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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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!