All posts by Kathryn Occhipinti

About Kathryn Occhipinti

Dr. Kathryn Occhipinti is a radiologist of Italian-American descent who has been leading Italian language groups in the Peoria and Chicago areas for about 10 years. During that time, she founded Stella Lucente, LLC, a publishing company focused on instructional language books designed to make learning a second language easy and enjoyable for the adult audience. Using her experiences as a teacher and frequent traveler to Italy, she wrote the "Conversational Italian for Travelers" series of books, which follow the character Caterina on her travels through Italy, while at the same time introducing the fundamentals of the Italian language. The associated website www.learntravelitalian.com, provides free interactive dialogues recorded by native Italian speakers, cultural notes, and Italian recipes to make learning the language really come alive. Everything one needs to know to travel to Italy is in this series of books!

Book Display for Conversational Italian

Imperfetto Subjunctive for Past Tense (Part 1): Speak Italian!

Imperfetto Subjunctive  for Past Tense (Part 1): Speak Italian!

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog               The imperfetto subjunctive mood is easy to conjugate for use with the Italian past tense, but tricky to use!

 

Speak Italian: How to Use the Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

Can you speak Italian? By now, many of you have passed the beginning stages of learning to speak Italian and can read and comprehend quite a bit of the Italian language. Meraviglioso!

But have you tried to take the next step to speak Italian fluently? Can you use the imperfetto subjunctive mood when you are speaking in the past tense? To express complex feelings in Italian correctly, it is important to use the Italian subjunctive mood. Using the subjunctive mood is difficult for English speakers, as we only rarely use this tense in English, and this is something that I am always working on! The next three blogs in the “Speak Italian” series will focus on how to conjugate and use the imperfetto Italian subjunctive mood, or “il congiuntivo” for speaking in the past tense.

Let’s take that giant step from simple beginning sentences to more complex and fluid sentences in Italian by using the imperfetto subjunctive mood while speaking in the past tense. In this segment, we will discuss the phrases that take the subjunctive mood when in the past tense and how to conjugate the imperfetto subjunctive mood for avere, essere and stareExample sentences will follow!

Speak Italian: How to Use the Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

In each blog in the “Speak Italian” series about the  imperfetto subjunctive mood (“il congiuntivo”),  we will first present phrases in the past tense that take the imperfetto subjunctive mood.

Then,  we will review how to conjugate the imperfetto subjunctive mood.

Finally, we will present common phrases from daily life that take the Italian subjunctive mood.

Remember these examples as “anchors” in your knowledge for when you must speak Italian and try out the imperfetto subjunctive mood in your next Italian conversation!

Enjoy the first blog in this series, “Imperfetto Subjunctive for Past Tense (Part 1): Speak Italian!”
—Kathryn Occhipinti

Some of this material is adapted from our textbook, Conversational Italian for Travelers © 2012 by Stella Lucente, LLC, found on www.learntravelitalian.com. Special thanks to Italian instructor Maria Vanessa Colapinto.


Speak Italian: How to Use the Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood (Part 1)

Introducing… Italian Phrases That Take the Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

Verbs in Italian can have a subjunctive mood that is used to express beliefs, thoughts, or hopes with the verbs credere, pensare, and sperare.

The subjunctive mood is also said to “open up” a conversation to discussion about a particular topic by expressing doubt, uncertainty, desire, or a feeling.

Certain phrases are commonly used to start a sentence in order to introduce the subjunctive mood, and these initial phrases will be in the indicative tense (the “usual” present or past tense). These initial phrases imply uncertainty and trigger the subjunctive mood in the phrase to follow.

We have already learned to use the imperfetto subjunctive mode with the conditional tense in our blogs about Italian hypothetical phrases!  Now, as stated before, we will focus on the use of the imperfetto subjunctive mood after introductory phrases that are in the past tense.

Phrases that take the Italian subjunctive mood are listed below:

  1. Phrases that use the verbs credere (to believe), pensare (to think), and sperare (to hope). These verbs use the pattern: [verb  di + infinitive verb to describe the beliefs, thoughts, or hopes that one has. When the subject in the introductory phrase is not the same as the subject in the subjunctive clause that follows, the pattern changes to: [verb + che + subjunctive verb].*
  2. Impersonal constructions that begin with, “It is…” such as, “È possibile che…”
  3. Phrases that express a doubt, such as, “I don’t know…” or “Non so che…”
  4. Phrases that express uncertainty, such as, “It seems to me…” or “Mi sembra che…”
  5. Impersonal verbs followed by the conjunction che, such as, “Basta che…” “It is enough that,” or “Si dice che…” “They say that…

*When the speaker in the introductory phrase will carry out the action in the phrase to follow, Italian will use the following construction to link the phrases for credere, pensare, and sperare :  di + infinitive verb. Example: Penso di andare a Roma domani.  =  I think I will go to Rome tomorrow.  (Use  pensare a when thinking ABOUT something or someone.)

 

Points to remember about the subjunctive mood:

In Italian, the introductory phrases are usually followed by a “linking word,” which in turn introduces the phrase that follows.  This “linking word” is also known as a conjunction, and is the word che .  In this situation, che means that.  The clause that follows our introductory phrase will then describe what the uncertainty is about.

Note that the simple present or past tenses can also be used after the introductory phrases listed below, rather than the subjunctive mood, if you are speaking about a fact or something you believe to be true. This use will make perfect sense to the Italian listener, even when the subjective mood is otherwise commonly used.

 


 

Italian Phrases That Take the Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

To follow is a (long) list of phrases that can be used to introduce the subjunctive mood, with examples from the passato prossimo past tense in the first two columns and the imperfetto past tense in the last two columns.

Basic translations are given in our tables, but remember that the imperfetto past tense can also be translated as “was… ing.”  Therefore, “Speravo che” means, “I hoped,” and “I was hoping.” In the last section, we will then present examples for the past tense.

 Passato Prossimo Past
Subjunctive 
Phrase
Groups 1 and 2
    Imperfetto Past
Subjunctive Phrase
Groups 1 and 2
 
Ho creduto che I believed that Credevo che I believed that
Ho pensato che I thought that Pensavo che  I thought that
Ho sperato che I hoped that Speravo che I hoped that
         
È stato possibile che It was possible that Era possibile che It was possible that
È stato probablile che It was probable that Era probabile che It was probable that
       
È stato bene che It was fine/good that Era bene che It was fine/good that
Sarebbe stato bene che It would  have been good that
È stato giusto che It was right that Era giusto che It was right that
È stato meglio  che It was better that Era meglio che It was better that
       
È stato incredible che It was incredible that Era incredibile che It was incredible that
È stato un peccato che It was a shame that Era un peccato che It was a shame that
È stata una vergogna che It was a disgrace that Era una vergogna che It was a disgrace that
È stato normale che It was normal that Era normale che It was normal that
       

 

Passato Prossimo Past
Subjunctive 
Phrase
Groups 3, 4, and 5
    Imperfetto Past
Subjunctive Phrase
Groups 3, 4, and 5
 
Non ho saputo che I didn’t know that Non sapevo che I didn’t know that
Non ho saputo dove I did’t know where Non sapevo dove I didn’t know where
Non sono stato sicuro che I wasn’t sure that Non ero sicuro che I wasn’t sure that
Non ho avuto idea che I had no idea that Non avevo idea che I had no idea that
Non vedevo l’ora che… I couldn’t wait that
Non c’è stato nulla che There was nothing that Non c’era nulla che There was nothing that
       
Mi è parso* che It seems to me Mi pareva che It seemed to me
Mi è sembrato* che It seems to me Mi sembrava che It seemed to me
(Può darsi che  only used in present tense) (Perhaps)    
Ho avuto l’impressione che I had the impression that Avevo l’impresione che I had the impression that
Ho supposto che I supposed that Supponevo che I supposed that
Ho immaginato che I imagined that Immaginavo che I imagined that
Ho dubitato che I doubted that Dubitavo che I doubted that
Sono stato(a) convinto che I was convinced that Ero convinto che I was convinced that
 
(A meno che only used in present tense) (Unless)    
Ho convenuto che It was best that Conveniva che It was best that
È bastato(a) che It was enough that Bastava che It was enough that
(Malgrado che only used in present tense) (In spite of that)    
Si è detto che It was said that =
One says/said that
Si diceva che It was said that
Hanno detto che They said that Dicevano che They said that
 C’è stato bisognato che  It was necessary that =
There was a need for that
 Bisognava che  It was necessary that

* Use the phrases “Mi era parso che” and “Mi era sembrato che” when the phrase that follows will refer to another speaker’s actions. Do NOT change the ending of  parso or sembrato.  In this case, parso and sembrato refer to “it”  in the phrase, “It seems to me that…” and so are invariable.

However, when saying, “It seems to me…” followed by an adjective that describes how the speaker himself feels about something, the last letter of parso and sembrato must match in gender and number what is being described. 

So, to describe how a beautiful girl seemed to me, I would say:
Mi era parsa bella.   – or – Mi era sembrata bella.  She seemed beautiful to me.

 

************************************************

Finally, a word of caution:

DO NOT USE THE SUBJUNCTIVE WITH THE FOLLOWING THREE PHRASES!

Forse = Perhaps

 Per me = For me

Secondo me = According to me

The above may seem like exceptions to the rule, but perhaps… because these phrases already express doubt or your personal opinion… in the Italian way of thinking, it would be redundant to use these phrases along with the subjunctive!


Speak Italian: The Imperfetto  Subjunctive Mood (Part 1)

How to Conjugate Italian Verbs “Essere,” “Avere,” and “Stare” in the Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

Listed in the table below are the imperfetto subjunctive forms for the Italian auxiliary verbs avere, stare, and essere, which are often used with the conditional and past tenses in written and spoken Italian.

In our last two blogs, we showed how to use the imperfetto subjunctive tense with conditional verbs when we need to make hypothetical phrases in Italian.  We saw that in these cases, the conjunction “se” for “if” introduces the dependent clause with the imperfetto subjunctive verb.

In this blog, we will focus on the use of the imperfetto subjunctive with the Italian past tense.  In these cases, the conjunction che will introduce the dependent clause with the imperfetto subjunctive verb.

In our conjugation tables, che is included in parentheses in the subject pronoun column as a reminder that these verb forms are often introduced with  the conjunction che.  Also,  make sure to include the subject pronoun in your sentence after che for clarity, since the singular forms are identical.

Practice the imperfetto subjunctive verbs out loud by saying che , the subject  pronoun and then the correct verb form that follows!

Avere—to have—Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

(che) io avessi I had
(che) tu avessi you (familiar) had
(che) Lei

(che) lei/lui

avesse you (polite) had

she/he had

     
(che) noi avessimo we had
(che) voi aveste you all had
(che) loro avessero they had

 

Essere—to be—Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

(che) io fossi I were
(che) tu fossi you (familiar) were
(che) Lei

(che) lei/lui

fosse you (polite) were

she/he were

     
(che) noi fossimo we were
(che) voi foste you all were
(che) loro fossero they were

 

Stare—to stay/be—Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

(che) io stessi I stayed/were
(che) tu stessi you (familiar) stayed/were
(che) Lei

(che) lei/lui

stesse you (polite) stayed/were

she/he stayed/were

     
(che) noi stessimo we stayed/were
(che) voi steste you all stayed/were
(che) loro stessero they stayed/were

Speak Italian: How to Use the  Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood (Part 1)

Example Phrases Using “Stare” in the Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood with the Past Tense

To follow are some examples of when the Italian subjunctive mood in the past tense might be used in conversation during daily life.

Notice that English uses the simple past tense to express the same idea, but we use our verbs a bit differently to make the subjunctive.  In stead of saying “I was,” we use “I were.”  Or, alternatively, were + infinitive form or gerund. ”

English examples:  “If I were to go…” or “If I were going…” Also, “had + past participle,” such as, “If I had seen…”

In our first blog about the subjunctive mood, we presented example sentences using stare (to stay/to be).  We mentioned in our first blog that stare in the present subjunctive comes up very commonly in email greetings;  especially if there has not been recent communication, it is customary to mention a hope that all is well with friends and family. We will present the same examples using a reference to the past to include in conversation.

With these particular phrases in which we talk about “hoping,” in most cases, the imperfetto form of the past tense will be used.  However, if we “hope” for just one instant in time, with that time frame mentioned in the sentence, we can use the passato prossimo, which is  given in the same column in blue text.

 

 Past Tense
Phrase
Past Tense
Subjunctive Phrase
Tu sei stato bene. You were well. Speravo che tu stessi bene.
Ieri, ho sperato che tu stessi bene.
I hoped (was hoping) that you (familiar) were well.
Yesterday, I had hoped that you (familiar) were well.
Lei è stata bene. She was well. Speravo che lei stesse bene.
Ieri, ho sperato che lei stesse bene.
I hoped  (was hoping) that she was well .
Yesterday, I had hoped that she was well.
Lui è stato bene. He was well. Speravo che lui stesse bene.
Ieri, ho sperato che lui stesse bene ieri.
 I hoped (was hoping) that he was well (yesterday).
Yesterday, I had hoped that he was well.
La famiglia è stata bene. The family was well.  

Speravo che la tua famiglia* stesse bene.
L’anno scorso, ho sperato che la tua famiglia stesse bene.

I hoped (was hoping) that the family* was well.
Last year, I had hoped that the family was well.
Tutti sono stati bene. Everybody
was fine.
Speravo che tutti stessero bene.
L’anno scorso, ho sperato che tutti stessero bene. 
I hoped (was hoping) that everybody was well.
Last year, I had hoped that everybody was fine.

*Famiglia = family and is a collective noun that takes the third person singular.


Example Phrases Using “Avere” in the Past Tense Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

As we noted in our first blog about the Italian subjunctive, we often close an email with a hope as well—for a nice weekend, for instance, or that we will see the person we have contacted sometime soon.

In a similar way,  if we have been separated from someone for some amount of time, when we email or meet that person again, we may include a hope that time spent has gone well.  In this case, the phrases we most commonly use will need to use avere (to have) in the imperfetto subjunctive mood.

Again, the examples presented below are from our first blog on this topic. An example of how one might use the same phrase in the past tense is given in the imperfetto form – the most likely form to be used in these examples.

Present Tense
Phrase
Past Tense
Subjunctive Phrase
Buona settimana! Have a good week! Speravo che tu avessi una buona settimana.
I hoped (was hoping) that you had a good week!
Buon fine settimana! Have a good weekend! Speravo che tu avessi un buon fine settimana.
I hoped  (was hoping) that you had a good weekend!
Buona giornata.

Buona serata.

Have a good day.

Have a good evening.

Speravo che tu avessi una buona giornata/buona serata. I hoped (was hoping) that you had a good day/evening.

 


Example Phrases Using “Essere” in the Past Tense Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

As we discussed in our first blog on the subjunctive, the verb essere (to be) is commonly used when describing someone’s characteristics to someone else.  But what if we are not sure that someone possesses a certain characteristic, or we would like someone to possess a characteristic we fear they may not have?

These thoughts, of course, can take place in the past as easily as in the present.  Either way, we must use the subjunctive mood in our sentence! Here are a few examples. How many more can you think of?

Present or Past Tense
Phrase
Present Tense
Subjunctive Phrase
 

 

Lei era bella.

 

She was beautiful. Mi sembrava che lei fosse bella.
Dieci anni fa, mi sono sembrato che lei fosse bella.
It seemed to me that she was beautiful = 
She seemed beautiful to me.
Ten years ago, it seemed to me that she was beautiful.
L’insegnante era simpatico.
The teacher was nice.  

Speravo che l’insegnante fosse simpatico.

I hoped (was hoping) that the teacher was nice.
Dio è in cielo.

 

God is in heaven.

 

 


Credevo che Dio fosse
 in cielo.
Quando aveva dieci anni, ho creduto che Dio fosse in cielo.

 

 

I believed that God was in heaven.
When I was ten years old, I believed that God was in heaven.
L’attrice era brava in quel film. The actress was great in that film.  


Pensavo che l’attrice fosse 
brava in quel film.

 

I thought that the actress was great in that film.
Lui era fortunato. He was fortunate.  

Credevo che lui fosse fortunato.
L’anno scorso, ho creduto che lui fosse fortunato.

 


I believed that he was fortunate.

Last year, I believed that he was fortunate.
Lei era contenta. She was happy.  

Mi pareva che lei fosse contenta.
Il mese scorsa, mi parevo che lei fosse contenta.

 

It seemed to me that she was happy = 
She seemed happy to me.

Last month, it seemed to me that she was happy.
Loro erano bravi cantanti. They were wonderful singers.  

Può darsi che loro fossero bravi cantanti quando erano giovani.

 

Perhaps they were wonderful singers when they were young.
Lui era un bravo studente. He was a good student.  

Dubitavo che lui fosse un bravo studente.

 

I doubted that he was a good student.
Lei era sposata. She was married. Era probabile che lei fosse sposata. She was probably married.

(It was probable that she was married.)

Loro erano contenti. They were happy. Era possibile che loro fossero contenti. It was possible that they were happy.

 


Speak Italian: Common Italian Phrases to Introduce the Past Tense

Now that we are speaking in Italian in the past tense, we may want to use some of these expressions to refer to recent or more remote past events.

Notice from the list below that ieri (yesterday/last) is used to refer to specific times during the day.  Ieri is invariable (the ending does not change).  The ending for scorso (last) is gender specific (the ending changes to reflect the gender of the noun it describes).

 

stamattina this morning
ieri yesterday
l’altro ieri the day before yesterday
ieri mattina yesterday morning
ieri pomeriggio yesterday afternoon
ieri sera yesterday evening
ieri notte last night

 

 

scorso(a) last
l’anno scorso last year
il mese scorso last month
la settimana scorsa last week

 

lunedì scorso last Monday
martedì scorso last Tuesday
mercoledì scorso last Wednesday
giovedì scorso last Thursday
venerdì scorso last Friday
sabato scorso  last Saturday
domenica scorsa last Sunday

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blogKathryn Occhipinti, MD, author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers
 series of books, is a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
“Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”

Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian today for FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet Stella Lucente Italian

YouTube videos to learn Italian are available from © Stella Lucente, LLC.
YouTube Stella Lucente Italian, LLC

More information on and photographs of Italy can be found on these Stella Lucente Italian sites:
Facebook Stella Lucente Italian
Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian

Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts and helpful hints about getting around Italy! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy. —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC

Italian Subjunctive Past Tense (Part 1): Speak Italian!

Ferragosto at Lago Maggiore Lungomare

Ferragosto – Italian Holiday Time in August

Ferragosto – Italian Holiday Time in August

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog  Follow Caterina during Ferragosto -the major holiday that takes place in Italy during  August -in the Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books!

The Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook begins each chapter with a dialogue from a story about the character Caterina, an American girl who travels to Italy to visit her relatives. As the story continues from one chapter to the next, we learn Italian, and about Italy, in an engaging way through Caterina’s experiences.

Ferragosto – Italian Holiday Time in August 

Ferragosto – just what is this ancient holiday that still becomes the focus of every Italian during August? While Italy is known as a destination for world travelers seeking to enjoy the Italian landscape, art and food, it is less well-known how Italians enjoy their summertime vacation.

In our story, Caterina, an Italian-American girl,  is a guest in Milan at the house of her Italian cousin Pietro and his wife Francesca.  She arrives in Italy just before the start of the important Italian summer holiday called “Ferragosto”.  The holiday is officially one day – August 15 – and is a holiday celebrated by the Catholic church.  But, most Italians take off at least a week and often two or even three weeks, as people in the cities and even smaller towns escape from the to summer heat to the mountains or beach to enjoy time with their families.

If you want to feel like an insider during the Ferragosto holiday this year, first click on the link from Conversational Italian for Travelers  – Chapter 14 – “On the Beach at Last.”  Listen to the free audio of a the conversation between Caterina and a new friend who meet on the beach during her family’s Ferragosto holiday.

This free audio to learn Italian is provided by www.LearnTravelItalian.com.  The grammar and verb conjugations necessary to understand this dialogue are provided by the same Chapter 14 in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books, Just the Grammar and Just the Verbs.

Then, read the Cultural Note below, adapted from the  same textbook also found on Amazon.com, “Conversational Italian for Travelers,”  which describes the history of Ferragosto – how the holiday came to be during Roman times and the different celebrations that take place  around Italy today.
—Kathryn Occhipinti


 

Ferragosto
Italian Holiday Time in August 

 

Ferragosto in Venice Italy, Lido Beach
Sunbathers in the early morning on Lido Island, Venice during Ferragosto

What is the perfect Ferragosto holiday?  Ask any Italian this question, and the answer will no doubt involve fond memories of past holiday traditions of family and food, and, often a passionate description of their usual family get-away to the sea or mountains.  Ferragosto is known as a holiday for fun and relaxation for the entire family.  As one of the oldest and well-loved holidays in Italy, most Italians have high expectations of the fulfillment that comes with their Ferragosto celebration.

The official beginning of the holiday is August 15, which the Catholic church has adopted as its own with the Feast of the Assumption (a celebration of Mother Mary’s ascension into heaven to join her son, Jesus).

This church tradition is thought to have been started in 580 A.D., by the Byzantine Emperor Maurice, but the holiday traditions practiced today actually date back to the Roman festival of Consuali, which itself is said to have been begun by Romulus, the founder of Rome.  During Consuali, all Roman workers and animals were granted days of rest prior to the hard working days of the fall harvest.

During the Roman empire, in 18 BC, Emperor Augustus expanded the tradition by making ferie Augusti (Augustus’ holidays) special days set aside to pay tribute to the Roman gods, and extended the holiday to involve the entire month of August.  The holiday was considered a special time for all of Roman society, and during these days all classes of Romans were able to mingle and celebrate together.

Over the centuries, many towns have adopted special traditions for this time period, such as the famous horse race, or Palio, in Siena, which takes place on August 16th, and ancient ceremonies of renewal, which involve bonfires or bathing.

The tradition of going in montagne or al mare (to the mountains or to the sea) probably began with this idea of spiritual and physical renewal.  Mussolini made Ferragosto a national holiday, and brought the idea of vacationing for most of the month of August into the 20th century.

Companies today still close in Italy for several days surrounding the official start of the holiday on August 15th, and most Italians will close shop and take at least a week off in August if they are able.  It is customary to pack a picnic lunch with foods that are cool and refreshing during the hot month of August, such as watermelon (cocomero) or other fresh fruit, cold beverages, fresh vegetables and cold pasta or rice dishes.

—Adapted from Conversational Italian for Travelers, “Cultural Note – Ferragosto”  by Kathryn Occhipinti

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog—Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, is the author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books and a teacher of
Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
“Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”

Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian today for FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet Stella Lucente Italian

YouTube videos to learn Italian are available from © Stella Lucente, LLC.
YouTube Learn Travel Italian 

More information on and photographs of Italy can be found on Facebook Stella Lucente Italian and Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian.
Facebook Stella Lucente Italian
Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian

Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts and helpful hints about getting around Italy! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy. —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC

Ferragosto – Italian Holiday Time in August

Italian Chicken Cacciatore

One-Pot Italian Chicken Cacciatore

One-Pot Italian Chicken Cacciatore

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog Italian Chicken Cacciatore 

A delicious and easy-to-make family dinner. Try it tonight!

Try One-Pot Italian Chicken Cacciatore  for YOUR Italian Dinner Tonight! 

The recipe title, “One-Pot Italian Chicken Cacciatore,” refers to a type of meat stew made in Italy, presumably when a hunter would bring home a fresh catch. Or possibly, the hunter himself would make this stew with the one pot he had on hand while out in the forest. Exactly where the title comes from is no longer known, and many delicious variations of chicken stew are called “alla cacciatore”—meaning “as a hunter would make”—in Italy today.

For our Italian chicken cacciatore recipe, a whole cut chicken is cooked in one large skillet, using olive oil and fresh summer tomatoes and peppers. Although this dish started out “back in the day” as a stew (in cooking terms, a fricassee), I’ve omitted the flour to make less of a gravy and instead a light, fresh “sauce.” By taking the chicken out of the pot after browning and then putting it back in to finish cooking, the amount of chicken fat in the dish is reduced. I like mushrooms, which I often add to the dish as well.

Hearty, crusty Italian bread makes a perfect accompaniment to Italian chicken cacciatore, although I have to admit that my family does not follow the proper Italian food “rules” when it comes to this dish. If you’ve been to Italy, you know them: the first course (il primo) is pasta, risotto, or gnocchi, and the second course (il secondo) is the meat—all by itself in a sauce or gravy. Fresh vegetables are abundant in Italy, but in Italian restaurants, they must be ordered as a side dish (contorno) during the second course.

Like good Italian-Americans, we eat our chicken with the pasta on the side and cover both in sauce. Add Parmesan cheese if you like, but only to the pasta! I hope your family enjoys this recipe as much as mine does.   —Kathryn Occhipinti


One-Pot Italian Chicken Cacciatore 

Ingredients

1 frying chicken, cut into 2 breasts, 2 thighs/legs, 2 wings
(or any chicken with breasts and thighs of similar size)
approximately 1/4 cup olive oil, and more as needed
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
3/4 cup Italian dry white wine
1 large medium onion, sliced thickly
2 bell peppers (1 green and 1 red preferred), sliced lengthwise
11 (15 oz.) can tomatoes or fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped, in liquid
6–8 cremini (baby portabella) mushrooms, sliced lengthwise (optional)
(quickly rinsed, gently rubbed dry with a paper towel, stem trimmed)

1/2–1 cup good chicken stock, or water
2 sprigs of Italian flat-leaf parsley (chop off leafy parts and reserve; tie stems in a small bundle)

Full Method

(*Scroll to the end of this section for an abbreviated method for an even quicker weeknight dinner.)

Rinse the frying chicken inside and out, pat dry, and cut into pieces. Reserve the back for chicken soup to be made at a later date!

Sprinkle chicken lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Use a large, shallow pot, Dutch oven, or skillet to cook all ingredients over medium high heat as follows:

Pour olive oil into your pot or skillet to coat the entire bottom of the pot with a thin layer of oil, using approximately 1/4 cup of olive oil.

Add 1 of the cloves of crushed garlic and cook under low heat until it softens and adds flavor to the olive oil, but do not brown.

Remove garlic.  Raise heat to medium high.

When the oil has heated, add chicken to the pan skin side down, keeping each piece separate from the other. Let cook without moving the chicken for a few minutes. Lift up one of the chicken pieces gently to check. When the skin has browned lightly, turn chicken pieces once and cook about 5 minutes more.

Remove the chicken to a plate. Pour off any rendered chicken fat and a couple more tablespoons of olive oil so pan is coated lightly.

Add the second piece of crushed garlic, the onions, and the peppers and sauté until all vegetables have softened a bit but have not cooked.

Add the white wine and boil off about 1/2 of the wine. While the wine is boiling, use a wooden spoon to scrape off any browned bits that have stuck to the pan while the chicken was browning.

Add the chopped tomatoes with their juices, bundled fresh parsley stems and optional sliced mushrooms. Then add a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Add enough chicken stock or water to almost cover the chicken and vegetables.

Chicken in Marsala Wine
Browned chicken with vegetables and Marsala wine cooking on the stove top.

Cover the skillet, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and cook on medium low heat about 30–40 minutes. The liquid should be simmering but not boiling in order to give a nice consistency of the vegetables and retain their shape. Turn the chicken over a few times gently as it cooks, to ensure even cooking, and add more water as needed. (Additional cooking time will depend on how cooked the chicken was initially, of course.)

Test the chicken to make sure it is cooked through by cutting a slit into one of the breasts. When the chicken is done, the juices should run clear. Just before the chicken is cooked through, you may want to uncover to boil off any excess liquid.

Italian chicken cacciatore
Chicken Cacciatore simmering on the stove top.

This dish is not quite a chicken stew,** and the “sauce” it yields will usually be a bit thin, because we have not added flour as a thickener.

Taste the sauce, and adjust salt and pepper before serving. Remove the parsley stems.

Place the chicken pieces on a large platter or on individual plates. Garnish with fresh parsley leaves.

The “sauce” can be served over the chicken and the dish eaten accompanied by bread, like a stew. But as I’ve noted above, I have to admit that here in America, my family breaks the “pasta first course and meat second course” rule and serves this chicken dish together with pasta. I think that this dish is a great way to introduce children to how delicious fresh vegetables can be. But only put grated Parmesan cheese on your pasta—not the chicken, please!

*Abbreviated Method

With this method, the chicken can be cooked on the stove top, with a large, deep skillet, or started on the stove top and finished in the oven with an oven-safe pot.

(Note: It is not  traditional Italian to cook onions and garlic without softening them first in olive oil, but when simmered in hot, salted liquid, onions and garlic will mellow and add a sweet flavor to the sauce.)

Put 1/4 cup olive oil, crushed garlic, sliced onions, sliced peppers, tomatoes and their juices, optional sliced mushrooms, and parsley stalks into your cooking pot of choice. Sprinkle with salt.

Place the chicken, washed, patted dry, and sprinkled with salt and pepper, on top of the vegetables.

Add enough water or stock to just cover the chicken and vegetables. (Omit the white wine in the ingredients list.)

Cook on stove top over high heat to bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, on the stove top or in the oven at 350° until done, about 40–60 minutes. Turn chicken and mix vegetables so all remain in liquid every 15 minutes or so while the chicken is cooking. Add more liquid as necessary. When the chicken is cut with a knife, the juices should be clear when the chicken is cooked through to the proper temperature.

Plate chicken and vegetables in their juices and serve with bread or pasta on the side, as given in the first method.

Italian Chicken Cacciatore
Chicken Cacciatore served with pasta and sauce from the pot.

**In a stew meat is cut up, sautéed, and braised, with flour as a thickener. In this recipe, we use a generous amount of healthy olive oil. If you want to decrease the amount of fat, the same methods can be followed with skinless, bone-in chicken, browned for a shorter time initially.

Kathryn Occhipinti

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, is the author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers
 series of books and a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
“Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”

Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian today for FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet Stella Lucente Italian

YouTube videos to learn Italian are available from © Stella Lucente, LLC.
YouTube Stella Lucente Italian, LLC

More information on and photographs of Italy can be found on Facebook Stella Lucente Italian and Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian.
Facebook Stella Lucente Italian

Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian

Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts and helpful hints about getting around Italy! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy. —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC

One-Pot Italian Chicken Cacciatore

Italian Chocolate Hazelnut Tart

Italian Chocolate  Hazelnut Tart

 

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blogItalian chocolate hazelnut tart: It’s  delicious for dessert!

Italian Chocolate Hazelnut Tart

This Italian chocolate hazelnut tart (crostata) blends two classic Italian ingredients that go perfectly with one another to create a delicious, sweet end to any meal. I think you will agree that a slice of this chocolate tart for dessert will add something special to any get-together or special celebration.  And it is very simple to make!

A basic, pre-baked pie crust and a no-bake filling of chocolate ganache, hazelnut spread, and real hazelnuts will turn into something special when combined. The filling is candy-like, similar to the flavored chocolate fillings found in truffle candies, so even a thin slice is very rich! Also included is an easy method for homemade whipped cream.

Try a slice of our chocolate hazelnut tart topped with a dollop of freshly made whipped cream and see for yourself!
—Kathryn Occhipinti


Italian Chocolate Hazelnut Tart

Chocolate Hazelnut Crostata
A slice of Italian chocolate hazelnut tart topped with whipped cream and a raspberry. Serve with coffee and enjoy!

 

Make the tart pastry:
Chocolate Pasta Frolla
Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch processed)
1/3 cup sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 stick (8 Tbsps) cold, unsalted butter, sliced into 1 Tb pieces
1 egg + 1 egg yolk, lightly mixed together
1 tsp vanilla
about 6–8 Tbsps of chilled water

Method to make the tart crust:

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt.

Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or a fork or rub between your thumb and the tips of your fingers to make small, flat, flakes of butter.

Mix the egg with the vanilla and then add to the dry ingredients. Add 5 Tbsp of chilled water. Mix all together with a fork. Crumbs of dough will start to form.

Add an additional 1 or 2 Tbsp of chilled water.

Bring the dough together gently with your hands, and attempt to form a disk. If a dough will not form, mix in 1 or  2 Tbsp of water and try again. Continue to do this until a dough does form. The final dough will be a little bit sticky before it all holds together.

Complete the disk and wrap in waxed paper. Refrigerate 30 minutes.

After the dough has chilled, gently roll it out on a floured board until it is large enough to fit into an 11″ tart pan. The dough will be soft. Refrigerate 15 minutes.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator. It should have firmed up a bit. Prick with a fork. Line the tart shell with aluminum foil and then fill with pie weights (dried beans make good pie weights if you want to use something from around the house).

Bake the pie crust at 350° for 8–10 minutes.

Out of the oven, remove foil and weights, and cook an additional 8–10 minutes. When done, the edges of the tart will start to pull away from the tart pan.

Let the crust cool completely on a pie rack in the tart pan while preparing the filling.

 

 Make the chocolate ganache filling and assemble the tart:
Ingredients:

1 cup whippng cream (cold)
10 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa)
1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread*
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup hazelnuts, chopped**

*Nutella brand works well because it contains sugar. If using another brand, taste the mixture and add sugar as needed.

**If you buy whole hazelnuts, prepare as follows: roast whole nuts about 8–10 minutes at 350°, put into a small brown paper bag, and rub to remove as much of the brown “skin” as possible. Chop coarsely with a knife or a nut chopper/grinder device if you have one.

Method to make the filling:

Heat the whipping cream in a small saucepan until it just reaches a boil, and immediately pour over the finely chopped chocolate. (Use a heat-proof glass or CorningWare bowl for this step.)

Mix with a whisk until the chocolate has melted.

Add hazelnut spread, salt, and vanilla, and whisk again.

Whisk in the chopped hazelnuts. Keep mixing. The filling will start to thicken more and more as it cools.

Pour immediately into the cooled pie crust.

Refrigerate until the filling sets.

Take out of the refrigerator 30 minutes or so before serving to let the filling and crust soften a bit at room temperature.

Serve individual slices garnished with whipped cream and raspberries if desired.

 

Homemade whipped cream:
Ingredients:
(1 cup of whipping cream will serve about 4 people)

1 cup whipping cream (chilled)
1 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Method to make fresh whipped cream:

It is a snap to make whipped cream if all bowls/whisks/beaters and the cream is cold to start. In fact, be careful, because it is easy to overbeat and then you will end up with butter!

This whipped cream has a very light, not-too-sweet taste. More sugar and vanilla can be added as desired, or even a splash of liquor.

Chill a large bowl and the beaters in the freezer before starting.

Take the whipping cream directly from the refrigerator and pour 2 cups into your chilled bowl.

Add the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla and mix together with a fork to dissolve.

Hand mix very briskly with a whisk, or set your electric or standing mixer to medium and begin to whip the cream/sugar mixture.

Gradually increase the speed of your mixer as you continue beating the whipping cream.

Stop every couple of minutes to test the whipped cream. Near the end, as the whipping cream thickens, slow the mixer down and watch carefully.

When almost done, it will start to form a pattern of “ridges” in the bowl as you move your electric hand mixer back and forth. Lift up your beaters at this point. The whipped cream will cling to the beaters and make a soft peak that stands up when done.

—Kathryn Occhipinti 

 

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blogKathryn Occhipinti, MD, is the author of the Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books and a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
“Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”

Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian today for FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet Stella Lucente Italian

YouTube Videos to learn Italian are available from © Stella Lucente, LLC.
YouTube Stella Lucente Italian, LLC

More information on and photographs of Italy can be found on Facebook Stella Lucente Italian and Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian.
Facebook Stella Lucente Italian
Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian

Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts about Italian food and culture in each chapter of our book! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy. —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC

Privacy notice: Companies affiliated with this site may use cookies.  If you want to learn how to disable or block cookies, see this link:  https://www.google.com/search?q=How+to+block+cookies&oq=How+to+block+cookies&aqs=chrome..69i57.2864j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Italian Chocolate Hazelnut Tart

Italian Roast Lamb for Easter

Easter Lamb Roast, Italian Style

Easter Lamb Roast, Italian Style

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog Easter Lamb Roast, Italian Style

The most moist and flavorful Easter lamb is Italian—and easy to make! Try it for a special Easter dinner.

Try Italian Style Easter Lamb Roast for a Special Easter Dinner! 

The Easter holiday and the Easter lamb for dinner have been linked together in Italy far beyond recorded years. But I have to admit that here in America, my Italian-American family’s own tradition for Easter was (for many years) a special Sunday brunch with friends at our favorite restaurant. My children loved greeting the Easter bunny as he walked through, the Easter egg hunt, and of course, the special (and the children’s second) Easter basket filled with chocolate goodies provided with dessert.

Now that my family is a bit older and the charm of the Easter bunny has faded (although not the love of chocolate, mind you), we prefer to meet at home for Easter. Because the matriarch of the family, my mother, has had to give up cooking, making our Italian Easter dinner—which, as we all know should feature lamb—has fallen to me.

Another confession—I’ve never really liked the particular “gamy” taste of lamb. But luckily, I’ve taken up this family challenge with years of Italian cuisine to fall back on. I’ve tried several ways to make lamb known to Italians of different regions. And I think I’ve found a method that my family all agrees makes our lamb moist and delicious. (Hint: you may find some similarities between this recipe and the pot roast recipe I posted in February.) I hope if you try this recipe for Easter, or for another special family dinner, that your family will agree with mine that it is the most delicate and flavorful lamb you’ve tried.

Oh, and stay tuned for the next blog post for an after-Easter chocolate dessert treat!

 Kathryn Occhipinti

 

 


Easter Lamb Roast, Italian Style 

Ingredients
            For the Marinade:           

1 (2 lb.) lamb shoulder from a young spring lamb

3 large cloves of garlic,
sliced lengthwise into several thin slices
2 sprigs of  fresh rosemary, cut into small pieces

For the Roasting Method: 

1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 lemon, juiced
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2/3 cup dry white Italian wine

     For the Vegetable Garnish

1 lb. of small red spring potatoes
1 lb of young thin asparagus

 

Method

Prepare the lamb shoulder:

Rinse the meat, pat dry, and cut slits all over the lamb shoulder with a paring knife in order to bury the garlic slices.

Bury the garlic slices in the meat, deep enough so they will not fall out during cooking. Bury a few sprigs of the rosemary into the meat slits as well.

Italian lamb with cloves of garlic
Italian lamb with garlic cloves inserted, ready to marinate

Sprinkle the meat on all sides with salt.

A marinade with garlic and lemon juice will go a long way to taking the “gamy” taste out of the lamb meat. The marinade to follow can be omitted if you don’t have time or don’t mind the true taste of lamb meat.

Place the lamb shoulder in a large, nonreactive bowl (glass or corningware works best) and pour over the juice of one lemon, turning to coat nicely. Leave to marinate 2 hours in the refrigerator.

When ready to start to cook the lamb, take it out of the marinade, rinse, and pat dry again.

Roast the lamb shoulder:

Put the butter, olive oil, and the remaining crushed garlic clove and sprigs of fresh rosemary into a large, deep, heavy pan and heat gently over medium heat until the butter foams. (Do not let the butter turn brown.)

Add the lamb and brown on all sides. Remove the garlic when it becomes brown, because it will just add a bitterness to the meat after this point.

Add a pinch or two of salt, a couple of grinds of fresh pepper, and the white wine.

Bring the wine to a boil, turn the meat once or twice to coat nicely with the wine, then cover, leaving the lid slightly off.

Cook on the stove top at a gentle simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours. Or, if your pot is oven safe, place in the oven and cook gently at 200°. Be sure to turn and baste the lamb every 30 minutes or so. Add an additional quarter cup of water or so if necessary while basting to keep the lamb moist.

Italian lamb on the stovetop
Lamb cooking on the stove top

The lamb should be cooked until it is tender and brown, and it will retract a bit from the bone when this point is reached. The final roast should be a bit pink in the center. Be careful not to overcook, or the lamb will become dry.

When the lamb has finished cooking, remove it from the pan. Place it on a large serving platter and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm while making the gravy.

Prepare the lamb juices for gravy:

Pour all but about 2 tablespoons of fat out of the roasting pan.

Then add a quarter cup of water or white wine and turn the heat up to high to deglaze the pan; that is, scrape off the delicious brown bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon while the water is boiling.

Boil off enough water to get the desired consistency of your pan juices. Adjust salt and pepper.

(If a thicker gravy is desired, you can add 2 tablespoons of flour to the reserved cooking fat and cook the flour gently about 5 minutes on low heat,  scraping the bottom of the pan and stirring constantly. Then add about a quarter cup of water and stir continuously to thicken. Add salt and pepper gradually, tasting to get the final result.)

 

Serve your lamb shoulder:

Italian Easter Lamb
Italian Easter lamb dinner 2017: Lamb, new potatoes, and asparagus

When ready to serve, remove the aluminum foil tenting the lamb roast.

Drizzle some of the pan juices over the lamb roast and reserve the rest to serve in a gravy boat.

Surround your pot roast with prepared vegetables of your choice for the final presentation. Serve and enjoy!

Kathryn Occhipinti

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, is the author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers
 series of books and a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
“Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”

Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian today for FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet Stella Lucente Italian

YouTube videos to learn Italian are available from © Stella Lucente, LLC.
YouTube Stella Lucente Italian, LLC

More information on and photographs of Italy can be found on Facebook Stella Lucente Italian and Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian.
Facebook Stella Lucente Italian

Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian

Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts and helpful hints about getting around Italy! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy. —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC

Easter Lamb Roast, Italian Style

Sliced Italian pot roast

Italian Pot Roast in Barolo Wine for Sunday Dinner

Italian Pot Roast in  Barolo Wine for Sunday Dinner

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog Italian Pot Roast in Barolo Wine

The most moist and flavorful pot roast is Italian—and easy to make! Try it for a special Sunday dinner.

Try Italian Pot Roast in Barolo Wine for YOUR Sunday Dinner! 

“Do Italians really make pot roast?” I am happy to share not only that Italians do make pot roast, but also that Italian-style pot roast is the most moist and flavorful pot roast I’ve ever tasted!

When I lived in San Francisco, I discovered the wonderful way that Northern Italians from the Lombardy region have with pot roast. They braise their pot roast slowly, under low heat for many hours, with a full-bodied northern Italian red wine called Barolo wine. With this method, the meat becomes melt-in-your-mouth soft and delicious. If you can’t find the Barolo wine that is typical of Northern Italy, Barbera wine or any hearty Italian red wine will do.

I’ve been making Italian pot roast in red wine for many years now, usually as a special treat for Sunday dinners with my family. The nice thing about the Italian red wine method is that the meat is even more flavorful if reheated; with this in mind, the dish is traditionally prepared the day before serving. Cook the meat until it is almost done, then reheat and finish in about an hour’s time for your special dinner the next day. And don’t worry—there is virtually no way to overcook pot roast with this method!

For the Italian pot roast recipe below, you will need a 3 lb. top round or rump round cut of beef. Ask your butcher to tie your meat with butcher’s twine, so the roast will stay intact as it cooks. Or, if you’d like to try to tie the meat yourself, click on the link to a master chef’s video from Le Cordon Bleu.

The recipe below also calls for “larding” the meat. This is an old method, whereby salt pork is inserted into tough cuts of meat to yield more tenderness and flavor. Nowadays, salt pork can be hard to find. And although larding is not absolutely necessary, I find that when I use a minimally processed bacon fat—no smoke, salt, or other flavorings added—this little bit of added fat does seem to help keep the roast moist during the long braising time. I have provided below a simple method for larding meat with kitchen utensils found in most homes. If you are interested in a special larding gadget and watching the larding process in real time, click on this video: Tescoma Presto Larding Needle.

Of course, you may add a vegetable side dish (contorno) to your pot roast meal. Northern Italy is the home of polenta, which would make a wonderful accompaniment. Small boiled potatoes and cut carrots are also nice to frame your roast when you present it on a serving dish.

And don’t throw away the vegetables that have been braising with the roast—those onions, carrots, and celery may have an unappealing brownish color, but they will also have developed a wonderful sweetness. Serve as a garnish to top the pot roast slices when they are plated. Ladle the finished slices with the warm pot roast juices and enjoy!  Kathryn Occhipinti


Italian Pot Roast in Barolo Wine 

Italian pot roast
Italian pot roast with potatoes and carrots

 

Ingredients
            for the Pot Roast:           

1 (3 lb.) top round of beef,  tied with butcher’s twine
6 strips natural, uncured, unsalted bacon
1 or 2 large cloves of garlic,
with the second clove sliced lengthwise into several thin slices
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 whole, dried clove
1 onion, chopped coarsely
3 carrots, sliced diagonally into thick slices
2 stalks of celery, sliced diagonally into thick slices
1 cup Barolo wine, Barbera wine, or any full-bodied Italian red wine
1/4 cup tomato paste

Ingredients
     for the Vegetable Garnish

1 lb. of small red or yellow potatoes
1 lb. of carrots, cut into serving pieces
Fresh parsley

 

Method

Prepare the meat and vegetables:

Prepare your top round or rump round meat by rinsing, patting dry, and then tying with butcher’s twine, if the butcher has not already done this for you.

Pot roast Italian style
Top round cut tied with butcher’s twine

Lard the meat by making holes lengthwise through the roast and then pushing a strip of fat from the bacon through each hole. One of my steel barbecue skewers cuts through the meat nicely and makes a hole about the right size. I use my fingers and, if necessary, my knife sharpener or the dowel of a wooden spoon to push the fat through. A special larding device, of course, does the job easily and quickly (see above for the link).

Rub the meat all over with the garlic. If you like, make additional small cuts with a paring knife and insert small slices of garlic into the meat.

Pot roast larded with garlic
The top round is turned on its end and larded. Small pieces of garlic have been inserted as well.

Cut up your vegetables, so all is ready to go before you start to cook.

Pot roast with vegetables
Top round tied, larded, and surrounded by chopped vegetables ready for the pot.

 

Cook your pot roast:

Heat the butter and oil together under low heat in a deep, heavy pan. Use an oven-proof pan or pot if you have one. (Or you can transfer to a pot suitable for the oven later.)

When the butter has melted, add the pot roast and brown the meat under medium heat, turning the meat with tongs so that each side browns nicely.

After the meat has browned completely, add the clove, onions, carrots, celery, and wine, with 1 cup of water.

If you are making this dish on the stovetop, cover and cook slowly under low to medium heat, so the liquid is kept at a simmer.

 -or-

If you have an oven-proof pan, I find it easier to transfer the pan to the oven and cook at 325°. If you do not have an oven-proof pan, you can move the pot roast from the pan into a pot, but be sure to scrape the bottom of the original pan with a wooden spoon so the liquid contains all of the good-tasting browned pieces from the bottom. Then pour the liquid over the pot roast.

The pot roast should cook gently for 3 hours. During that time, every 30 minutes or so, uncover briefly, turn the pot roast gently, and baste it in its juices.

After 3 hours, add the tomato paste diluted in 1/2 cup of water. You may need to add additional water to the pot if some has evaporated and the juices become too thick.

Continue cooking and braising as above for another 2 hours.

The cooking process can be stopped at this time. The meat should be tender enough to flake easily when tested with a fork along one of the corners. If not, continue to cook for an additional hour or so.

When the meat is done cooking, it is traditional to leave the meat in the pot with the juices and cooking vegetables until the next day, then reheat an additional 30 minutes to an hour or so before serving. (Refrigerate the pot roast until ready to cook for this final hour.)

While the pot roast is reheating, prepare your favorite vegetable to go with the meal. Polenta, small potatoes, and boiled or glazed cut carrots look nice surrounding the pot roast, but any favorite vegetable is fine.

Serve your pot roast:

Sliced Italian pot roast
Italian pot roast sliced and ready to serve

When you are ready to serve, take the pot roast out of its cooking pan and place it in the center of a platter. Remove the twine and cut into slices—before or after presenting at the table.

Strain the pan juices, and reserve the vegetables to place around the pot roast. They will look brown but should still have some shape and will taste very sweet.

Drizzle some of the pan juices over the pot roast and reserve the rest to serve in a gravy boat.

Surround your pot roast with prepared vegetables of your choice for the final presentation. Serve and enjoy!

Kathryn Occhipinti

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, is the author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers
 series of books and a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
“Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”

Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian today for FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet Stella Lucente Italian

YouTube videos to learn Italian are available from © Stella Lucente, LLC.
YouTube Stella Lucente Italian, LLC

More information on and photographs of Italy can be found on Facebook Stella Lucente Italian and Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian.
Facebook Stella Lucente Italian

Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian

Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts and helpful hints about getting around Italy! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy. —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC

Italian Pot Roast in Barolo Wine

Sicilian Christmas cookies

Cuccidati: Traditional Sicilian Christmas Cookies

Cuccidati: Traditional Sicilian Christmas Cookies 

Kathryn for learntravelitalian.comCuccidati are traditional Sicilian Christmas cookies—try my family recipe enjoyed for three generations here in America!

Cuccidati: Traditional Sicilican Christmas Cookies

Italian Christmas traditions are unique to each region of the Italy and have been lovingly handed down within families through the generations. Cuccidati – a version of Christmas cookie that probably originated after the Arabs introduced oranges and almonds to Sicily centuries ago – play an important part in the Christmas celebration in Sicily even today.

All Sicilian cuccidati, or any Italian cookie for that matter, are unlike what Americans think of when they think of cookies. Most Italian cookies are made from dough that cooks up drier than American cookies and there is much more variation in the presentation.  Sicilian cookies come in a multitude of different shapes and sizes and fruit fillings are often enclosed in the cookies as a special treat.

The recipe given below is for a Sicilian Christmas cookie—my family calls them “cuccidati,” although they are not identical to most of the cookies found online under this name.  The cookies in this recipe start out as the “typical” cuccidati: one long “tube” of sweet, Italian pie-crust-like dough, which contains a dried fruit and nut center. (No figs in our version, by the way.) But, instead of then cutting the tube into bite-sized pieces that are finished with icing, my family cuts larger pieces, which are then formed into different shapes, and finishes the cuccidati with a sprinkle of powdered sugar.  Whatever the name, this is just one version out of many dried, fruit-filed cookies still made in Sicilian bakeries today to celebrate the Christmas season.

When I was a child, my family always gathered the weekend before Christmas to share our creativity while we formed our cuccidati into wreaths, ribbons, or candy cane-like forms.  They could be completely covered in dough, which would allow for a creative, fringe-like covering, or left open.  The sides could be pinched for decoration if like, similar to how Americans form a pie crust along the rim of their pies. If you would like to see how the various shapes of these cookies are made, visit the Stella Lucente Italian Pinterest site.

The ingredients for the cuccidati filling are considered easy to come by today, but remember that dried fruit, including raisins and oranges and spices like cinnamon were considered special when the cookies originated.  These filling ingredients were only found only in well-off households. Since the filling ingredients are difficult to chop and mix together, in some Sicilian towns “back in the day,” people would bring their filling to the butcher to mix together for them in his meat grinder, which had been newly cleaned for the season for this purpose.

Despite the few ingredients in traditional cuccidati, and the difficulty of making the filling with them, the dried fruit has a rich sweetness, the roasted almonds a robust flavor, and the cinnamon, orange, and citron add a complexity of flavor that goes beyond its simple ingredients. Try our recipe this Christmas season for a taste of Sicilian tradition!
—Kathryn Occhipinti


Cuccidati
Traditional Sicilian Christmas Cookies

Sicilian Christmas cookies
Cuccidati sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and ready to eat

Ingredients
If you’re trying this recipe for the first time, it may be easier to cut the recipe in half.  
Makes 2–4 dozen cookies, depending on the size and shape of the cookies created.

Pasta Frolla (Sweet Pastry)
2½ lbs. flour (about 10 cups)
10 oz. of lard or Crisco
½ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
about 1 cup cold water

Filling
2 lbs. yellow raisins (not red raisins)
1 lb. whole almonds (skinless), roasted
2 Tbsp citron (lemon)
2 Tbsp candied orange peel
or zest of 2 tangerines
2 tsp cinnamon sugar

 

Procedure

Prepare the pasta frolla*

Sift the flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl.

Cut in the lard with a fork and/or your fingertips until it is the size of small peas.

Add the cold water a little at a time, while mixing with a fork. After about 1 cup of water has been added, gather the dough and test it to see if it holds together. If it does, form one large ball. If it is too dry, add more water, mix, and try again.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and press it together with a soft, gentle kneading motion with the palm of your hand until a dough forms.

Form into one large disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

 

Make the filling

First, chop the yellow raisins coarsely with a sharp knife so they open up. This is fairly labor intensive, and it may take a bit of time to chop all of the raisins.

Then, chop the almonds coarsely with a sharp knife.

If you have a small manual chopper/grinder specifically for nuts, put the coarsely chopped nuts into the machine and grind to obtain more finely chopped nuts, which can then be mixed with the raisins. Otherwise, try one of the next two steps below.

Either: Take the tenderizing part of a meat mallet and mash small amounts of the raisins and almonds together at a time. This can be done under a dish towel so they do not scatter everywhere. (Mashing the raisins and almonds together seems to work the best and will leave varying sizes of raisins and almonds in the mix.)

Or: An alternative to the last step: pulse the pre-processed raisins and nuts in a food processor a few times if you have one, making sure the ingredients are not over processed.

To the raisin/nut mixture: add the citron, orange peel or zest, and cinnamon and mix well.

Form into 2 rectangular “logs” the shape of a loaf of bread. Cover with aluminum foil if not using right away and store at room temperature.

Filling for cuccidati
Cuccidati filling formed into logs

 

Assemble the cuccidati

Set up a kitchen table “assembly line” style: place the dough on one end on a surface that is good for rolling and cutting the dough, place the filling in the middle, and use the surrounding work areas for each member of the family to create the cookies. Place cookie sheets on the far end for the finished cookies.

Cuccidati work table
Table set up for assembling the cuccidati

Cut off one strip at a time from the large dough ball and roll it out into pie-crust-size thickness.

Cut the rolled-out dough into fairly thick strips, depending on the size of cookie desired. These strips can then be cut again crosswise to make the size needed to make smaller cookies.

Cut rectangular pieces of filling from the filling logs to place into the strips of dough.

Be creative! Create cookies with the sides brought up to cover the filling entirely, or leave the filling uncovered and just pinch the dough together to form various designs. Traditional shapes are round (like a wreath), horseshoe, or long or short ribbons. Candy cane shapes are popular with kids.

Sicilian cuccidati
Cuccidati ready to bake – various shapes

 

Bake in preheated oven at 350° for about 20–30 minutes, or until the bottom of the cookie is nicely browned. The sides and top of the dough should be cooked but not browned. This will make a flaky crust and avoid burning the filling.

Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar when cool.

Cookies will keep for about 2 weeks in a cookie tin or covered with aluminum foil.

*The original recipe passed down from my grandmother states that the flour and the lard should be mixed together and left overnight before the sugar, salt, and water are added to create the dough. I’ve never tried this and instead use the traditional “pie crust” method.

 —Kathryn Occhipinti: Adapted from the cooking classes given by the Italian-American Society of Peoria

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, author of Conversational Italian for Travelers,
is a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
“Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”

Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet Stella Lucente Italian

YouTube videos to learn Italian are available from ©Stella Lucente, LLC.
YouTube Stella Lucente Italian, LLC

More information on and photographs of Italy can be found on Facebook Stella Lucente Italian and Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian.
 Facebook Stella Lucente Italian
 Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian

Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts about Italian food and culture in each chapter of our book! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy.  —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC.

Cuccidati: Traditional Sicilian Christmas Cookies

Italy and the Spanish steps

Travel Italy: Italian Hosts and their Guests

Travel Italy: Italian Hosts and their Guests

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog  Follow Caterina and read about Italian hosts and their guests in Italy in the Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books!

The Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook begins each chapter with a dialogue from a story about the character Caterina, an American girl who travels to Italy to visit her relatives. As the story continues from one chapter to the next, we learn Italian, and about Italy, in an engaging way through Caterina’s experiences.

Italian Hosts and their Guests 

Italian hosts are found throughout Italy, as a multitude of tourists from all countries of the world visit the bustling cities,  ancient mountain towns and stunning seaside resorts that Italy is known for.  And, Italian hospitality is well-known to those who visit Italy.  Italian hosts  in family restaurants or shops even invite guests in with the exclamation, “Benvenuti!” “Welcome all!”

In our story, Caterina is a guest at the house of her Italian cousin Pietro and his wife Francesca.  She counts herself lucky to have family to visit in Italy, and her visit is in turn celebrated by her Italian hosts.  A warm, “welcome-home” dinner is planned upon her arrival and she is able to relax and visit with her cousins, grandmother and nephew on the first night of her Italian vacation.

Feel free to listen in on Caterina and her relatives on the day of her arrival to her cousin Pietro’s house with our FREE audio dialogue from “Chapter 7 – A Family Reunion” on www.LearnTravelItalian.com.

The Cultural Note below, adapted from the  textbook found on Amazon.com, Conversational Italian for Travelers, gives some general guidelines about the Italian one needs to know to talk about celebrations in Italy and address Italian hosts and their guests.
—Kathryn Occhipinti


 

Italian Cultural Note:
  Italian Hosts and their Guests

Several Italian words are commonly used to refer to hosts and their guests that sound very much like their English counterparts.  But, beware!  Despite similar pronunciation, the meaning of these words in Italian is often different from the English definition.  Here are short but important explanations to clarify these issues.

Let’s start with an Italian word we already know: l’hostess.  In Chapter 1 of our Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook, we learned that this word means stewardess and that a man working the same job is referred to as lo steward.

The word l’hostess does not have any other meaning in Italian, other than stewardess.  So, other Italian words must be substituted for the English word hostess (a woman who has invited others to a gathering or party or to stay in her home).

L’ospite can be used to refer to the hostess of a party in Italy.  However, l’ospite is also commonly used to refer to the guest!

Several common phrases can be used to clarify the situation…

For a hostess or host who has invited people into their home, the titles “la padrona di casa” or “il padrone di casa” are used.

For a party given outside the home, you can use the phrase, “la persona che invita” to refer to both a female or male host.  It should be noted here that, although persona is a feminine word in Italian, it refers to all human beings, male and female; the plural would be le persone, of course!

To refer to an organizer/coordinator of an event or party, use, l’organizzatore/l’organizzatrice della festa.”

Below is a table that summarizes these points:

l’ospite host, hostess
guest
la padrona (di casa) hostess (at her home)/homeowner, mistress
il padrone (di casa) host (at his home)/homeowner, boss
older meanings: ruler, master, lord (landowner)
la persona che invita host or hostess
(for event or party outside the home)
l’organizzatore host/organizer/coordinator
(for event or party outside the home)
l’organizzatrice hostess/organizer/coordinator
(for event or party outside the home)

Here are some phrases to that refer to the type of celebration you may be invited to while in Italy by your Italian friends. If you stay in Italy long enough, you are sure to run into a street fair or parade on a feast day, or a wedding or other holiday celebration.  Buon divertimento!” Have a good time!”

la festa/le feste holiday(s), celebration(s) party(ies)
la festa di compleanno birthday party
la festivà religious holiday
fare una festa to have/make a party
festeggiare to celebrate or have a celebration
to observe a holiday
fare festa to celebrate/to party

—Adapted from Conversational Italian for Travelers, “Vocabulary—Hosts and their Guests,” by Kathryn Occhipinti

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog—Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, is the author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books and a teacher of
Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
“Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”

Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian today for FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet Stella Lucente Italian

YouTube videos to learn Italian are available from © Stella Lucente, LLC.
YouTube Learn Travel Italian 

More information on and photographs of Italy can be found on Facebook Stella Lucente Italian and Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian.
Facebook Stella Lucente Italian
Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian

Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts and helpful hints about getting around Italy! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy. —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC

Travel Italy: Italian Hosts and their Guests

Italian Hypothetical Phrases from Conversational Italian

Italian Subjunctive (Part 5): Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Family Reunion

Italian Subjunctive (Part 5): Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Italian Family Reunion

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog               The Italian subjunctive mood can be used to make Italian hypothetical phrases and talk about your own Italian family history!

 

Speak Italian: Italian Subjunctive Mood with Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Past

Can you speak Italian? By now, many of you have passed the beginning stages of learning how to speak Italian and can read and comprehend quite a bit of the language. Meraviglioso!

But have you tried to take the next step to speak Italian fluently? Have you ever wondered about if something had happened in the past what the consequences might have been? How would you express this idea in Italian? Well, we can express hypothetical, or “if” ideas, called hypothetical phrases, in several ways in Italian and often with the Italian subjunctive mood that we have been focusing on in this series! 

This is the fifth blog post in the “Speak Italian” series that focuses on how to use the Italian subjunctive mood, or “il congiuntivo,” and will include Italian hypothetical phrases.  

To take that giant step from simple beginning sentences to more complex and fluid sentences in Italian, in this segment, we will discuss how to form Italian hypothetical phrases for probable and impossible “if” situations in the past in Italian. 

We will learn how to conjugate the Italian trapassato subjunctive mood and how to form the Italian past conditional tense.  With these two tenses, we will be able to construct sentences that refer to the past using Italian hypothetical phrases.

We will also introduce the passato remoto past tense that is used to describe actions that began and were completed in the past when narrating a story. See the next blog in this series for more on the passato remoto.

An example story will start our discussion.  This story is about an Italian mother and daughter, Francesca and Maria, who are preparing a welcoming party for an Italian-American relative who is visiting the family for the first time. You may remember the characters from our recent Italian Subjunctive Mood Practice blog posts.

Speak Italian: Italian Subjunctive Mood with Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Past

In the first three blog posts in the “Speak Italian” series about the subjunctive mood (“il congiuntivo”), we have presented Italian phrases that take the Italian subjunctive mood in the present and past tenses.

In this blog post, we will focus on how to construct Italian hypothetical phrases for events that have occurred in the past, as well as the different Italian verb forms needed for probable past and impossible past situations.

Read our “real-life”story for examples that can be used as “anchors” in your knowledge for when you must speak Italian. Then next time you are wondering about something that might have happened in the past, start a conversation and use Italian hypothetical phrases!

Enjoy the fith blog post in this series, “Italian Subjunctive Mood (Part 5): Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Italian Family Reunion!
—Kathryn Occhipinti

Some of this material is adapted from our textbook, Conversational Italian for Travelers © 2012 by Stella Lucente, LLC, found on www.learntravelitalian.com. Special thanks to Italian instructor Maria Vanessa Colapinto.


Speak Italian: Italian Subjunctive Mood with Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Past

When reading the story below, notice the use of the imperfetto past tense (for making general statements about the past) and the passato remoto past tense (for describing actions that began and were completed in the past).  The passato remoto past tense will be in italic, and more details will follow about this tense in the next blog.

For this blog, focus on the construction of Italian hypothetical phrases that refer to events that have occurred in the past, which have been underlined for easy identification.

Italian Hypothetical Phrases in the Past:
A Family Reunion

It was a lovely spring day in April in the mountains of Abruzzo.  Frances and her daughter Mary met at Frances’ house in order to plan a party.

Era un bel giorno di aprile nelle montagne abruzzesi.  Francesca e sua figlia, che si chiama Maria, si sono incontrate a casa di Francesca per organizzare una festa.  

They wanted this party to be very special because Francesca’s cousin Rudy, who lives in America, was coming to Italy for the first time.
Loro volevano che questa festa fosse bellissima,  perché il cugino di Francesca, Rudy, che abita in America, veniva a visitare l’Italia per la prima volta.

 

“Tell me again how Great Uncle Mark, cousin Rudy’s grandfather, saved our family in Italy,” Mary asked her mother.

“Raccontami ancora come il prozio Marco, il nonno del cugino Rudolfo, ha salvato la nostra famiglia in Italia,” Maria ha chiesto a sua madre.

 

Frances replied (to her) with the following story:

Francesca le ha risposto con la storia qui di seguito:

 

Great grandmother Mary had a brother, whose name was Mark.

La bisnonna Maria aveva un fratello, che si chiamava Marco.

 

Great Uncle Mark left Italy and went to live in America with his family in 1920.

Il prozio Marco lasciò l’Italia e andò a vivere in America con la sua famiglia nel 1920.

 

He had to leave Italy to find work, because after World War I there was no work in Italy.

Dovette lasciare l’Italia per trovare lavoro, perchè dopo la Prima Guerra Mondiale, non c’era lavoro in Italia.

 

Right after Uncle Mark had left Italy, great grandmother’s husband died, and she was left all alone to raise their three children.

Subito dopo che lo zio Marco lasciò l’Italia, il marito della bisnonna morì, e lei era da sola a crescere i suoi tre figli.

 

In Italy in the early 1900’s, if a woman didn’t have a husband, usually she was not able to support her family.

In Italia negli anni del primo novecento, se una donna non aveva un marito, normalmente non poteva mantenere la famiglia.

 

At that time, if a woman wanted to work, she could be a teacher or a seamstress.

A quel tempo, se una donna voleva lavorare, poteva fare l’insegnante o la sarta.

 

Grandmother Mary was a teacher before she was married.

La bisnonna Maria era un’insegnante prima di sposarsi.

 

But with three children it was not possible for her to leave the house to work.

Ma con tre figli, non era possibile per lei uscire di casa per lavorare.

 

So, Uncle Mark worked in America and sent money to Italy.

E così, lo zio Marco lavorava in America e mandava i soldi in Italia.

 

If Uncle Mark had not sent money to Grandmother Mary, she and the children could have starved to death.

Se lo zio Marco non avesse mandato i soldi alla bisnonna Maria, lei e i figli sarebbero potuti morire di fame.

 

At the end of this story, Mary said,   “And if Uncle Mark had not helped Grandmother Mary, you and I would not be here today!”

Alla fine della storia, Maria ha detto, “E se lo zio Marco non avesse aiutato la bisnonna Maria, tu e io non saremmo qui oggi!”

 

Probably not,” replied Frances.  “But fortunately, Uncle Mark was a good person.  And so is our cousin Rudy.  Let’s organize a wonderful party!”

“Probabilmente no,” ha risposto Francesca.  “Ma fortunatamente, lo zio Marco era una persona perbene.  E anche nostro cugino Rudy è così.  Organizziamo una festa meravigliosa!”

 


Speak Italian: Grammar You Will Need to Know to Narrate a Story

A Note about the “Passato Remoto”

The passato remoto form of the Italian past tense is used in textbooks to describe historical events that took place centuries ago, and also in textbooks that describe art history. It has been used in our dialogue for this blog in order to tell our story.  So, we will say a few words about the passato remoto here.

Outside of scholarly works written in Italian, the passato remoto is still commonly found as a narrative tool in novels and other forms of fiction written today.

In fiction today, the author of a novel will often use the passato remoto verb form for the voice of the narrator.  The passato remoto is said to be useful for the “detached” feeling it gives to  Italian narration of descriptive passages that take place in the “remote past” of a character’s life. There is no equivalent form in English to express this “detached” feeling of the “remote” past.

The passato prossimo and imperfetto verb forms are the past tense forms usually  used by the author of an Italian novel for his characters, which is said to give a “realistic” feeling to the dialogue.

In another blog, we will focus on the passato remoto past tense and delve more deeply into its uses and conjugations.  So, stay tuned for more on the passato remoto past tense!



Speak Italian: Grammar You Will Need to Know to for Hypothetical Phrases in the Past

 How to Make a Hypothetical “If” Phrase in Italian—and Refer to the Past
“Periodo Ipotetico con ‘Se’ in Passato”

To express complex thoughts and feelings, human beings have developed “hypothetical phrases”—phrases that enable us to think or wonder about situations that could occur. For instance, how many times have we said, “If I had…” or  “If I were…”?

Hypothetical phrases are composed using several different verb forms in English and Italian. For our first blog post on this topic, we talked about which Italian verb forms to use for the probable and improbable situations that are useful for every day conversation in the present.

To read our discussion on Italian hypothetical phrases that refer to the present, read our last blog, Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love.  We will now continue our discussion of Italian hypothetical phrases in this blog by describing how these phrases can be used to refer to the past.

********************

When we want to express the idea that something may have happened in the past in English, we most often start with a phrase that begins with the conjunction “if.” The conjunction “if” starts a dependent clause in which we will describe a condition that could have caused something else to happen. This dependent clause is then linked to a main clause that will describe the impending result or consequence that could have happened in the past.

This sentence structure is the same in Italian, and the hypothetical clause in Italian starts with the word “se.” A hypothetical phrase is called a “periodo ipotetico.”

We will now continue our discussion of the different types of hypothetical phrases by focusing on conditions in the past and their consequences in the past or present. This will give depth to our Italian conversations. In the cases that we will present, knowledge of English will be very helpful. Read the technical information, but then focus on the actual phrases and you will soon see how thinking in English and Italian for this subject is really very similar!

 


Speak Italian: Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Past
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Probable Situations – Past

Probable hypothetical phrases that refer to the past describe situations that were likely to have happened in the past.

We can talk about these past situations as if  we really knew they had happened by using the knowledge we have learned directly – from a particular individual or source in the present, or indirectly- by making assumptions gained from history.

In probable situations that took place in the past, the stated condition given in the “if” clause is a condition that the subject likely experienced in the past and the consequence that will follow is a situation that is thought to have almost certainly happened.

Examples usually given for a probable hypothetical phrase in the past often relate to historical situations that we know in general to be true,  such as, “If you were one of  the first settlers in America, your life was hard.” We all know that given the condition just described, the resulting situation must have happened to some extent!

The “if” phrase does not need to start the sentence, although it remains the dependent clause. Here is our example sentence again: “Your life was hard if you were one of the first settlers in America.”

 

To Summarize: Hypothetical Phrases for Probable Situations – Past

 

Italian Hypothetical  Phrases—Probable Situations – Past
The condition described in the “if” clause and the consequence that followed in the past were  probable; both almost certainly did happen.

 

********************

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Probable Situations – Past

If + Past Tense Verb > Past Tense Verb

Now read the following table, which describes the sentence structure and the verb forms to use when creating a hypothetical sentence for a probable situation that occurred in the past. This table compares how English and Italian approach this type of speech.

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases:
Probable Situations – Past
  English   Italian
Condition (If) If  Simple Past Tense  Se +  Passato Prossimo -or-

Imperfetto Past Tense

Consequence
(Probable Result)
  Simple Past Tense   Passato Prossimo -or-

Imperfetto Past Tense

 

From the table above, it is easy to see that English and Italian both express hypothetical, probable situations that could have occurred in the past in a very similar way!

In English and Italian, for our condition in the dependent clause, we start with the conjunction “if” (“se” in Italian) and then most often use the simple past tense.  For Italian,  then the passato prossimo or imperfetto past tense may be used.

For the consequence in the main clause, the past tense will be again used for both English and Italian.

You may remember from our first blog on hypothetical phrases that no special tense is necessary for probable situations that occur in the present.  We used only our usual indicative present and future tenses, given the certainty we have that these probable situations will occur.  And it is the same with probable situations that have likely occurred in the past! No special tense is needed!

To follow are some examples of the probable hypothetical situation in the past from our dialogue, with our “if” condition and the consequence phrases underlined:

In Italy in the early 1900’s, if a woman didn’t have a husband, usually she was not able to support her family.
In Italia negli anni del primo novecento, se una donna non aveva un marito, normalmente non poteva mantenere la famiglia.

At that time, if a woman wanted to work, she could be a teacher or a seamstress.
A quel tempo, se una donna voleva lavorare, poteva fare l’insegnante o la sarta.

 

 


Speak Italian: Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Past
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
 Impossible Situations -Past

Impossible hypothetical phrases in the past describe situations that did not actually take place in the past.

These situations are called “impossible” because the condition given refers to a past event that could not have been acted upon in the past and is also not something one can act on in the present.  Instead, these types of phrases are used in order to “wonder” out loud or “suppose” what  could have happened in a particular situation if things had been different in the past from what we know to be true.

Stated another way: in impossible hypothetical situations of the past, since the stated condition given in the “if” clause in the past and did not happen, it could not have been used to change the situation.  But, we can still speculate on what the outcome might have been. The consequence that might have followed can refer either to the past or to the present.

The often used phrase, “If I had known…” is a good example of an impossible hypothetical condition.  Here, the condition as stated did not happen – the person did not know something at the time, which was in the past and is now over. This in turn makes the outcome, either in the past or the present, pure speculation.

With an impossible hypothetical situation, there may be a note of regret in the statement, as the individual describes how he/she would like things to have been different now that the past event has ended. Perhaps this individual might say, “If I had known she needed me, I would have been at home.”  Or, “If I had known he was sick, I would have brought him some medicine.”

Or, another example that describes how he/she sees that things could have been different now: If Ann and her ex-boyfriend Paul had gotten back togethershe would not be happy now. *

The “if” phrase does not need to start the sentence, although it remains the dependent clause. Here is our first example sentence again: “I would have been at home if I had known she needed me.”

In fact, I always remember this type of Italian sentence with the following rule: If you start an Italian sentence with the present or past conditional tense, the subjunctive mood must follow in the next phrase!

********************

*(Do you recognize this sentence from our last blog on hypothetical phrases? Here the speaker is making a supposition about the past – that in fact it was possible for Anna and her ex-boyfriend to get together, and then speculating about how Anna would feel about this today.  Neither the condition nor the consequence have taken place, however.  In the dialogue, we learn that Anna does not regret that she is no longer seeing her ex-boyfriend.  She has a new boyfriend and  is actually very happy.)

 

To Summarize: Impossible Situations – Past

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases— Impossible Situations – Past
The condition described in the “if” clause is impossible as it did not happen and is a supposition about the past; therefore the condition cannot lead to the result in the consequence speculated about, either in the past or the present.

 

********************

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Impossible Situations – Past

 If + Trapassato Subjunctive >
Past Conditional or Present Conditional Verb

Now read the following table, which describes the sentence structure and the verb forms to use when creating a hypothetical sentence for an impossible situation when we want to speculate about something that might have happened in the past. This table compares how English and Italian approach this type of speech.

The examples given use the first person “I” or “io” subject pronoun, as this is the most common form to use in conversation, but of course all subject pronouns and their respective verb conjugations are possible.

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases:
 Impossible Situations – Past
Consequence – Past
  English   Italian
Condition
(If:Supposition)
If + Past Pluperfect
(I had
+ past participle)
Se + Trapassato Subjunctive
(io avessi/fossi
+ past participle)
Consequence
(Speculation)
  Conditional +
Present Perfect
(I could, would, should +have
+ past participle)
   Past Conditional
(io avrei/sarei
+ past participle)

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases:
Impossible Situations – Past
Consequence – Present
  English   Italian
Condition
(If: Supposition)
If + Past Pluperfect
(I had
+ past participle)
Se + Trapasatto Subjunctive
(io avessi/fossi
+ past participle)
Consequence
(Speculation)
  Present Conditional   Present Conditional

 

The table above shows that English and Italian speakers think alike, although this may not be so evident to the English speaker at first.

1.In English and Italian, for the condition that we are wondering about in the dependent clause, we start with the conjunction “if” (“se” in Italian), and then use the past tense form that indicates an event that was both started and competed in the past.  These are thought of as “remote” events.

  • In English, a remote event that was started and completed in the past uses the helping verb “had, (rather than have) prior to adding on the past participle.  Who remembers this from English class?  Chances are we English speakers do this naturally, but now that we are learning Italian, our English grammar surfaces again!
  • When we see the “had”+ verb in English, this should alert us that in Italian we must use the traspassato subjunctive! (io avessi/io fossi + past participle)!

2. For both English and Italian, the main clause that describes the speculative consequence with reference to the past will use the past conditional; to refer to the present simply use the present conditional.

  • To form the past conditional In English, we use one of our  helping verbs  – could, should, would, and add the present perfect tense (actually a past tense): “have + past participle”).
  • To form the past conditional in Italian, we use the imperfetto subjunctive forms of “to have” and “to be” (examples: io avrei or io sarei) + past participle.

 

Below are some examples of phrases that used impossible hypothetical situations from our dialogue, with our condition and consequence phrases underlined.

 

Se Anna e il suo ex-fidanzato Paolo si fossero riconciliatilei non sarebbe felice ora.
If Ann and her ex-boyfriend Paul had gotten back togethershe would not be happy now.

 

If Uncle Mark had not sent money to Grandmother Mary, she and the children could have starved to death.
Se lo zio Marco non avesse mandato i soldi alla bisnonna Maria, lei e i figli sarebbero potuti morire di fame.

 

At the end of this story, Mary said,   “And if Uncle Mark had not helped Grandmother Mary, you and I would not be here today!”
Alla fine della storia, Maria ha detto, “E se lo zio Marco non avesse aiutato la bisnonna Maria, tu e io non saremmo qui oggi!”

 


Speak Italian: Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Past
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases in the Past Tense with
 “Come se” and “Magari” 

********************

In our previous blog on Italian hypothetical phrases, Italian Subjunctive (Part 4): Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love, we discussed the expressions, “Come se…” (as if) and  “Magari (If only, I wish).  We mentioned that the phrases “come se”  and “magari” fall into the realm of improbable hypothetical phrases in the present tense, and therefore always take the imperfetto subjunctive verb form.

We also mentioned that, In the past tense, the phrases “come se” and“magari”will be followed by the  trapassato subjunctive verb form.  If we think a little about what these phrases mean in the past tense – a wishful thinking about something in the past that therefore cannot be changed – we can see now that we are in the category of impossible hypothetical phrases.

In English, as in Italian, the above phrase and words will also take the subjunctive form in the past tense. Either the more recent or remote past tense form can be used in English, depending on the situation.

Let’s take the examples from our previous blog on Italian hypothetical phrases, Italian Subjunctive (Part 4): Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love,  and now use them in the past tense with the trapassato subjunctive to show how this works.

Il mio amico inglese non aveva practicamente accento quando lui parlava in italiano, come se fosse stato un vero italiano!
My British friend had virtually no accent when he spoke Italian,  as if he (were/had been) a real Italian!

Mi ha mostrato le scarpe più costose che aveva, come se io fossi stata ricca!
She showed me the most expensive shoes she had, as if I were rich!”

Magari, questo fosse stato possibile!
I wish/If only this had been possible!


Speak Italian: Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases in the Past Tense with
 “Chiedersi” 

********************

In our previous blog on Italian hypothetical phrases, Italian Subjunctive (Part 4): Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love, we discussed the verb chiedersi, which is the verb Italians use to describe the idea of “wondering if…” something might happen.

Let’s see how this works in the past tense, in a situation when one might have “wondered if…” something might have happened.

“Mi chiedevo…” literally means, “I asked myself,” which translates into “I wondered.”  At first glance, it may seem like chiedersi should fall into the category of improbable hypothetical phrases – especially when this verb is followed by se,  such as in the phrase “I wondered if…”  But, as we’ve learned in our last blog, instead, chiedersi follows the same rules as our verbs of hoping, thinking, and believing, sperarepensare, and credere. 

We will learn in the next blog that these verbs, in the past tense, take the imperfetto subjunctive and the passato subjunctive forms. 

For now, here are some examples for when one is wondering in the past tense about something in the present and the past.  And “stay tuned” to this blog to learn how to use these tenses for all phrases that take the subjunctive mood in the past tense!

Mi chiedevo se lui fosse un attore bravo in quel film.
I wondered if he is a great actor in that film.

Mi chiedevo se lui fosse stato un attore bravo in quel film.
I wondered  if he was a great actor in that film.

 

 


Speak Italian: Italian Verb Tenses You Will Need to Know for

Improbable Italian Hypothetical Phrases- Past

The “Trapassato” Subjunctive Mood

 “Essere” or  “Avere” + Past Participle

We have already learned in our last blog on this topic that the most commonly used improbable hypothetical phrases begin with the words, “If I were…” or “If I had…”

So in Italian, the two most important phrases of this type to remember are, “Se io fossi…” and “Se io avessi…” using the imperfetto subjunctive conjugations for essere and avere.

 

To form the trapassato subjunctive mood for impossible hypothetical phrases in the past tense, we need only to add the past participle to the initial phrases above!

So in Italian, the two most important phrases of this type to remember are, “Se io fossi stato…” and “Se io avessi avuto…” using the traspassato subjunctive conjugations for essere and avere.

 

In English, however, any event that started and was completed in the past simply needs “had” inserted in front of the past participle! This is a bit easier than Italian, but with a little practice, you will get used to the Italian in no time!

For examples using these verbs in Italian, please see the previous and following sections.

 

*******************************

 

Below are the trapassato subjunctive mood conjugations for the auxiliary verbs avere and essere,  using the past participles for two Italian verbs that are commonly used in this tense – fare and andare.

Remember that action verbs of direction, reflexive verbs, other verbs of growing and changing, and piacere all take essere as a helping verb when making these compound verbs.  All other verbs take avere.  If you need a review of the use of helping verbs for the Italian past tense, please refer to our blog Speak Italian: A Story About… Love!

You will notice that avere has a regular conjugation in the imperfetto subjunctive mood, whereas essere  has an irregular conjugation. The past participle for fare (fatto) is irregular, but that of andare (andato) is regular. If you need a refresher on how to form past participles, please refer to our blog Speak Italian: A Story About… Love!

In hypothetical clauses, because the trapassato subjunctive mood is introduced by se, (se) is included in the subject pronoun column as a reminder. When conjugating these verbs, say “se” before the subject pronoun and each verb form to reinforce this way of thinking!

 

Avere  (to have) + Fare (to do/make) — Trapassato Subjunctive Mood

(se) io avessi   +      fatto I had  +                                   made/done
(se) tu avessi  +       fatto you (familiar) had  +       made/done
(se) Lei

(se) lei/lui

avesse  +       fatto you (polite) had  +           made/done

she/he had  +                     made/done

     
(se) noi avessimo  +  fatto we had  +                          made/done
(se) voi aveste  +        fatto you all had  +                  made/done
(se) loro avessero  +   fatto they had  +                       made/done

 

Essere (to be) + Andare (to go) — Trapassato Subjunctive Mood

(se) io fossi  +     andato(a) I had  +                               gone
(se) tu fossi  +     andato(a) you (familiar) had  +    gone
(se) Lei

(se) lei/lui

fosse  +    andato(a) you (polite) had  +        gone

she/he had  +                  gone

     
(se) noi fossimo  +  andati(e) we had  +                         gone
(se) voi foste  +        andati(e) you all had  +                 gone
(se) loro fossero  +   andati(e) they had  +                      gone

 


Grammar Note: The Italian Conditional Tense

The conditional tense is used to make a polite request, as we learned way back in Chapter 4 of our Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook, when we discussed how to use the word vorrei, which means “I would like” or  “I wish.” In the “Important Phrases” section of Chapter 16, we also learned how to use the word vorremmo, which means, “we would like,” to place an order for the group at a table in a restaurant.

Notice that the meaning of a conditional verb is rendered in English with the combination of “would + infinitive verb.” The conditional tense, in summary, expresses a want or wish, an intention, a duty, or a preference.

The method used to form the stems for the Italian conditional tense is exactly the same as the method to form the Italian future tense. Also, the irregular stems for the conditional tense are identical to those for the future tense. The Italian conditional endings are always regular and will be the same for all three conjugations!

Please see Chapters 17 and 18 of the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook for a review of how to conjugate the conditional tense in Italian.


Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blogKathryn Occhipinti, MD, author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers
 series of books, is a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area. “Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian today for FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet Stella Lucente Italian

YouTube Stella Lucente Italian, LLC

More information on and photographs of Italy can be found on these Stella Lucente Italian sites:
Facebook Stella Lucente Italian
Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian

Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts and helpful hints about getting around Italy! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy. —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC

Italian Subjunctive (Part 5) : Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Italian Family Reunion

Basil for Pesto alla Genovese

Pesto alla Genovese Meets American Aquaponic Farming in Chicago

Pesto alla Genovese Meets American Aquaponic Farming in Chicago 

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog Pesto is a unique green sauce that originated from the piquant basil grown around the city of Genoa and is now loved the world over.

Pesto alla Genovese Meets American Aquaponic Farming in Chicago

Pesto alla Genovese is the famous bright green “pasta sauce” from the northern Italian region of Liguria, whose capital is the city of Genoa. My introduction to pesto, which was not a part of my southern Italian upbringing, was from one of those little glass jars I found in a grocery store in Peoria, Illinois. The jar had been labeled “pesto” by an Italian company. Back then, I was trying to learn to cook true Italian “regional” cooking and specifically to expand my sauce-making techniques beyond the ubiquitous and well-loved southern Italian red tomato sauce.

Diary of my first experiences making pesto…

So, on the day of my first foray into northern Italian sauces, I put a pot of salted water on the stove to boil, added some spaghetti, and dusted off my jar of Italian-labeled pesto that had probably been sitting on the grocery shelf for many, many months before I had purchased it. I opened the jar and saw that olive oil was floating on top, separate from the basil that makes up the major component of the sauce. I mixed the basil and olive oil together, not knowing if this was the correct thing to do. (It was. The olive oil layer on top helps to preserve the pesto.)

When the spaghetti was ready, I drained it and poured some of the thick, dull green pesto from the jar over my  hot spaghetti and mixed it to coat.  Was I supposed to use the entire jar? I wasn’t sure. I tasted it. It wasn’t too bad, but really, it wasn’t very good either, and I wasn’t really sure why. After all, pesto is a famous dressing for pasta. Millions of people love it!

Not one to give up easily, a few weeks later, I tried to make a pesto sauce for my pasta again. The second time, I emptied the contents of my jar of pesto into a small pan to warm the sauce.  Even worse! Now, I know that pesto is a “cold emulsion” type of “dressing” for pasta and should never be cooked! But, as I said, back when I was first introduced to pesto, I really had no experience about how it should be prepared or how it should taste.

Pesto success at last?

Finally, one year when I had an over-abundance of fresh basil in my garden one late summer, I remembered pesto alla Genovese. Perhaps fresh basil was the secret. I turned to my favorite Italian cookbook, Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni. I had purchased this cookbook in 1992 while in training in San Francisco, and I credit the book with sparking my interest in discovering true Italian cuisine for the home cook. Each region is beautifully introduced with photographs of beautiful platters of food set in the Italian countryside. Translated from the Italian, and beautifully compiled with all regional specialties included, detailed notes on each specialty, and clear directions, Italian Regional Cooking is my “bible” of Italian cooking, even today. Unfortunately, when it comes to the recipe for making pesto alla Genovese, the directions are a bit vague…

 Pesto alla Genovese
(Genoese Green Sauce or Basil Sauce)

“Put 2 cloves of garlic, 4 small bunches of fresh basil leaves, a pinch of coarse salt, and a tablespoon of toasted pine nuts, if liked, in a mortar.  Pound to a paste.  Continue pounding, gradually adding 3 or 4 tablespoons each of grated Parmesan and Pecorino cheese.  When the paste is smooth, stir in a cup of olive oil. This quantity of pesto is sufficient for 1 pound noodles and will serve 3.” —Ada Boni, Italian Regional Cooking, pg. 85. (Milan English Translation © 1989 by International Culinary Society, dist. by Crown Publishers, NY)

Pesto—a method, NOT a recipe!

I realized at once that the directions above were really a method rather than a recipe, and this is the secret to pesto—one must find his or her own favorite combination of ingredients and method that works best. So I started on my journey to discover my own “true” pesto alla Genovese with the ratio of ingredients above, not really knowing exactly how many basil leaves to include in my “4 small bunches of basil leaves,” or exactly how to use a mortar and pestle. But I did discover one thing to be true: fresh basil leaves led to freshly made pesto, and this was the key to a delicious and aromatic pasta dressing!

A pesto method learned over time…

After much reading on the topic, I learned that the name “pesto” comes from the Italian verb “pestare,” which means “to crush/to mash.” After more reading and many, many more attempts, I learned that the sequence for crushing the ingredients makes a difference.

First, mashing the garlic and pine nuts into a paste allows the garlic to receive the crushed basil, cheese, and olive oil more easily. (Also, halve the garlic and remove any bitter green stem that may have started to grow before processing the garlic.) I no longer roast my pine nuts. Adding the basil leaves a little at a time and most of the salt when most of the basil leaves have been crushed seems to help to get the right consistency and to keep the vibrant green color of the pesto.

Much trial and error led to a basil/pine nut/cheese ratio that I liked, although in truth, once I started to make fresh pesto, a wide range of ratios of ingredients worked. The amount of garlic can be varied—less or more, depending on taste—although I like to keep the garlic/pine nut ratio equal.

The proportion of Parmesan, which is a cow’s milk cheese, to Peccorino, which is a goat’s milk cheese, is also important. I’ve experimented using Peccorino Romano and the less well-known Peccorino Sardo. Both taste good to me, but of course, everyone has their favorite. (Peccorino Sardo is recommended by Chef John Coletta of Chicago’s Ristorante Quartino.)

For a quick dinner during the workweek, it is even possible to make pesto by pulsing all the ingredients together in a food processor, although, of course, this method does not allow the full flavor of the pesto to bloom and would certainly not be considered authentic pesto alla Genovese in Liguria!

But how should pesto be served?

Finally, I also learned to dilute my pesto with a bit of the hot, starchy pasta water just before serving to ensure that the pasta strands are evenly coated with the pesto. And from Chef John Coletta of Chicago’s  Ristorante Quartino, I learned a trick that turned pasta with pesto into one of my children’s favorite dishes. The pesto recipe in his cookbook, 250 True Italian Pasta Dishes, suggests serving hot pasta coated with pesto in a large pasta bowl lined with paper-thin slices of prosciutto. As John says,

“When a platter is lined with paper-thin prosciutto and hot pasta is piled on top, something wonderful happens: as the pasta heats the prosciutto, the meat releases its flavor.  When you serve the pasta with a little bit of the prosciutto in each portion, it is very fragrant in a way that is different from cooked prosciutto.” —John Coletta with Nancy Ross Ryan, 250 True Italian Pasta Dishes, pgs. 134–135. (©2009 by Robert Rose, Inc. Ontario, Canada)

********************

A favorite blogger spotlights “Pesto alla Genovese”

I thought I had my pesto method complete many years ago. Fast forward to about a year ago, when one of my favorite Italian travel bloggers, Victoria DeMaio, wrote about her experience learning to make pesto on tour, from the city of pesto’s birth, Genoa. Click on the link Presto! It’s Pesto! to read her full blog post in “PostcardZ from Victoria” if you like.

Once again, pesto returned to the forefront of my culinary experimentation. Finally, directly from Liguria, through Victoria’s blog, I learned what a typical mortar and pestle used in Liguria looks like and how to use them!

To make authentic pesto alla Genovese, one must purchase a fairly large Carrera marble mortar and use a large wooden pestle. In Liguria, every bride receives this important wedding gift from her family before departing for her new family life. Click on the link to watch Victoria’s YouTube video, “Let’s Make Pesto with Mario and Cristina in Genoa Where Pesto Originated.” You will  learn a bit about Genoa and see Mario’s mortar and pestle technique for crushing basil leaves. Notice the basil plant he is holding in the beginning of the video to show the approximate number of basil leaves needed for making one batch of pesto!

Making Pesto with a mortar and pestle, photo courtesy of Victoria DeMaio
Mortar and pestle for making pesto. Photo courtesy of Victoria DeMaio

I also learned from Victoria’s blog post, Presto! It’s Pesto!, that the traditional pasta served in Genoa with pesto alla Genovese is called trofiette. (See below for details). This pasta is not easily found here in America, though, and I like to dress gnocchi and spaghetti with pesto, as is commonly done throughout northern Italy. I did know that pesto should always be served with a white wine, because its herbaceous character does not mix well with red. In her blog, Victoria mentions the local Genovese white wine called Vermentino.

“Pesto is served in a variety of delicious ways and with several different pastas but the most traditional is trofiette which looks a bit like a small twisted rope. (Trofiette is made with farina made from castagne  (chestnuts) and water (no eggs) and requires 20 min to cook.)” —Victoria DeMaio

********************

Finally, about fresh Genovese basil…

 The last “link,” so to speak, in the chain of events that led to my understanding of how to make an authentic pesto alla Genovese is perhaps the most important: the type of basil that should be used. The Ligurians believe that the basil grown in their region, Basilico Genovese DOP (Designazione di Origine Protetta, or Protected Denomination of Origin), which was granted by the European Union in 2015 is the only basil to use for authentic pesto alla Genovese.

Basil was originally introduced throughout Italy by the Romans. (The Romans loved to cook with herbs, and they created what some consider an early form of pesto using basil leaves called “moretum.”) The specific type of sweet basil grown in Liguria for which the DOP designation is held is said to have very little or no undertones of mint and a more piquant and complex taste than the most common variety of sweet basil. The pungent aroma released when these basil leaves are crushed is what gives the wonderful fragrance of true pesto alla Genovese.

To fall under the Basilico Genovese DOP designation, along with the variety of basil grown, the location where it is grown is important. Basilico Genovese DOP must be grown in a narrow strip of land “between the mountains and the sea” that encompasses the provinces of Genoa, Savona, and Imperia. The best Basilico Genovese DOP is said to be grown in a small village named Prà, just west of the city of Genoa. Basilico Genovese DOP is grown year-round in these provinces, with greenhouses in use for many years to allow the year-round, continuous production.

********************

…and Metropolitan Farms in Chicago

So, what does all this mean for us here in America? Can we produce high-quality basil for our own version of pesto? After being introduced to Metropolitan Farms just west of Chicago last May, I would venture to say that the answer to this question is “yes,” and in a uniquely creative way!

The event that I attended last May, titled Metropolitan Farm Tour: Explore an Urban Ag Destination, was organized by Catherine Lambrecht, long-time Culinary Historians of Chicago director and director of the Chicago Foodways Roundtable. Metropolitan Farms uses a relatively new technique called aquaponics to create a closed-loop greenhouse system that can produce hydroponically grown herbs and lettuce and fish for local sale year-round.

The system is composed of two greenhouses, one for fish tanks and the other for the greens to grow hydroponically. The fish (tilapia, in this case) provide the fertilizer for the greens as they grow; water from their tanks is piped into the hydroponic system that circulates around the roots of the plants. The water from the plants is then filtered and piped back into the fish tanks. The greens are grown in carefully regulated, advanced greenhouse conditions, which create healthy, undamaged plants without the need for pesticides.

As part of their crop, Metropolitan Farms grows high-quality Genovese basil from seed, year-round, as is done in Liguria. Most of their basil is sold wholesale. They also make their own pesto (several varieties) for local sale.

Walking through the Metropolitan Farms greenhouse, I could almost smell the fragrant pesto that would come from this ingenious system. I’ll end this blog post with a photo of Benjamin and his wonderful basil, and we’ve come full circle, as the wonderful fragrant basil I grew in my own garden was really the impetus for the many years I spent discovering the details of  how to make pesto alla Genovese in the first place!

Metropolitan Farms Founder Benjamin Kant
Benjamin Kant of Metropolitan Farms in Chicago showing his Genovese basil growing method.

Italian Recipe: Kathryn’s Pesto alla Genovese 

Pasta alla Genovese with Trofiette Pasta from Liguria
Photo credit: Victoria-DeMaio of true-Trofiette pasta from the region of Liguria and pesto. From-the-blog-PostcardZ-from-Victoria-Presto-Its-Pesto.jpg

Ingredients for Italian Recipe
Kathryn’s Pesto alla Genovese
(Serves 4)

Leaves from 1 small sweet, green (Genovese) basil plant
(about 1 cup of lightly packed leaves, rinsed, patted dry, stems removed)
1 to 2 small garlic cloves, peeled, halved lengthwise
(and bitter green center removed if present)
1 to 2 tablespoons Italian pine nuts
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cups of extra virgin olive oil, from Liguria, if possible

 

Method for the Pesto 

Note: Before starting, set a large pot of well-salted water on the stove to boil, and cook your pasta to “al dente” tenderness (“to the tooth). Time the pasta so it finishes cooking just before the pesto is complete. Keep in mind that fresh pasta and gnocchi will take far less time to cook than dried pasta.

  1. Put the garlic cloves into the mortar with a few grains of salt and begin to crush. Add the pine nuts and continue to crush into a smooth paste.
  2. Remove the garlic/pine nut mixture from the mortar to a small bowl.
  3. Put a few of the basil leaves and a few grains of salt into the mortar and begin to crush, using the method shown in the link to the video in this blog post.
  4. As the basil leaves become crushed and release their essential oils, add a few more. Continue to crush the leaves, adding a few at a time, until all are crushed fairly uniformly.
  5. Add whatever salt is left to the crushed basil leaves, the garlic/pine nut mixture, and then drizzle in a bit of olive oil. Combine.
  6. Add the cheeses and a bit more olive oil. Combine.
  7. Drizzle in the rest of the olive oil while continuously stirring the garlic/pine nut/ crushed basil/cheese mixture until a creamy dressing has formed.
  8. Reserve 1 to 2 tablespoons of pasta water and mix into the pesto to warm.
  9. Quickly drain the pasta and put the warm pasta into a large serving bowl.
  10. Dress with your pesto, mix to coat, and serve immediately!
  • If you would like to preserve your pesto rather than use it right away, it can be frozen in small plastic containers. Top off with a small amount of olive oil. Leave a small amount of room in the container for the liquid to expand and then cover.

********************

Growing Basil
Kathryn’s Gardening Tips 

  1. Basil is an annual plant and, with some exceptions in warmer climates, will not reseed on its own. It grows easily from seed after the threat of frost is over and when the soil has warmed in cooler climates. It is advisable to plant seedlings, though, in order to have basil readily available throughout the summer.
  2. All basil plants love a very sunny location, hot, humid weather, and lots of water. If you do not water carefully, the plant will droop and may appear to have died, but a good dousing of water will quickly bring it “back to life.”
  3. The basil plant will grow a center stalk of small white flowers, which will then go to seed. Pinch this off when you see it; if you allow the plant to go to seed, it will die shortly thereafter.
  4. To overwinter basil, cut a stalk from the top of the plant with as long a stem as possible. Try to do this before the plant has started to go to seed, when it is still in the growing phase. Place the stem in a small container of water, and watch the roots appear. When a small ball of roots has formed, it is ready to plant in soil.

See “Growing Italian Herbs” from Zuppa, Insalata, e Verdure (Soup, Salad, and Vegetables) by Kathryn Occhipinti © 2006, Italian-American Society of Peoria.

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, is the author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers
 series of books and a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
“Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”

Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian today for FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet Stella Lucente Italian

YouTube videos to learn Italian are available from © Stella Lucente, LLC.
YouTube Learn Travel Italian

More information on and photographs of Italy can be found on Facebook Stella Lucente Italian and Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian.
Facebook Stella Lucente Italian

Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian

Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts and helpful hints about getting around Italy! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy. —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC

Pesto alla Genovese Meets American Aquaponic Farming in Chicago