. But  the  wine  of this  time  was not fermented in  the  same  way  it  is today  and was very strong. In order to correct the wine, it was boiled or blended  with sea water and was even mixed with honey and was called muslum. In  colder   months, the   wine   was seasoned with orange zest and spices, served warm and  was called  punch caldi.  Wine  was stored in amphoraes, which were tall, large earthenware vessels that were  tapered at the bottom.  Each  amphorae was stamped  with the wine maker’s emblem  insuring  its origin—very similar to the modern DOP  or domain of production that we know of today.

Pliny  the Elder, a historian and  author during   the  period  of  Pompeii’s  prosperity, wrote  extensively on wine in the Naturalis Historia.  There he names the grape varieties: Greco,  Fiano, Aglianico, Piedirosso, Sciascinoso,   Coda   di   Volpe,   Caprettona and  Falanghina. Modern-day historians confirmed  that  Pliny’s grapes were the same varieties that were  painted in  frescoes  that were found in Pompeii, based on their shape and  root  print. The  same  grape varieties are grown in Campania today.   “In Vino Veritas,” a  famous  quote  by Pliny,  translates to  “in wine there is truth,” Gennaro smiles.

Food    was   just  as   important  as   wine, he   adds.   One   glimpse  into   Apicious, the ancient  Roman  cookbook, and   you’ll  see the    many    ingredients  and    the    methods of preparation that were used. They ate cabbage, lettuce, arugula, chicory, thistles, asparagus,  pumpkin, squash and citrus fruits including lemons. They consumed lots of vegetables—gourds,  sprouts,   cauliflower, leeks, horseradish, watercress, carrots, celery, garlic, onions, poppy, chard, leeks, turnips, watermelons, cucumbers, beans, horseradish, cardons, nettle, parsnips, capers and  mallow. Nuts such  as  walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and   pine   nuts were   used   in  almost  every recipe.    Olives   and    olive   spreads    were also popular. Spices were used and herbs extensively and included oregano, basil, mint, nutmeg, laurel, cloves, mustard, pepper, coriander, cumin and  fennel.

The ancients were great fruit growers who also dried pears, figs, raisins, cherries, pears, grapes  and  apples  in  the  summer  to  carry them through the  winter, Gennaro says. “Dates were the only food that was imported,” he notes. Signor Gennaro recites just about every food imaginable  that you would find in their kitchen.

Historian and Guide - Signor Gennaro leads guests through the ruins of Pompeii

Historian and Guide – Signor Gennaro leads guests through the ruins of Pompeii

Another    important  cooking   ingredient was  garum.  It  was  a  spicy fish  sauce  that came   from   a  process  of  layering  fish  and salt and  putting it in the  sun  to dry for three months. Once fermented, the liquid that was extracted was called  garum. “People  then bought garum in  large  quantities that were made  by the  garum  artisans  in Pompeii;  it was a prosperous business. Garum was often mixed  with  wine  and  called  oenogarum, diluted with  water and  called  hydrogarum, and   blended  with   vinegar  and   called oxygarum,” he says.

With  the  city’s proximity to  the  sea, octopus, squid, mullet, sea  bass,  snails  and prawns  were eaten  in abundance. Fish  was grilled,   boiled, salted,  smoked, pickled, stuffed and even made into patties. Pork, poultry, hare,   pigeons,  duck,   figpeckers (a type of bird), flamingo and  ostrich were stuffed  or  cooked  with  prunes or  red  fruits and  seasoned with  honey.  Honey and  wine were used  to flavor food, while  salt was used to preserve it. Defrutum and  sapa,  cooked wines,  were  also used  in ancient recipes  as a sweetener.

The   concept   of   farm-raised   fish   was already  in practice  and  people  bred  fish in their water fountains  for cooking. Although some people raised their own food products, they also bought them at the macellum or market.

As our day in Pompeii comes to an end, we pass  the  Temple of Venus  before  heading to the  exit. It’s a majestic temple overlooking a field of rosemary. The Goddess of Venus  was considered mother of the  universe, love and beauty.  She was highly worshiped because she   was   born  from   the   sea,   and   the   sea allowed Pompeii’s rich trade.

After  a long  day walking the  ruins Signor Gennaro  invites me to lunch at a Pompeiano restaurant. “Let’s try the ancient tasting menu at il Principe, the Michelin star restaurant in the center of Pompeii,” he says. It includes dishes   like  uova  di  quaglia   all’Oxigarum (quail eggs in garum sauce) and calamaro ripieno su cream du cipolla caramellata, defrutum e fave (calamari stuffed  with  fava beans, cream of onion and  reduced vinegar sauce)  and  la cassata di Opiontis dalla  villa di  Poppea  (sweet cheese   cake  with   honey and  candied fruit). “You’ll be eating like a gladiator!” Gennaro  smiles.

The Recipes

Bread Salad

Bread Salad

1    loaf of good quality bread

7    tablespoons mild vinegar

7    tablespoons water

2 ⁄ 3   cup mozzarella, grated

2   cups diced tomatoes

3   garlic cloves

Pinch of black peppercorns

1    small sprig mint

1    large bunch fresh coriander

2    tablespoons olive oil

4    tablespoons white wine vinegar

Sea salt, to taste

Sprigs of mint for decoration

Remove the crust from the bread and slice the loaf. Cut each slice diagonally to form triangles.

Mix equal amounts of vinegar and water and lightly moisten the bread. Arrange the slices in a shallow dish using a fan pattern. Mix with the grated cheese and tomatoes.

To make the dressing, crush the garlic and peppercorns using a mortar and pestle. Roughly chop the mint and coriander and

add to the mortar. Grind it into the garlic and peppercorns to make a rough paste. At this stage, adding a pinch of sea salt will aid with the maceration. Add the olive oil and white wine vinegar to the crushed mixture, mixing well. Pour over the bread slices, chill, and serve with mint.

Makes 4 servings.

Lobster Patties

2 lobster tails, about 3 pounds total

2 teaspoons garum or anchovy sauce

2 large eggs

Black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil, for frying

3   garlic cloves

Scald the lobster tails, extract the meat, and grind it. Beat the eggs, add them to

the lobster meat along with the garum and pepper. Mix well. Form small patties and fry them in a little olive oil.

Makes 4 servings.

Sweet Patinae—Sweet Pine Nuts and Walnuts

4    large eggs, beaten

7    ounces roasted walnuts and pine nuts,  ground

1 3⁄4    cups milk

2    tablespoons red or white wine

2    tablespoons olive oil

1 1 ⁄2    tablespoons honey

Pinch of black pepper

Mix the ingredients together. Pour into a nonstick pan without any additional oil. Fry on both sides before placing in a serving dish. Pepper to taste on top before serving.

Makes 4 servings.


Seasoned Mussels

40    to 50 mussels

2    teaspoons garum (fermented fish sauce)  or anchovy sauce

1 ⁄2    cup red wine

1 ⁄2    cup raisin wine or Vin Santo

1    medium leek, chopped

1    handful of fresh cumin and savory, minced

Wash the mussels thoroughly to remove the sand, then simmer them in just enough water to cover, along with the remaining ingredients. Simmer until all mussels have opened, about 5 to 10 minutes. Discard any unopened mussels. This dish is eaten with no further seasoning, as in the Neapolitan sauté of clams and mussels.

Makes 4 servings.

This article appeared in the January/February 2015  Tastes of Italia Magazine, the publication of

Lauren Birmingham Piscitelli is founder and owner of Cooking Vacations Italy which specializes in culinary tours, hands-on cooking classes and cultural adventures in Italy. Be sure to visit their website at

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