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!

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lezione numero tredici: l'ultima lezione

La scorsa settimana (the last week) we had our last class (ultima lezione): il semestre è finito (finished, masc. sing.). Well done "kids"!
Sono triste e felice (sad and happy) allo stesso tempo (at the same time) ;)
We are working on the videos of the classes and will post them during the summer (estate).

[For the complete video of this class click here.]

Buona estate!


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Orecchiette alla caprese

For the complete video of this class click here.


La caprese è un antipasto with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and good olive oil. This is a variation for a quick and easy summery pasta sauce.


- pomodorini (cherry tomatoes), you can also use other kinds of tomatoes
- mozzarella fresca (fresh mozzarella, if you like it you can use mozzarella di bufala)
- foglie di basilico fresco (leaves of fresh basil)
- olio extravergine di oliva
- sale, pepe, peperoncino
- optional: capperi (capers). If you use capers in salt, rinse them well before use
- optional: percorino romano grattuggiato (grated)

If you do not like to cook a occhio, by eye, then for 4 people consider about 1 lb of pomodorini and 1 large mozzarella (7-8 oz).


- lava e taglia (wash and cut) i pomodorini in quarters
- taglia la mozzarella a cubetti
- in una ciotola grande (in  a large bowl) mescola (mix) i pomodorini, la mozzarella, few (washed) leaves of basil (whole, or broken in pieces, using your hands), olive oil, salt, pepper and red crushed pepper.
- If you like them, add a bunch of capperi and percorino romano.
- Your pasta sauce is ready, you do not need to cook anything! When the pasta is cooked and drained, mix all together in the bowl or in the pot.

Buon appetito =)


Le orecchiette sono un tipo di pasta originario della regione Puglia
Orecchietta lit. means little cute ear (orecchio or orecchia= ear).

Ingredienti (per 4 persone):

- 400 g di farina di grano duro (lit.flour of hard wheat -> durum flour, or sifted semolina flour - about 3 cups)
- un pizzico di sale
- acqua tiepida (warm water, as much as needed)


- Impasta (knead) forcefully for at least 10 minutes. You want the dough to be hard, smooth and elastic. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for about 30 minutes. If you do not have the patience (la pazienza) to wait it's ok ;)
- Roll pieces of dough into ropes as thin as a pens, and with a knife cut pieces of  about 1/4". With your hands, or with the help of a knife, give these pieces the characteristic orecchietta shape.
Watch our videos or check out this link for visual help
- If you are not starving , let the orecchiette dry for a few hours. 
Else skip this step.
- Cook your  orecchiette in boiling salty water for about 10 minutes or until al dente. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tagliatelle ai funghi

For the complete video of this class click here.

FUNGHI TRIFOLATI (= cooked with garlic and parsley):


- dried porcini or your  favorite fresh funghi (mushrooms)
   If you are making pasta for 4 people, use about 1 lb of fresh
   mushrooms or 0.2 lb of dry mushrooms
- aglio (garlic), as much or as little as you want
- prezzemolo fresco (fresh Italian parsley)
- panna da cucina (the closest ingredient I found in the US is heavy cream), as much or as little as you want  (you can use none)
- olio extravergine d'oliva, sale, pepe (pepper)


- If you use dry mushrooms, soak them in warm water for about 1 hr.
  If you use fresh mushrooms wash them and cut them in medium/small pieces.
- Make a soffritto (sweat) with garlic (whole cloves, easy to remove, or chopped) in olive oil
- aggiungi (add) i funghi e mescola (and mix). If you use dry mushrooms, you can add part of
 the water in which you soaked them
- When the mushrooms are cooked (it takes 5-10 minutes), lower the heat to minimum, add heavy cream, salt, pepper and the parsley leaves (washed and finely chopped)
- Remove from the heat: i funghi sono pronti! Serve them mixed with your tagliatelle or
 as a side dish (contorno)! If you want, top with your favorite grated cheese.


Ingredienti per 4 persone:

- 400 g =0.9 lb, a little more than 3 cups di farina (of flour - all purpose)
- 4 uova grandi (large eggs)
- un pizzico di sale (a pinch of salt)
- if needed to hold the dough together, due cucchiai di acqua tiepida (two spoons of warm water)


- Place the flour on the counter or in una ciotola (a bowl), make a well in the center, put the eggs in the well and mix with your fingers or con l'aiuto (with the help) di una forchetta (of a fork).  

- Impasta (knead) thoroughly: the dough is very hard to knead but you want it to become smooth. 

If you prefer you can use un robot da cucina (a food processor).
- Let the dough rest for about 1 hr (wrapped in plastic film). If you are
 impatient, you can skip this step. 
- Flatten the dough using a pasta machine or a rolling pin.
If you use a pasta machine, lightly dust it and the dough with flour each time you run the pasta through it. Start from the widest setting and switch to the narrower until you reach the desired thickness.
If you use the rolling pin, be sure to dust it and the counter with flour; flatten down to a thickness on about half a mm. Essentially as thin as you can. 
- Cut the pasta in your favorite shape. Tagliatelle are about 5-7 mm (0.2/0.3") wide, pappardelle are wider (1.5-2 cm) 

Look here for some ideas  

 Commenti e variazioni:

- You can save the scrap pieces of irregular shape: they even have a name maltagliati (badly cut).
- Cook your pasta in boiling salty water for 3-5 minutes
- If you made too much, freeze it before you cook it. In that case do not let it thaw before cooking it.
- You can make pasta with less or senza uova  (without eggs): in this case use only warm water.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lezione numero dodici: andare a fare la spesa

For the complete video click here!

Benissimo! By now you can cook a full Italian meal...but how about grocery shopping?
Andare a fare la spesa lit means "to go to do the shopping".
Let's conjugate the indicative present of the  irr. verb andare:

(io) vado

(tu) vai

(lui/lei) va

(noi) andiamo

(voi) andate

(loro) vanno

So, quando andate a fare la spesa in Italia, you have many choices: you can go al supermercato or to
a mercato or a small alimentari or specialty store.
In any case you should keep in mind that i negozi chiudono presto (the stores close early, usually by 8 pm or earlier) e molti negozi sono chiusi (are closed) la domenica. The smaller stores have shorter opening times,  and they may be closed for a few hours il pomeriggio. It is better to check!

Se vai al supermercato (= grocery store) there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

1) Hai bisogno di uno o due euro per prendere (= to take) il carrello (=the cart)
2) Non toccare (= do not touch) la frutta e la verdura, they provide disposable plastic gloves
3) Devi pesare (=[you] must weight) la frutta e la verdura con la bilancia
4) Devi mettere (=to put) la spesa nel sacchetto (or borsina = plastic bag) da sola/o (on your own) e devi pagare (=to pay) per i sacchetti (pochi centesimi)

Al supermercato ci sono molti reparti (sectors): panificio (=bakery), reparto formaggi e salumeria (cheese and cold cuts area), macelleria (butcher's shop), pescheria (fish shop),...

If you ask for 100 g of something, you may say 1 etto (short for ettogrammo) instead. 

100 grammi = 1 etto 
E.g. Quanto costa un etto di prosciutto? (=how much does one etto of prosciutto cost?)
1 chilogrammo = 1 chilo  
E.g. Vorrei un chilo di mele, per favore. Quanto costano?

If you prefer to try the smaller shops, you will need to go from the alimentari (small grocery shop, usually more expensive) to il panificio, il macellaio, il fruttivendolo (fruit shop), la pescheria.
It can be fun to find some local products.

Ma se vai a fare la spesa in Italia, do no miss il mercato del paese o del quartiere (the open air
 market of the town or of the neighborhood): it is usually once per settimana, in the morning and it is a full immersion in smells, noises and flavors. Remember: you can always ask to try/taste  (= provare) something before you buy it and do not hesitate to haggle for everything. Buon divertimento!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Torta o crostata di frutta

For the complete video click here.


pasta frolla (see the post from yesterday) 
crema pasticcera (see the post from yesterday) 
- la tua frutta preferita (your favorite fruit, e.g. berries, grapes, mandarines, kiwi,banana)

We used:

- una banana
- due kiwi
- more (blackberries)
- fragole (strawberries)
- uva (grapes)

Other common berries:  lamponi (raspberries), mirtilli (blueberries), ribes (to read with Italian pronunciation, red currant)


0 - Riscalda il forno a 180 C (warm up the oven at 350 F)
1- Prepare a batch of pasta frolla
2- Cut a piece of carta da forno (parchment paper) the size of your pie pan
3- Flatten the pasta frolla on a flat surface dusted with flour and transfer it into the pie pan. Use your hands to press the dough into the mold (it should be about 0.5 cm = 1/5" thick) and trim the excess dough
4- Prick the dough con una forchetta (with a fork)
5- Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Once it is ready, let it cool down
6- In the meantime prepare a batch of crema pasticcera and let it cool down
7- Spread the crema pasticcera evenly
8- Decorate with the fruit (washed and cut)

Commenti e varianti:

- When the pie crust is ready, you can spread a thin layer of melted dark chocolate and let it cool before
 you spread the crema pasticcera
- if you prepare it in advance, you may want to mix the cut fruit with lemon juice, so it does not
 blacken,  and top the torta with unflavored gelatine

La crostata

For the complete video click here!

This Italian classic is more difficult to describe than to bake =)


- pasta frolla (see the post from yesterday) 
- 1 jar (vasetto, lit. little cute vase) of your favorite jam or Nutella


0 - Riscalda il forno a 180 C (warm up the oven at 350 F)
1- Prepare a batch of pasta frolla
2- Cut a piece of carta da forno (parchment paper) the size of your pie pan
3- Flatten 3/4 of the pasta frolla on a flat surface dusted with flour and transfer it into the pie pan. Use your hands to press the dough into the mold (it should be about 0.5 cm = 1/5" thick) and trim the excess dough
4- Prick the dough con una forchetta (with a fork)
5- Spread the jam or nutella evenly
6- Flatten the rest of the dough and cut it in strips that you will arrange on top of the crostata, in an open lattice pattern (see the photo below) 
7- Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown

Your first crostata (it still needs a few minutes in the oven): bravi!

Friday, May 11, 2012

La crema pasticcera

For the complete video click here.

Ingredienti (per due torte di frutta di circa 25 cm di diametro)

- 3 tuorli d'uovo a temperatura ambiente (yolks at room temperature)
- 50 g (5 tbs) di farina (flour)
- 50 g (about 3.5 tbs) di zucchero (sugar)

- 1 pizzico/goccio di vaniglia (vanilla, or you can use grated lemon zest)
- 500 g = mezzo litro di latte (half a liter of milk, about 1 pint)


- In a pentola (pot) combine the egg yolks and sugar, then add the flour
- Heat the milk with a drop of vanilla
- When the milk is hot, but not boiling add it gradually to the egg and sugar mixture. Keep mixing with a spatula. Try to avoid the formation of lumps
- Using a whisk (or al electric mixer on low) continue to mix over medium heat until it thickens (it should take a few minutes). Try to avoid the formation of lumps
- Dust the surface with sugar and cover with plastic wrap to prevent it from forming a skin while it cools down

Commenti e varianti:

- You can eat it as is, or place it in nice little bowls with some fresh berries
- Attenzione (watch out) a non fare impazzire la crema (lit. not to make the cream crazy): if you use cold eggs or milk, let the cream cook too long, mix changing direction, then the cream will not reach the desired smooth consistency and density
- Once the pastry cream is ready and still warm, you can add cocoa powder or melted dark chocolate
 to it...
- you can make a nice quick dessert with puff pastry filled with pastry cream
 (bake the puff pastry in the shape of a tart or in small squares/circle and when it  has cooled down add the cream to make a fruit tart or some sort of small puffs)
- I will post the recipe for la torta di frutta tomorrow

La pasta frolla

For the complete video click here!

La pasta frolla is a basic dough for cookies and torte such as la crostata and la torta di frutta (I will post the recipe tomorrow).

Ingredienti (per una crostata per 6 persone, about 26 cm in diameter):

(250 g is about 0.55 lb)

- 250 g di farina (flour)
- 125 g di burro freddo tagliato a cubetti (cold butter cut in cubes)
- 75 g di zucchero (sugar)
- 2 tuorli (or rossi) d'uovo (egg yolks) a temperatura ambiente (at room temperature)
- mezza buccia di limone grattuggiata (half a lemon zest grated)
- mezzo cucchiaino di lievito istantaneo (half a teaspoon of baking powder)
- 1 pizzico di sale (a pinch of salt)
- 1 pizzico/1 goccio di vaniglia (pinch/tiny bit of vanilla - goccia= drop)


- In una ciotola (in a bowl) mescola (mix) la farina, il lievito, lo zucchero, il sale e la buccia di limone.
- Aggiungi (add) i tuorli d'uovo e il burro. Impasta (knead) con le dita (with -your- fingers) per meno di mezzo minuto (for less than half a minute).
-  if it does not stick together, add some cold water or an egg white
- Form a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, ideally a couple of hours.

La pasta frolla is now pronta (ready) to make una torta or you can simply flatten it, cut it in your favorite shapes and bake it (at 350 F) to make biscotti.

 Comments and variations:

- you can use un robot da cucina
- you can prepare more dough and freeze it =)
- you can substitute all or part of the butter with extra virgin olive oil: not
 as tasty, but healthier
- in a few years you can add 1/2 a tablespoon of scotch to the dough

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Lezione numero undici: fare una prenotazione al telefono

For the complete video click here.

La scorsa settimana (last week you can also say la settimana passata), while our cantucci were baking and bis-baking ;-), we learned how to make a reservation at a restaurant.
Practice reading ad alta voce! Can you understand everything? The vocabulary below may help.

Ristoratore1: Pronto! Ristorante Da Nonna Pia. Buonasera!

Tu: Buonasera! Vorrei prenotare un tavolo per domani sera.

R: Benissimo, a/per che ora?

T: Alle otto e mezza. Vorremmo sederci fuori.

R: Quanti siete?

T: Quindici.

R: Non c'è posto per quindici fuori, mi dispiace. Può andare bene dentro, vicino alla finestra?

T: Va bene. C'è una bella vista?

R: Sì.

T: Allora va bene.

R: A che nome?

T: Veneziani.

R: Bene, grazie. A domani!

T: Arrivederci

The day after, when you arrive, puoi (you can) say:

Ho una prenotazione per quindici a nome Veneziani.

Vocabulary and grammar

Pronto= ready, this is what we usually say when we pick up the phone (il telefono)
Vorrei = (I) would like to (present conditional, 1st pers. sing. of the irr. verb volere)
Prenotare= to reserve
Tavolo = table
A/per che ora= at/for what time
Otto e mezza = eight and  a half, you can also say alle venti e trenta (20:30), but
 since you already asked for a table for the evening, otto e mezza will be clear enough
Vorremmo = (we) would like to (present conditional, 1st pers. plur. of the irr. verb volere)
Sederci= sedere+ ci (us) = sit ourselves, meaning sit
Fuori= outside
Dentro = inside
Posto = place, locality. In this context seat
Mi dispiace = dispiace a me = it displeases me -> I am sorry
Può = can (3rd pers. sing. indicative pres. of the irr verb potere)
Vicino alla finestra = close to the window (alla=a+la)
Vista = view, it also means eyesight
Allora = then
A domani = to tomorrow -> see you tomorrow


1) Optional : record yourself as you read the dialogue. You can use the free on-line recorder http://vocaroo.com/. I will post the best audio! Ask me if you are in doubt about la pronuncia. You can do this as group problem.

2)  Write sentences including the 6 sets of words listed below:

             a) amico/a
            b) cucchiaio
            c)  sete
            d) potere (puoi/può)
             e) cotti
                 le piacciono 

            f) prenotare

3) Solve:

Hints: fries in italian is translated as little potatoes, while croissant as cute little horns

Friday, May 4, 2012

I cantucci

For the complete video click here.

Ieri sera abbiamo preparato i cantucci or cantuccini.  There are two variations: i cantucci di Siena (with butter, more crumbly) e quelli di Prato (vicino a Firenze).
I cantucci di Prato are also known as biscotti di Prato, or in the US simply as biscotti.
Biscotti means "cooked twice": bis is the prefix from latin for twice (at the end of a concert we usually shout bis!!! instead of encore) and cotti (cooked).
I cantucci are indeed baked twice. However, in Italia usiamo the word biscotti for any sorts of cookies, including those that bake only once, like chocolate chip cookies.
The recipe below is adapted from una ricetta di mia zia Mariolina.

Ingredienti (this amount is for a couple of baking sheets of cantucci):

- 680 g =1 1/2 lb di farina bianca
- 1 cucchiaio di lievito istantaneo (baking powder)
- 680 g =1 1/2 lbs di miele (honey)
[if you do not like honey, you can instead add 2 eggs OR some melted butter OR extra virgin olive oil AND 100g, about 1/2 cup of sugar. You would only need a little butter or oil- just enough to keep to dough together]
- 4 (quattro) uova 
- 100 g di zucchero
- 680 g =1 1/2 lbs di mandorle intere (whole almonds, with skin)
[you can substitute le mandorle with chopped dark chocolate or uvetta, raisins or make a mix of the three. You may also try to use nocciole, hazelnuts]
- la buccia grattuggiata di un'arancia (grated zest of one orange -- you can use lemon as well)
- Optional: you can add some spices, such as vanilla, or fennel seeds, cinnamon, a little nutmeg...


1- Preheat il forno (oven) at 180 C ~350 F. Cover the baking sheet (teglia) with parchment paper (carta da forno).
2- In a very large ciotola (bowl), place the flour mixed with the baking powder.
3- Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the honey, using a spatula or your fingers (le tue dita) to gently mix as you pour.
4- In a small ciotola, briefly mix the eggs and the sugar with a whisk.  Add the orange zest.
5- Again, make a well in the center of the flour mixture.  Pour into it the egg-and-sugar mixture. Mescola con le mani (with your hands) or with a rubber spatula for a few minutes.
6- Aggiungi the almonds and mescola  for a few more minutes.  The dough will be soft, rough, and sticky.
7- Take some of the dough in your hands and place it sulla teglia. Press the dough to form a log the length of the baking sheet, 1-1.5 cm (~1/2") thick and 5 cm (~2") wide. Ideally, you should try to shape it such that the center is a little bit thicker.  Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly brown.
8- Remove the logs from the baking sheets and place them on a cutting board. Cut each log in 0.5 cm (~1/4") pieces. If you want you can cut them on  a slight diagonal.
9- Place these pieces back on the baking sheets leaning one of the cut sections against the bottom of the sheet.  Bake for  approximately 10 more minutes per side.
10- Remove from the oven.  The cantuccini will become harder when they cool down.
We usually eat them dipped in a glass of Vin Santo (lit. holy wine,  a sweet dessert wine)...but you can dip them in milk ;)

Note:  once the cantucci are cooled, you can place them in tin cans and keep them for a long time.  You can also freeze them.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

La torta sbrisolona

For the complete video click here.
La torta sbrisolona is like a huge crumbly cookie. It is typical of the city of Mantova (Mantua, in Lombardia) and surroundings.

Torta = any sort of cake, pie, tart
Sbrisolona = Mantuan dialect for sbriciolona 
Briciola = crumb -> sbriciolare = to crumble, and as we saw last week, -ona is an augmentative suffix.
Therefore la torta sbrisolona can be translated as the big crumbling tart.

Questa è la ricetta di mia nonna Lidia.

Buon appetito... e buona Festa del lavoro!

Ingredienti per 6 persone: 

100 g = little less that 1/4 lb

- 100 g di farina bianca (white flour)
- 100 g di farina gialla (lit. yellow flour -> corn meal)
- 100 g di burro a temperatura ambiente (butter at room temperature)
- 100 g di zucchero (sugar)
- 100 g di mandorle (almonds), o un misto (a mix) di mandorle e nocciole (hazelnuts)
-  un uovo (one egg)
- la buccia grattuggiata di un limone (lit. the grated peel of one lemon)
- un pizzico di vaniglia (opzionale) (a pinch of vanilla) -- in powder or liquid
- un pizzico di sale (opzionale) (a pinch of salt, add it if you like some sweet/salty contrast)


- Preheat il forno (the oven) at 180 C, about 350 F
- Chop le mandorle (the almonds): you want some of the almonds to be chopped roughly and some to be finely ground. If you like them, you can keep some almonds as whole. In class we used a mixer (un robot da cucina). If you do not have one you can cover the almonds with paper towels and break them by beating them with a meat beater or something else heavy
- Mescola (mix, 2nd person sing) all the dry ingredients (tutti gli ingredienti secchi)
- Aggiungi (add) the grated lemon zest (grate only la parte gialla, perchè la parte bianca è amara, bitter) and the egg
- Add the butter in clumps: you do not want to over mix or  knead, simply try to join the ingredients
 and keep large (about 1/2 inch in diameter) crumbs
- Pour the briciole (crumbs) in a baking pan covered with parchment paper (or covered with a thin layer
 of butter and farina gialla). You want to spread them to a thickness of  1 cm to 2.5  cm (about half to 1 inch)
- Bake until golden (typically it takes 30 to 60 minutes, based on the thickness)
- Let it cool down. When you serve it, break it with your hands...it will form a lot of briciole. It is perfect  with a dessert wine, but for the next few years you should have it with milk or ice cream!