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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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lezione numero cinque (part 1/2): la festa della donna

For the videos of this class click here.

Oggi è giovedì otto marzo duemiladodici (8/3/2012). È un giorno importante, è la festa della donna
!!!! (lit. woman’celebration ->International Women’s Day). L'otto marzo è (is) a day to honor all the women and to remind ourselves of the continued awareness and action required to ensure equality in every aspect in life. La festa della donna is recognized in many countries (more details here), including the US, but it is not very popular here; I find it ironic. Living in Cambridge, I had the opportunity to appreciate how much more fair the working conditions are here than in Italy. Moreover, all the institutions in the US are discussing and working actively to reach a more complete and real equality. Yet in this same country nobody today told me Auguri! (=lit. wishes! -> Felicitations!). Buona festa della donna!!! (lit. good celebration of the woman ->Happy women’s day). Buffo, funny.

Anyway, at school in Italy we learn that the origin of this day is rooted in two events that happened outside Italy:

1- L’8 marzo 1857 (milleottocentocinquantasette) uno sciopero (a strike, very important word if you travel in Italia!!) by garment workers in NY lead to the formation of the first women’s union in the US. Some historians say that this sciopero never happened! What is true? Non lo so.

2- L’8 marzo 1917 - millenovecentodiciassette (il 23 febbraio according to the Julian calendar) Russian women started a sciopero in St Petersburg, per il pane e per la pace (for bread and peace).

L’8 marzo was declared woman’s day in Italy in 1945 and on this day men and women bring to women in their lives a traditional gift: a small branch of mimosa (acacia dealbata – native to Australia). The mimosa is a reminder of the constant struggle for equality, justice, peace and development. On a more trivial level, the bright yellow and the sweet smell of mimosas are telling us that spring arrived. Ah! Mi mancano le mimose (lit. mimosas are missing to me-> I miss mimosas).

Esercizio: read (leggi) listen (ascolta) and repeat (e ripeti)

Ascolta e ripeti

Oggi è giovedì otto marzo duemiladodici

Oggi è un giorno importante, è la festa della donna

Auguri! (
=lit. wishes! -> Felicitations!We use it in every happy occasion/celebration)

Buona festa della donna!!!
(lit. good celebration of the woman ->Happy women’s day)

1857 (milleottocentocinquantasette)

1917 ( millenovecentodiciassette

il 23 febbraio

Mi mancano le mimose
(lit. mimosas are missing to me-> I miss mimosas).

Mi manca il cappuccino (lit. cappuccino is missing to me-> I miss cappuccino).

Now you can relax and listen to a couple of popular Italian songs about women!

Donne, di (lit. of->by) Zucchero Fornaciari (Festival di San Remo 1985)

Una donna per amico (=a woman as a friend), di Lucio Battisti (1978):

Le polpette di carne, di tonno e vegetariane

For the videos of this class click here and here.

Polpette di carne
= meatballs

Ingredienti per 2 persone:

-200 g carne macinata (ground meat, we used a mix of beef and sausages with the skin removed)
-1-2 cipolle (onions)
-aglio (garlic, as much or as little as you like)
-olio d’oliva (olive oil)
-parmigiano grattugiato (grated parmisan cheese)
-prezzemolo (italian parsley, 1 bunch)
-spezie (spices)-> include noce moscata (nutmeg )

Optional: pan grattato (bread crumbs) -1 uovo (egg) – passata di pomodoro (strained tomatoes)- zucchero (sugar)


You can cook the meatballs in three different ways: deep fried, sauted or in tomato sauce.
This recipe is for the last two options. If you want to fry them, follow the same steps (2->5) then..deep fry them and drain the oil on paper towels.

1- in a large pan prepare a soffritto (sweat) with chopped garlic and onions: if you plan to use tomato sauce you can make the sweat with very little oil; otherwise you can use a couple of spoons of olive oil and more onions or other veggies (e.g. carrots, celery).
2-in the meantime mince the rest of the onions and the parsley.
3- combine the ground meat, minced onions and parsley, a pinch of salt and your favorite spices.
4- Optional (more heavy): add some bread crumbs and 1 egg.
5- Make small meatballs: if they are smaller they cook faster, I like them of the size of a walnut.
6- Add the meatballs to the sweat, increase the heat and saute until brown on all sides and all the water they release evaporates.
7- (over 21: add a glass of red wine and simmer until the alcohol is evaporated)
8- Le polpette sono pronte! (are ready)
9- If you like them in tomato sauce, take a box of plain strained tomatoes (e.g. Pomì) and mix
with the meatballs. Add salt a little of sugar. Let simmer for about 15 minutes, until the sauce is thick.

In the US meatballs are usually served on top of pasta. We typically serve meatballs as a second course, with some veggies as a side.

In class we made a salad with lattuga/insalata romana (romaine lettuce), pomodorini (cherry tomatoes) and the basic italian dressing (condimento): salt, extravirgin olive oil, and vinegar or a little lemon juice.

Polpette di zucchine = zucchini-balls

Ingredienti per 2 persone:

-2 zucchine/i
-1 spicchio di aglio (garlic clove)
-1 uovo (egg)
-Pan grattato/Pangrattato (Pan for pane=bread, grattato=grated->bread crumbs)
-50 g pecorino romano grattuggiato (grated). You can also use parmisan instead, or another hard cheese
-1 bunch of erba cipollina (chives). Good alternatives: mint or parsley
-spezie (spices) e.g. a tiny bit of nutmeg and/or cardamom, curry (not used much in the Italian kitchen)
-olio d’oliva (olive oil)
-sale (salt)


1- Make a soffritto (sweat) with garlic (minced, or in disks, or as a whole, base on your taste).
2- In the meantime wash and grate the zucchini.
3- When the garlic is a little translucent, add the grated zucchini and cook at high heat, add salt and spices.
4- When most of the water from the zucchini is evaporated, remove from heat and let cool.
5- Pre-heat the oven at 200 C (about 400 F) C=Celsius or centigradi.
6- In a bowl combine the zucchini-mix with the egg, grated cheese, minced chives. You can use your hands to mix everything. Optional: you can add roasted pinenuts.
7- Add the plain bread crumbs: you want to add them to get a more solid consistency, but if you add too many bread crumbs the zucchini-balls will be hard and less tasty.
8- Make zucchini-balls of about 1 inch in diameter.
9- Optional: you can gently roll them in bread crumbs
10- take an oven tray and spread a thin coat of olive oil.
11- Cuocere in forno a 200 C (circa 400 F) for about 15 minuti.

Polpette di tonno = tuna-balls

Ingredienti per 2 persone:

-200 g tonno in olio d’oliva (canned tuna in olive oil)
-1 uovo (egg)
-30 g parmigiano grattuggiato (grated parmisan)
-100 g ricotta cheese
-50 g pan grattato/pangrattato (Pan for pane=bread, grattato=grated->bread crumbs)
- Optional: prezzemolo (italian parsley, 1 bunch)
-spezie (spices)
-olio d’oliva (olive oil)
-sale (salt)


1- Drain the tuna.
2- In a bowl combine the tuna, grated parmisan, egg, ricotta, spices, bread crumbs and a pinch of salt. If you want, include some minced leaves of parsley.
3- Make tuna-balls of the size of a cherry-tomato.
4- Saute them in a large pan with very little olive oil until golden.
5- Alternatively, you can bake them (read the zucchini-balls recipe) .

Buon appetito!