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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Friday, March 2, 2012

Lezione numero quattro: quante domande!

For the videos of this class click here.

Oggi è venerdì 2 marzo 2012
(= duemiladodici or duemila e dodici).
Yesterday we learned how to make (fare, irregular verb) questions (domande, f. plur.) and how to answer (rispondere, irr. verb).

Leggi, ascolta e ripeti:

Read, listen and repeat

Chi (who/whom) - Di chi (whose)

Chi ha scritto la Divina Commedia? (who wrote - lit. has written - the Divine

Il poeta Dante Alighieri (the poet Dante Alighieri)!

Dante is also called il Sommo Poeta (the supreme poet, he is righteously considered to be one
of the/the greatest Italian poets). Ha scritto is the present perfect of the irr. verb
scrivere, to write

Chi è Corrado? (who is Corrado?)
Corrado è mio cugino (Corrado is my cousin - m. sing.).

Di chi è questa tazza? (Whose mug is this?)
Questa tazza è dell'Experimental Study Group (this mug belongs to - lit. is of the- ESG).

Is tazza feminine or masculine?

A chi piace leggere? (who likes to read?)

Cosa/che cosa/che (what)

Note: Cosa lit. means thing (f. sing.).

Che cosa/cosa/che mangiamo oggi? (what do we eat today?)
Oggi mangiamo gli gnocchi.

Che cosa/cosa/che fai domani sera? (what do you do tomorrow night?)
Dormo (I sleep)!

(Tu) fai is the 2nd person singular indicative present of the verb fare (to do/to make).
Notice that when we are talking about some events happening domani we should use the
future simple verb tense. However, if you use the present tense nobody will complain, not
only because you are making an effort to learn Italian, but also because this is how most
Italians speak =P

Che ore sono? (lit. what hours are they?-> what time is it?)
Non (lo) so (I do not know (it)).

In this context che is an interrogative adjective: it stands for what kind and it cannot
be substituted by che cosa or cosa.

Come (how)

Come si dice dog in Italiano? (how do you say dog in Italian?)
Si dice cane.

Dice is the 3rd person singular indicative present of the irr. verb dire (to say).
Si+3rd person of a verb gives the impersonal construction.

Come vuole pagare? (how do you want to pay?---formal)
In contanti (cash) or Con carta di credito (with credit card).

PagARE is a regular verb, while volere is irregular. Vuole is the 3rd person singular
indicative present of volere. If you were asking informally, you would use the 2nd person:
come vuoi pagare?

Com'è (=come è) Boston? (How is Boston?)
Boston è una bella città (Boston is a beautiful city).
Boston è bellissima (= molto bella, very beautiful)!

Dove (where)

Dov'è (dove è) la forchetta? (Where is the fork?)
La forchetta è sulla sedia (the fork is on the chair).

Sulla=su+la (on+the).

Dov'è (dove è) Michele? (where is Michael?)
Michele è a Waltham, sta cantando. (Michael is in Waltham, he is singing)

A very common natural error to avoid is to say: Michele è in Waltham. Nooo! Waltham is
a town: we use A.

Quando (when)

Quando sei arrivato? (when did you arrive?)
Ieri (yesterday) mattina (morning).

Sei arrivato is the present perfect of the verb arrivARE, to arrive.
If you were asking a woman, you would say: quando sei arrivata?
How would you say if you were asking a group of people?

Quando va a casa? (when do you go home?-- formal)
Domani (tomorrow) pomeriggio (afternoon).

Va is the 3rd person singular indicative present of the irr. verb andare (to go). If you
were asking informally, you would use the 2nd person: quando vai a casa?

Perchè (why, because)

Perchè hai sonno? (Why do you have sleep?-> why are you sleepy?)
Perchè non dormo abbastanza (because I do not sleep enough).

Perchè no? (why not?)
Studio troppo (I study too much).


1- Leggi (read), ascolta (listen) e ripeti (repeat) ad alta voce (lit. at high voice -> aloud):

Leggi, ascolta e ripeti

La pa-ta-ta
La fa-ri-na
Il lat-te
Il for-mag-gio gor-gon-zo-la
La pas-sa-ta di po-mo-do-ro
Il se-da-no
La ci-pol-la
La ca-ro-ta
Lo zuc-che-ro
Il ba-si-li-co

2- Ask reasonable domande for the following risposte (answers) and translate them.

- Oggi Stefania è a Madrid.
- Susan Hockfield è il Presidente del MIT.
- Madrid è in Spagna.
- Mangio la pasta con il pomodoro.
- Non lo so.
- Perche' mi piace.
- Stasera.
- Mi piace al dente.
- Paola insegna Fisica e Italiano.
- Questo quaderno è di Lucia.

3- Group exercise (in groups of 2 or more). Write a short skit and practice
acting it. If you need help, ask me! You will be sharing your skit with the rest of the class next week!

Gli gnocchi di patate

Adapted from a recipe of my zia (aunt) Mariolina, who emigrated to the USA many years before me, is now fully American, but remains fully Italian. Grazie zia!

Gli gnocchi (m, plur). Grammar review question: what determinative article would you use for one single gnocco? ----gnocco.

Ingredienti per 4 persone

1 kg Idaho or Russet potatoes (big starchy potatoes) - patate farinose (lit. floury potatoes). 1 kg corresponds to 4-5 large patate
1 uovo (egg) grande (large)
About 70 g=1/2 tazza (cup) di (of) farina (flour)
sale (salt)


1- Place the potatoes in a large stockpot. Add water to cover them by a few centimeters (yes, we do not use inches). Bring the water to a boil, add salt (about a couple of teaspoons, but it depends on how much water you use); lower the heat and cook until the potatoes are done (approx. 40 minutes, try poking the potatoes with a fork, when you feel little resistance they are ready).
2-Drain the water and when the potatoes are tepid/cold, peel them and put them through a ricer or mash them with a fork.
3- Beat the egg and add it to the mashed potatoes. Slowly add the flour a bit at a time. The amount of flour is dictated by the quality and size of the potatoes. You want to have a smooth and elastic dough. Too much flour will lead to hard gnocchi =(.
4- Turn the dough on a floured surface, shape it as a long rope, and cut into narrow and long pieces. Roll these pieces with the palms of your hands until they become finger-sized rolls, about the size of ordinary breadsticks (grissini).
5- Taglia (cut) the rolls into 1-2 cm lengths. Shake each piece in your hand, as you would dice for "craps", and cast them on the lightly floured surface. The pieces are now gnocchi waiting for a finishing optional touch.
6- OPTIONAL Press the center of each gnocco with your finger, making a single dent...or two or roll each gnocco over the surface of a grater or on the back of a fork so that it's covered with many tiny indentations.
7- Once the gnocchi are rolled and dented, let them rest while you put water to boil. When the water boils, add salt (as much you would do with pasta). Once it reaches a second rolling boil, add the gnocchi a few at a time.
8- They are cooked as soon as they surface, and should be scooped out with a slotted spoon. Drain well, and put in a warm serving dish. Continue the operation until all are cooked. Serve immediately with your favorite sauce, such as tomato sauce and basil, gorgonzola sauce (melt gorgonzola crumbs with milk, at low heat) or just with a few leaves of fresh sage fried in butter and grated parmigiano.

Note: If you made too many gnocchi, you can freeze them before cooking them. Freeze the gnocchi in a ziploc: place them flat to freeze, so that they do not stick all together. To cook them, throw the frozen gnocchi directly into the boiling salted water without thawing or they will stick together. Their cooking time will be slightly longer than unfrozen.