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!]

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):