During the Spring 2012 I taught one of many interdisciplinary undergraduate seminars in the Experimental Study Group at MIT. Each class is based on the preparation of a simple delicious dish and on the bite-sized acquisition of parts of the Italian language and culture.
Videography by Graham Gordon Ramsay.

Click here to watch the videos in full resolution.
Buon divertimento!

[Safari and Google Chrome users may have trouble loading the audio files. Try to use Firefox or Internet Explorer instead!]

Friday, February 24, 2012

VIDEO Lezione numero uno: introduction and lesson


For the whole lecture, recipes and exercises check the posts on Feb 11.

VIDEO Lezione numero uno: vocabulary


For the whole lecture, recipes and exercises check the posts on Feb 11.

VIDEO Lezione numero uno: cooking instruction


For the whole lecture, recipes and exercises check the posts on Feb 11.

Pizza veloce - quick pizza

If you want to make "real pizza" you need a lot of time...because when you use yeast you must wait for the dough to rise. Questa ricetta uses baking powder: it is much faster and still very tasty!!

One of the most basic pizzas is the pizza Margherita, with tomato, mozzarella and basil. Do you know that pizza Margherita was invented after MIT was founded??? You can read about the history of pizza at http://www.recipepizza.com/history_of_pizza.htm

Ingredienti per 3 persone

500 g farina (flour)
2 cucchiani di lievito istantaneo (2 teaspoons of baking powder)
1 cucchiaino di bicarbonato (1 teaspoon of baking soda)
acqua tiepida (tepid, lukewarm water)
2 cucchiai di olio d'oliva (2 spoons of olive oil)
origano (oregano)

Your favorite toppings. Here there are some ideas: you can use

Il ba-si-li-co (basil: add it at the very end, when the pizza is already baked)
La pas-sa-ta di po-mo-do-ro (plain strained tomatoes, we used Pomì)
La moz-za-rel-la (consider about 200-250 g for each rectangular pizza)
Il pro-sciut-to cot-to (lit. cooked prosciutto->ham)
Il pro-sciut-to cru-do (lit. raw prosciutto. Add it at the very end, when the pizza is already baked )
La ci-pol-la (onion)
La me-lan-za-na (eggplant: slice it thin, cover with salt, rinse very well and dry, grill in a pan without oil)
La zuch-chi-na/ Lo zuc-chi-no (slice in your favorite shape and cook briefly in a pan with
olive oil and chopped onions/garlic/spices)
Il fun-go (mushroom)
Il pe-pe-ron-e (pepper: slice in thin stripes and cook briefly in a pan with olive oil and chopped onions/garlic/spices)
Gli spi-na-ci (spinaches! good source of vitamins and magnesium)
U-na fet-ta di sa-la-me (a slice of salami --- you probably want more than one ;))
Il for-mag-gio gor-gon-zo-la (gorgonzola cheese. It is an Italian cheese similar to blue cheese)

Directions for pizza Margherita

1-Pre-heat il forno (the oven) at 400 or 500 F (at 500 the pizza bakes faster, at 400 it rises slower and therefore it tends to be more cakey).
2-Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl: farina, lievito, bicarbonato and sale (Quanto? How much?a few pinches of salt are sufficient).
3-Add lukewarm water: you want the dough to be soft, but not sticky. If it is sticky, add a little flour. You can keep the dough in a bowl or knead it quickly on the floured kitchen counter.
4-Take a sheet of parchment paper and flatten the dough, as think or as thick as you like it.
You can use a rolling pin, or your hands, flattening the dough with the tips of your fingers.
5-Spread the tomato puree (no need to cook it in advance, you can use it as is) over the raw crust, sprinkle with mozzarella, origano and one pinch of salt. Finally drizzle with a couple of spoons of olive oil.
You can have fun adding all kind of toppings.
6- Transfer the pizza on an oven rake, and bake until the crust turns golden. It should take 15-20 minutes, but it depends on the thickness.

Buon appetito!

PS In Italy we use Celsius degrees (gradi Celsius, or gradi centigradi): when someone says oggi ci sono 40 gradi is therefore extremely hot. You can do the conversion to see what I mean! °C x 9/5 + 32 = °F

Lezione numero tre

For the videos of this class click here.

I haven't seen you for a whole settimana (week): come state? (lit. how do you stay-> how are you?) Spero bene! (I hope well). You may be wondering whether am I talking to you as a single person, or to you as a group. In English you would know it from the context, in Italian you would know it from the structure sentence itself, because I would use a different form of the verb stare:

(voi) come state? refers to you plural
(tu) come stai? refers to you singular, informal
(Lei) come sta? refers to you singular, formal, equivalent to the Spanish Usted

Here is how you can answer:

Bene. Or benissimo/molto bene (very well)
Non c’è male, grazie.(lit. there isn't bad ->Not bad, thank you)
Così così. (So and so)
Sto meglio, grazie. E tu? (I feel better, thank you. And you?)
If we are in a formal relationship, you should say E Lei? instead of E tu?

Come stai?

Essere o stare? Questo è il dilemma!

We ask come stai, not come sei.
As a general rule essere means “to be”, and stare means “to stay”.
However, stare, not essere is always used, when followed by the adverbs bene, male, meglio, or peggio (worse). Stare bene with an indirect pronoun (dative) means “it suits you”:

Questo vestito ti (=a te) sta bene =lit. this dress stays well to you->this dress suits you

Stare followed by the gerundive expresses the continuous tenses:

Sto cucinando =(I) am cooking
Stavo leggendo=(I) was reading

Essere is used in general to indicate more permanent aspects of people or things (sono Daria=I am Daria, sono di New York = I am from NY, Mike è Americano = Mike is American, mia mamma è bionda= my mom is blond, etc)-- i.e. identity, origin, nationality, aspect, religion, etc.

..but not only… sometimes also for transitory conditions/emotions

Giovanni è ammalato (not sta ammalato) = John is sick
Alice è innamorata = Alice is enamored (->in love)
Sei felice? = Are you happy?

Essere is also used as a verbo ausiliare (auxiliary verb, or helper) in the passive form:

la pizza è cotta nel forno = the pizza is baked (lit. cooked) in the oven

When talking about a location, essere and stare are mostly the same:

Siamo in cucina or stiamo in cucina (we are in the kitchen)

Ascolta come si coniuga l'indicativo presente dei verbi essere e stare.

Essere e stare: indicativo presente

Il verbo essere (to be):

(io) sono – (I) am
(tu ) sei (informal)/ (Lei) è (formal) – (you) are
(lei/lui) è – (she/he) is ---- we do not have the neutral pronoun "it"
(noi) siamo – (we) are
(voi) siete – (you) are
(loro) sono – (they) are

Il verbo stare (to stay):

sto - (I) stay
stai (informal) sta (formal) - (you) stay
sta - (she/he) stays
stiamo – (we) stay
state – (you) stay
stanno – (they) stay

Cosa ti piace sulla pizza?

As we started planning what to cook next, we made the list of what toppings we like on pizza.

Cosa ti (= a te) piace sulla pizza? = lit. what is pleasing to you on pizza? ->What do you like..
Mi (=a me) piace la mozzarella = lit. mozzarella is pleasing to me -> I like mozzarella
Mi piacciono le melanzane e i peperoni: lit. eggplants and peppers are pleasing to me

If you want to talk about something you enjoy doing, you use the verb piacere followed by the infinitive:

A Giorgio piace cucinare= lit. cooking is pleasing to George-> George likes cooking

Mi piace!Ascolta e ripeti

More verbs!

We finished our class by reviewing how to conjugate the present tense of another important irregular verb, il verbo avere (to have) and three regular verbs, one per kind, whose infinitive end in are, ere and ire (mangiare, ridere and dormire). Leggi (read), ascolta (listen) e ripeti (and repeat).

Avere, Mangiare, Ridere, Dormire: indicativo presente

Il verbo avere (to have):

hai (informal)/ ha (formal)

Mangi-ARE (to eat) – Remember cucinare?


Rid-ERE (to laugh)


Dorm-IRE (to sleep)



1- Write the indicativo presente of the verbs:
leggere (to read), partire (to leave), aprire (to open), tagliare (to cut), vivere (to live) and parlare (to talk/to speak)

2- Write (in Italian) a list of things you like to eat/you like to do.
Start sentences with mi piace or mi piacciono.

3- Solve this quiz and write down your answers: http://www.tresoldi.pro.br/A05unita1.html

4- I numeri da 11 a 20: listen and repeat

5- Suggested readings on the reasons why i pomodori ti fanno bene and food processing.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Il risotto

Risotto is a typical dish from Northern Italy, particularly from the regions Piemonte and Lombardia, but you can eat it everywhere nel Bel Paese. We use specific varieties of rice, such as riso arborio, that remain creamy and have body at the same time. Rice in Italy is grown mostly in the so called Padan Plain (Pianura Padana) or Po Valley (valle del Po) - Po being longest river in Italy. During class, we cooked three kinds of risotto:

1- con funghi e zafferano (if we had cooked it with only zafferano, it would have been risotto alla milanese -- Milano style)
2- con asparagi
3- al radicchio e salsiccia

but you can make risotto with essentially anything: peas, pumpkin, zucchine, artichock, shrimps, seafood, gorgonzola cheese, lemon, herbs,..whatever you have in the fridge. Experiment!


It serves 4 ... depending on who is invited for dinner. On average you should consider 80 g per person (two fistful)... but I prefer 100 g.

- Olive oil (olio d'oliva) -- max a couple of spoons
- Sale
- 1 small cipolla (you can also use scallion, i.e. scalogno) and/or 1 clove of aglio
- 1/2 to 1 bouillon cube (vegetable or not, it is up to you)
- 400 g of arborio rice
- 1 spoon of butter (burro)
- Parmigiano cheese (formaggio Parmigiano)
- in a few years you can add 1 glass of wine
- optional: 1 bunch of italian parsley (prezzemolo)

and, based on which option you choose:

- about 150 g of fresh mushrooms (funghi) or 50 g of dried mushrooms. If you use dried mushrooms, soak them in warm water for at least 20 minutes. In class we used shitake mushrooms: if you find porcini, they are ideal.
- saffron powder (zafferano)
- asparagi
- a few Italian sausages (salsiccia)
- 1 head of radicchio (also called Italian chicory)


- Make a soffritto (sweat on medium-low heat) with chopped onion (options 1,2) or garlic (option 3)
- In the meantime boil at least 1.5 L of water (yes, we measure the water in liters, litri)
- When the vegetables have softened add the bouillon cube (it will melt)
*option 1: add the chopped mushrooms. After a few minutes add the rice and turn up the heat
*option 2: add the asparagi (washed and chopped -- discard the though ends). After a few minutes add the rice and turn up the heat
* option 3: add the radicchio (washed and finely chopped). When it gets soft, add the sausage (without skin, in small pieces) and turn up the heat. When the sausage is cooked add the rice.
- Toast the rice till when it is lightly translucent
- (At this point you can add a glass of wine and wait till the alcohol evaporates)
- Turn down the heat to a simmer: keep adding boiling water and DO NOT stir continuously. Season to taste with salt (you can add also pepper and other spices)
* option 1: fill a glass with boiling water and mix the saffron powder. Add it to the rice.
- Continue to add water and stir from time to time till when the rice is tender (but not too tender, taste it!). It should take about 15-20 minutes.
- it is time for the mantecatura: take off the heat, stir butter+some grated parmisan
- you can sprinkle with minced Italian parsley

Like with pasta, we want the risotto al dente (lit. to the tooth-> such that the teeth find still a little resistance). We sometimes say that the risotto is all'onda (lit. to the wave) to indicate how risotto "flows" when served onto a plate.

Buon appetito! Enjoy your meal!

PS in the traditional recipe you prepare the broth and add it, instead of putting the bouillon cube in the sweat and adding boiling water..the disadvantage is that then you need to wash an extra pot.

Lezione numero due

Buon Carnevale!

For the videos of this class click here.

Ciao! (informal)
Buongiorno! (lit. good day, used through the day, formally and informally)
Buon pomeriggio! (good afternoon)
Buonasera! (good evening, used in the late afternoon and evening)

È Carnevale! ([It] is Carnival!) In Italy Carnival was born as a pagan celebration of the passage from Winter to Spring. For Christians il Carnevale became the period of big celebrations before quaresima, lent, that is instead a period of repentance, when people give up to certain luxuries and treats. Il Carnevale is a period of fun and jokes, people (mostly kids, but not only) wear costumes and participate to colorful parades. The most famous Carnival celebrations occur in Venezia (in Veneto), Viareggio (in Toscana) and Ivrea (in Piemonte -- Il Carnevale di Ivrea is famous for its battle of oranges). Can you find these regions in the map below?

Next Tuesday, Martedì Grasso (Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Grad) Carnevale will end and the quaresima will begin. During Carnevale, we usually eat fatty sweet treats such as frittelle (fritto means fried -> frittelle are fried sweet dumplings) and chiacchiere (also a sort of fried dough -- chiacchera lit. means chatter, chit-chat).

Ma (but) ora (now), bando alle (ban to the) chiacchiere -> no more chit-chat!
It is time to review the grammar we introduced last Giovedì.

Where do you come from?

Read, listen an repeat.

Da dove vieni?

(Tu) Da dove vieni?
Where do you come from?

(Io) Vengo da Milano, in Italia
I come from Milan, in Italy

Io vengo da Boston, negli Stati Uniti

Milano and Boston are cities, hence we do not use the article with the preposition da (from).
L'Italia (short for La Italia, lit. the Italy) is a country, hence we do not use the article with the preposition in.
Gli Stati Uniti is also a country, but it is composed by many States, therefore we use the determinative article gli (m plur.).

Vengo dal Massachusetts, negli Stati Uniti
Vengo dall'Alaska, negli Stati Uniti

Il Massachusetts e (and) l'Alaska are States, and we therefore include the respective
determinative articles.

The determinative articles are different, based on the gender and number they refer to: the English the translates into


il (m) e.g il coltello
lo (m) before vowel (e.g. lo aglio -> l'aglio), z (e.g. lo zero), s+consonant (e.g. lo stereo)
la (f) before vowel it becomes l' (e.g. l'acciuga)


i (m) e.g i coltelli
gli (m) -- e.g. gli zeri
le (f) -- e.g. le acciughe

Gli articoli determinativi

This isn't the first time we incur into this issue: Italian grammar is a little more complicated than the English one because we change articles, adjectives and verbs based on gender and number.
Let's review demonstrative adjectives and pronouns.

Questa cipolla è più grande di quella.
This onion is bigger than that one.

Questo quaderno è più piccolo di quelli.
This notebook is smaller than those.

Questo -this (masc. sing.) : close to the speaker
Codesto- that (masc. sing.) : close to the listener - mostly in disuse
Quello (masc. sing.) - that : far from both the speaker and the listener

Questo, Questa = this (m,f)
Questi ,Queste = these (m,f)
Quello, Quella = that (m,f)
Quelli, Quelle = those (m,f)

Demonstrative adj. and pron.

[Quelli is an old form for QUEI: e.g. in modern Italian you would say quei quaderni sono piccoli. Quelli is still used as a demonstrative pronoun e.g. Questi quaderni sono più piccoli di quelli.
becomes Quel before a consonant different from z or s+consonant: e.g. quel quaderno, quello stereo.
Quelli becomes Quegli before a vowel or z or s+consonant: e.g. quegli amici.

The use of
quel VS quello and quei VS quegli is like the use of the det articles il VS lo and i VS gli.
Il cane-> quel cane, I cani-> quei cani, L'amico-> quell'amico, Gli amici-> quegli amici

Quello/Quella becomes quell' before a vowel: e.g. quell'amico, quell'amica.]

Anita was wondering why I pronounce the letter s differently when I am saying the word cosa compared to the word questo.
s is pronounced as in rose when it begins a word in combination with b, d, g, l, m, n, r, v or in between vowels -- e.g. cosa, rosa, esercizio, riso, sbadiglio (=yawn).
It is pronounced as in sub in all other cases -- e.g. questo, rosso, salsiccia, asparagi.

You have to memorize tons of rules in order to really learn Italian..
Ok, not really, I was joking =) -- we say that "A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale"-- lit. At Carnival every joke (scherzo) is valid. You will be surprised by how much you will be able to say and understand in Italian without worrying too much about the grammar.

Buona notte (night) e buon Carnevale!


1) Leggi ad alta voce

- Ri-so Ar-bo-rio
- O-lio d'o-li-va
- Da-do
- Fun-ghi Por-ci-ni
- Zaf-fe-ra-no
- Sal-sic-cia
- Ra-dic-chio
- As-pa-ra-gi
- Bur-ro
- Prez-ze-mo-lo

Listen to the pronunciation

2) Ascolta (listen), scrivi (write) e traduci (translate):

Ascolta, scrivi e traduci

3) Supply the right determinative article, or demonstrative adjective or pronoun (if you are not sure if a word is masculine or feminine, check here http://www.dizionario-italiano.it/):

------ (this) casa è bella.
------ mio amico Luca è in vacanza.
------ (that) quaderno è di Sara.
------ Professoressa di Italiano è noiosa.
Sono tue ------ (those) penne?
------- aerei volano alti.
------ (this) risotto è buonissimo.
------(these) sono le mie zie.
------(these) coltelli sono sporchi.
Invita ----- tuoi amici a cena!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Pasta con i broccoli


- about 400g of pasta of any shape (I recommend short pasta)
- extravirgin OLIVE oil (use the amount of olive oil you are comfortable with, usually 2-3 spoons are enough)
- salt (sale), pepper (pepe), dry crushed red pepper (peperoncino)
- 2 garlic (aglio) cloves
- 2 anchovies (acciughe)
- 1 broccolo (yes, one broccolo, plural broccoli)
- grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese

Vegetarians can prepare the same sauce without anchovies.


Heat a pot of water.
Wash the broccolo. Remove stem: cut high enough so that large individual broccoli florets fall away as you cut. If you want to eat the stem, slice it thinly.
When the water boils, add the salt and the broccoli. The broccoli take about 12 minutes
to cook, so if the pasta needs to cook for the same time, add the pasta immediately.
Most pasta shapes cook in less than 12 minutes, in this case you want to add the pasta after a few minutes.
In the meantime warm up the olive oil in a saucepan at low heat, add the garlic (the whole pressed cloves, or chopped or minced, according to your taste), the anchovies and peperoncino. The anchovies will melt.
Once drained, return the pasta to its pot or to the saucepan and sautee quickly over high heat.
Serve and top with grated cheese!

Pasta all'amatriciana e pasta al pomodoro

It serves 4 ... depending on who is invited for dinner. On average consider 100g per person. Yes: we use a scale in the kitchen...and we cook by eye. You will never find a measuring cup in an Italian kitchen.


- about 400g of bucatini, thick spaghetti or another pasta shape (it is difficult to find bucatini in an American grocery store) -- I usually buy the Barilla brand, one box contains 1 Lb ~ 454g.
- extravirgin OLIVE oil (use the amount of olive oil you are comfortable with, as long as it does not stick, usually 1 spoon is enough)
- salt (sale), pepper (pepe), dry crushed red pepper (peperoncino)
- about half teaspoon of sugar (zucchero)
- if you are at least 21, 1 glass of wine -- red or white, it does not have to be particularly good
- half chopped onion (cipolla)
- about 350g of PLAIN strained/chopped tomatoes (pomodori) -- I buy Pomi' at Shaws
- 100g of pancetta (lit. cute belly -> bacon) in cubes -- You can find cubetti (=little cubes) of pancetta Citterio, from Trader Joe's. I was told that in the US you make bacon from pig's cheek, also called jowl bacon, that is equivalent to our guanciale (the kind of pancetta I would use in Italy). You can use any good bacon and cut it in cubetti.
- grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese

Vegetarians can prepare the same sauce without pancetta, and the result is a tasty
tomato sauce. In this case you may want to add extra spices (e.g. basil, oregano).


Cook the onion and olive oil at low heat in a saucepan. When the onion is soft and translucent the
sweat (il soffritto) is ready.
Add the diced pancetta until the bacon is brown.
Then pour the wine on the pancetta and onion mix -- if you have no wine just skip this step. Let it simmer on a high flame until almost dry. You want the alcohol to evaporate completely.
Add the tomatoes, half a glass of water, sugar, a pinch of salt, crushed red pepper and pepper as you like.
At this point you start heating a pot of water.
Let the sauce cook on a low flame for at least 20 minutes (if you leave it longer you may need to add water), mixing from time to time.
About 10 minutes before dinner add salt to the boiling water you heated in the pot and cook the pasta al dente.
Once drained, return the pasta to its pot or to the saucepan and mix quickly with the sauce on the low flame.
Serve and top with grated cheese!

How much salt do you need to put in the boiling water for pasta?
Start with a small amount (1-2 spoons), after the pasta has cooked for a few minutes taste it and decide whether you want to add more salt. In Italy we use coarse salt (sale grosso), but in the US fine (regular) salt is more common. Notice that if you use iodized salt you may need a little more because ... it is less salty :)

Lezione numero uno/Lesson number one

Giovedì (on Thursday) we had the first class of our Italian seminar in the new ESG kitchen.

We started by introducing ourselves. [For video material check the posts on Feb 24 or
click here]

Short dialogue

- Ciao, (io) mi chiamo Paola
Hello, I am called (lit. I call myself) Paola

- (Tu) come ti chiami (informal)?
What's your name (lit. how do you call yourself)?

- Mi chiamo...

- Piacere!
Nice to meet you! (lit. pleasure)

CIAO=informal hello and goodbye
Notice that in Italian in most contexts you can omit the subject to
a sentence (io, tu above).

Listen to the dialogue

This was our first class, so we needed to introduce pronunciation rules.

Le vocali sono:


We use grave and acute accents, although in handwriting it mostly makes no difference. Most words have grave (or open) accents (e.g. caffè).
Acute (or closed) accents (e.g. perché) are less common. I (and many many Italians) pronounce acute accents open, but it is not approved by the Accademia della Crusca - lit. the Academy of the Bran -, a society of scholars and linguists that was founded around 1582-1583 with the goal of developing and protecting the pure Italian language. The name comes from the process of sifting the best flour from the lower quality bran.

Anyway, these are the seven basic vowel sounds.


Accents at the end of a word are important!

Papa (the Pope) vs papà (dad)
pero (pear tree) vs però (but/however-it is a conjunction)

Concerning consonants, in Italian we have
single and double consonants (doppie).

Rosa (pink-adj/rose)/Rossa (red-adj)
Tono (tone)/Tonno (tuna)
Belo (?!) /Bello (beautiful-adj)
Papa (Pope)/Pappa (cute way to say food, e.g. when talking to babies
expression also used to deplore pureed food that doesn't look very tasty)
Il Papa (m)/ La pappa (f)
La nona (the ninth, f adj) / La nonna (the grandma)

Listen to the pronunciation

We got hungry fast, hence it was time to cook (cucinARE).

INDICATIVO PRESENTE (I cook, you cook, s/he cooks,...)

(Io) cucino
(Tu) cucini
(Lui/Lei)(Egli/Essa...not much used) cucina
(Noi) cuciniamo
(Voi) cucinate
(Loro)(Essi..not much used) cucinano

Il verbo cucinare


  1. Leggi (read) ad alta voce (lit. at high voice -> aloud):

    Pe-co-ri-no Ro-ma-no
    Un col-tel-lo
    Du-e col-tel-li ...
    Die-ci col-tel-li
    Co-me si di-ce "goodbye"?
    Ciao! (informal)

    Listen to the pronunciation

  2. Dettato (dictation): ascolta (listen) e (and) scrivi (write)


  3. Suggested reading on the reasons why "I broccoli ti fanno bene" (lit. (The) broccoli make good to you -> broccoli are good for you):