Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day – “To be about to” with “Stare per”

Burano in Venice, Italy and Everyday Italian phrases

Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

Buon giorno a tutti! Today we are “about to” learn two more ways to use the verb stare that you can use every day! 

As I’ve said before in this blog series, I believe that “commonly used phrases” are the key for how we can all build fluency in any language in a short time.

If we learn how to incorporate “commonly used phrases”  when we talk about what we are about to do in Italian with the verb  stare and the preposition per, we will be able to communicate with the same complexity as we do in our native language!

And when we are actually in the process of performing an action, we can use the verb stare again as a helping verb to emphasize that we are doing something right now.

This post is the 42nd in a series of Italian phrases we have been trying out in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group.  If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian

start with “I am about to” 

and use the verb + preposition combination

Stare + per 

See below for how this works.

As we all master these phrases, so will you. Try my method and let me know how it works. What sentences will you create with this verb?

Please reply. I’d love to hear from you! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

The basics of the Italian language are introduced in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar  

                       found on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel Italian.com.

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Stare per — to be about to

As we’ve seen in a previous blog about the verb stare, although the direct translation of stare is “to stay,” over the centuries stare has also taken on the meaning of “to be” with respect to one’s general health. The verb stare is often used in other ways as well. For instance, with the addition of the preposition per, the stare  per” combination conveys the meaning “to be about to.”

Stare is an –are verb that has an irregular root in the tu and loro forms. In the table below, the regular conjugations of stare are given in green and the irregular forms in brown, in order to make them easier to recognize. The stare conjugation table has been modified from our first blog on this topic to reflect the different meaning with the addition of the preposition per after the verb.

Stare perto be about to 

io

sto
per
I am about to
tu stai
per
you (familiar) are about to
Lei

 

lei/lui

sta
per
you (polite) are about to

 

she/he is about to

     
noi stiamo per we are about to
voi state
per
you all are about to
loro stanno
per

they are about to

 

Once we have stare conjugated to reflect the speaker, the rest is easy! Simply follow the conjugated form of stare with per and then the infinitive form of the verb that describes what you are “about to” do.

What are some things we may be “about to” do during the course of the day?  The actions of going to or returning from a place are very common.  For instance, if I were “about to” go to the store to pick up some wine for dinner, and want to inform a family member, the line may go something like this:

Sto per andare a comprare una bottiglia di vino. Preferisci rosso o bianco?
I am about to go to buy a bottle of wine. Do you prefer red or white?

Or, maybe your friend is putting on his coat, as if he were about to leave a gathering. Instead, you would like him to stay. You may say something like this (using the familiar command form of restare):

Stai per partire? È troppo presto! Resta qui un ora di più con me!
Are you about to leave?  It’s very early! Stay here an hour longer with me!

We can continue in this manner with the other verbs of “coming and going”  like arrivare (to arrive), venire (to come), entrare (to enter), tornare (to return), or rientrare (to come back).

There are many other daily activities that come to mind where stare per may be useful.  We are often “about to” say (dire) something important, or “about to” answer (rispondere) a question. We may be “about to”  write (scrivere), send (mandare), or read (leggere) an important text or email.  

After hearing sad news, we may be about to cry (stare per mettersi a piangere).

Several commonly used verb combinations given above have been listed in the table below. How many more can you think of?

Stare per andare

About to go

Stare per partire

About to leave

Stare per arrivare

About to arrive

Stare per venire

About to come

Stare per entrare

About to enter

Stare per tornare

About to return

Stare per rientrare

About to come back

Stare per dire

About to say

Stare per rispondere

About to answer

Stare per scivere

About to write

Stare per mandare

About to send

Stare per leggere

About to read

Stare per mettersi a piangere

About to cry

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Now that we know how to say what we are about to do in the present tense, let’s go one a step further and talk about the past tense. In fact, many of the phrases listed in the last section are more commonly used in the past tense during a normal conversation.

For instance, the phrase, “I was about to say…” is often used when one speaker has interrupted another. “I was about to answer…!” might be used if one feels pressured into saying something too quickly. Or, is one is telling a story about an unfortunate event that has happened to a friend, this story might involve the sentence, “He/she was about to cry…”

In these cases, we have to conjugate stare in the past tense.  The imperfetto conjugation is given below. The rest of the sentence structure remains the same!

Stare imperfetto per was about to

io

stavo
per
I was about to
tu stavi
per
you (familiar) were about to
Lei

 

lei/lui

stava
per
you (polite) were about to

 

she/he was about to

     
noi stavamo per we were about to
voi stavate per you all were about to
loro stavano per

they were about to

Stavo per dire la stessa cosa!
I was about to say the same thing!

Stavo per rispondere, ma non mi hai dato il tempo!
I was about to answer, but you didn’t give me time!

Stava per mettersi a piangere quando le ho detto che nonna è in ospitale.
She was about to cry when I told her that grandma is in the hospital.

 

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Another important use for the verb stare is to convey the idea that one is doing something right now.  Stare plus the gerund of an action verb creates the present progressive form. In English, the present progressive is the “ing” form of a verb  —  I am going, coming, doing, etc.

In Italian, the present progressive tense is used sparingly; it is reserved for a happening that is going on at the exact same time as the conversation. In short, where in English we commonly say “I am going,” to mean we will leave anywhere from one minute later to sometime in the near future,  in Italian, a simple, “Io vado,” will suffice. To stress that he or she is leaving momentarily, an Italian might instead use stare say, “Sto andando,”** but either tense is correct.

To form the present progressive tense, simply conjugate stare to reflect the speaker. Then add the gerund of the action verb that is to follow.

It is fairly simple to create a gerund to create the present progressive tense in Italian. Drop the -are, -ere, and -ire verb endings to create the stem. Then add ando to the stem of the -are verbs and -endo to the stem of the -ere and -ire verbs. Most gerunds are regular, which generally makes for easy conjugation, although, of course, there are some exceptions! For more information on this verb type, check out our reference book, Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Verbs.”  

Let’s take  a few of our example sentences one step further, from being “about to” do something, to actually doing it “right away.” Notice how the different use of stare changes the meaning of each sentence!

Sto andando a comprare una bottiglia di vino. 
I am going (right now) to buy a bottle of wine. 

Il treno per Roma sta partendo!
The train for Rome is leaving (right now)!

Stavo dicendo la stessa cosa!
I was (just) saying the same thing!

Stavo rispondendo, ma mi hai interrotto!
I was answering, but you interrupted me!

 

A couple more points…

*Another common way to convey you are leaving right away is with the phrase, “Me ne vado,” from the verb andarsene, but this is a topic for another blog!

*Instead of saying, “Sto arrivando,” for “I’m coming right now,” Italians commonly say, “Arrivo!” 

 

Remember how to use the Italian verb combination stare per in conversation 
and I guarantee you will use this verb every day!

 

"Just the Verbs" from Conversational Italian for Travelers books
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Verbs”

   Available on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

 

 

Our Italy — Tuscany’s Wine Windows blog from Italofile, by Melanie Renzulli

Print Wine doors of Florence Robbin Ghessling 2019 and 2020

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! Since 2020, I have been posting the series of blogs, “Our Italy.” In this series, I share bloggers’ experiences of Italy, a country whose culture has captivated the world for thousands of years. I think now is the time to share these memories, knowing that one day we will all be able to return, inspired anew by the Italian people and their land.

Today I am happy to share a guest blog entitled: “Tuscany’s Wine Windows – An Architectural Curiosity Makes a Comeback,” from the Italofile blog written by former Italian resident, author and Italian travel blogger Melanie Renzulli. Prior to 2020, these small stone windows scattered among various buildings in Tuscany had largely been overlooked by residents and tourists alike. If anything, they were only a momentary curiosity to residents out for a stroll through Florence, and easily passed by by the throngs of tourists on their way to see the many other treasures Florence holds.  But, as it turns out, these now ornamental windows had an important function during the years of the plague in Tuscany and have now been receiving a bit of attention.

According to Melanie Renzulli, “The Wine Windows Association has discovered more than 250 wine windows throughout Tuscany, most of which are located in the historic center of Florence (149) and outside its walls (24). There are 93 documented wine windows in the rest of Tuscany, from Arezzo to Siena, Pistoia to Pisa.” Click on the link to read about this architectural curiosity from Melanie’s blog, “Tuscany’s Wine Windows – An Architectural Curiosity Makes a Comeback.
Banner photo: Print – Wine doors of Florence by Robbin Gheesling 2019 and 2020

The cover of Conversational Italian for Travelers "Just the Important Phrases" book is viewed on a smartphone
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases” book is now available to download on your cell phone. No APP needed!  Purchase the rights today from our website at: www.learntravelitalian.com.

Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! How to say, “I feel…” on Valentines Day with “Sentirsi”

Burano in Venice, Italy and Everyday Italian phrases

Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

Buon giorno a tutti! How do you feel about Valentines Day?  Is Valentines Day an important holiday for you? Does the thought of Valentines Day bring the same feelings as it did when you were younger?

If you want to express your feelings in Italian this Valentines Day, the verb sentirsi is essential!  This verb is a part of many commonly used phrases in Italian. 

As I’ve said before in this blog series, I believe that “commonly used phrases” are the key for how we can all build fluency in any language in a short time.

If we learn how to incorporate “commonly used phrases”  when we talk about how we feel in Italian with the verb sentirsi, we will be able to communicate with the same complexity as we do in our native language!

This post is the 41st in a series of Italian phrases we have been trying out in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group.  If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian

start with “I feel” 

and use the verb

Sentirsi 

See below for how this works.

As we all master these phrases, so will you. Try my method and let me know how it works. What sentences will you create with this verb?

Please reply. I’d love to hear from you! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

The basics of the Italian language are introduced in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar  

                       found on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel Italian.com.

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

Sentirsi — to feel

The verb sentirsi means “to feel” in Italian and therefore sentirsi is the verb Italians use to describe their deepest emotions. You will immediately notice from the -si ending that sentirsi is a reflexive verb. English, on the other hand, does not consider “feeling” a reflexive activity; so when we English speakers put our emotions into words, we do not use a reflexive verb. Because of this important difference, we will really have to learn how to think in Italian to express our feelings with sentirsi!  

Learning how to use the verb sentirsi is really not all that tricky, though, once you understand the general idea of how to conjugate a reflexive verb.  Just remember to add one of the reflexive pronouns (mi, ti, si, ci, vi, si) before the conjugated form of sentirsi. Then finish the sentence by saying how you feel, just as you would in English. 

Sentirsi has been conjugated in full in the table below. Sentirsi is a regular -ire verb, so its conjugations are presented in green.  The reflexive pronouns that go with each conjugation are in blue. Since we do not use reflexive pronouns with the equivalent verb “to feel” in English, the Italian reflexive pronouns will not appear in the translation.

Sentirsi to feel

io

 mi sento

I feel

tu

ti senti

you (familiar) feel

Lei
lei/lui

si sente

you (polite) feel
she/he feels

 

 

 

noi

ci sentiamo

we feel

voi

vi sentite

you all feel

loro

si sentono

they feel

 

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Sentirsi vs. Stare

People across the globe commonly talk about how they are feeling. and Italians are no different! Let’s try  to use our newly conjugated Italian verb sentirsi by creating some simple sentences  to describe how we may feel.

From the table above, we can see that the common statement, “I feel…” is, “Io mi sento…” But, of course, we always leave out the Italian subject pronoun, so the phrase that Italians use is conversation is just, “Mi sento…” To complete the phrase, just add how you are feeling after the verb! 

One way to use the verb sentirsi in conversation is to say, “Mi sento bene!” which means, “I feel well!” (Notice Italians do not say, “I feel good,” which is actually grammatically incorrect, although we say this in English all of the time.)

If we remember how to use our reflexive verbs, we know that if we want to ask someone how they are feeling, we can simply say, “Ti senti bene?”  “Are you feeling well?” (By the way, if you need a review of Italian reflexive verbs, please see previous blogs on this topic or our Conversational Italian for Travelers book, “Just the Important Verbs.”)

To have a conversation with one person about another person’s health, we can use the same phrase to relay a fact or to ask a question: “Si sente bene.”  “He/she is feeling well.” “Si sente bene?” “Is he/she feeling well?” 

(Io) Mi sento bene.

(Io) Non mi sento bene.
(Io) Mi sento male.

I feel well.

I don’t feel well.
I don’t feel well.

   

(Tu) Ti senti bene.

Do you feel well?

(Lei/Lui) Si sente bene.

She/he feels well.

(Lei/Lui) Si sente bene.

Does she/he feel well?

You will remember from our last blog about the Italian verb stare that  stare is also used to talk about general well-being, either “good” or “bad,” similar to the sentences above.” Since both stare and sentirsi are used to describe how we feel, the difference in meaning between these two verbs can seem insignificant. But, by convention, stare is always the verb used when greeting someone. And, although sentirsi can be used to make generalizations, the use of sentirsi is more often a specific referral about how we feel, either to a health issue or actual feelings of happiness, sadness, etc.

 

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Adjectives to Use with Sentirsi

The table below is a list of adjectives that you can use to describe how you are feeling.  Just add one of these adjectives after the words, “I feel…” in Italian, just as you would in English. Remember that male speakers must use the “o” ending and female speakers the “a” ending for these adjectives that refer back to the subject.  If the adjective ends in an “e,” the ending does not need to be changed, of course.

bene well
contento(a) / felice happy 
male badly, unwell
nervoso(a)
emotionato(a)
nervous
excited/thrilled
triste sad

Some simple example sentences:

Mi sento conteno.

I am happy. (male speaker)

Mi sento contenta.

I am happy. (female speaker)

Mi sento triste.

I feel sad. (male or female speaker)

Notice, that both “contento(a)” and “felice” mean “happy” in Italian.  But when an Italian wants to describe an internal feeling of happiness, the word chosen is usually “contento(a).”  Contento also translates into the English word, “content,” meaning to feel comfortable with or about something. The phrase, “Contento lui!” translates as, “Whatever makes him happy!” 

Also, a note about feeling “excited” about things.  In America, a very common phrase is, “I am excited…” about what I am about to do, or perhaps an event I will attend. In Italy, the word for “excited” or “thrilled” is “emotionato(a).”

Although the Italian word emotionato sounds to the English speaker like “emotional,the Italian adjectives for emotional are actually, “emotivo(a),” or “emozionale.” Be careful! The Italian adjectives emotivo(a) and emozionale are most commonly used to mean “excited” with a negative connotation.

 

The words emotionato and emotional, which sound like they should have similar meanings in each language, but do not, are often called, “false friends.” 

 

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Valentines Day Sayings with Sentirsi

Now that we know how to make sentences with the verb sentirsi, let’s see how we can tell others how we feel on Valentines Day, or La Festa Degli Innamorati, as the Italians call this day. One of the legends surrounding Saint Valentines Day is that San Valentino, a priest in the Christian church who was jailed by the Romans, wrote the girl he loved a farewell love letter and signed it ‘Your Valentine.”  He knew that this lettera d’amore, would be the last he would write to her before his execution as a Christian.

What do you imagine he could have written in this letter?

The Italian phrase for “I love you,” — when talking about love in a romantic way — is easy. It takes just two short words to relay your special feelings for someone: “Ti amo.”  But after that, what do you say? How do you tell someone how wonderful they make you feel when you are with them?

 

Below are a few expressions that one can use on Valentines day,
some of  which use the verb sentirsi.

Quando ti vedo
…mi sento contento(a).

When I see you
…I am happy.

…mi sento un uomo fortunato.

I feel like a lucky man.

…mi sento una donna fortunata.

I feel like a lucky woman.

…sento che la mia vita è appena cominciata.*

I feel like my life has just begun.

… sento che il mondo è tutto mio.*

I feel like the world is all mine.

*You will notice from two of our examples above that the verb sentire was chosen for the Italian verb that means “to feel,” rather than the reflexive sentirsi. In these two cases, sentire is used in order to make a general comparison about how one’s feeling relates to something else, rather than to state one’s exact feeling. This type of comparison is called a simile and is used to make an idea more vivid — or in our examples,  more “flowery” and romantic. It is easy to spot a comparison in Italian, because “che” will be used to link one’s feeling to the descriptive phrase.  In English we can translate che into “like.” 

 

Sentire is used in the following to phrases in our table below as well, but for a different reason.  These two examples use the sentence structure, “You make me feel…” which requires sentire to be used in it’s infinitive form.

Mi fai sentire molto contento(a).

You make me feel very happy.

Mi fai sentire che tutto è possibile.

You make me feel that everything is possible.

If the time “feels right” for you and your Italian love to “officially” declare your  feelings for each other,  you may want to try the important phrases listed here.

 

Vuoi essere la mia fidanzata?

Do you want to be my girlfriend?

Vuoi essere il mio fidanzato?

Do you want to be my boyfriend?

Vuoi stare insieme a me per sempre?

Do you want to stay together forever?

Vuoi fidanzarti con me?

Do you want to get engaged (engage yourself to me)?

Vuoi fidanzarti con me?

Will you be my fiancée/finance?

Vuoi sposarti con me?

Do you want to get married (marry yourself to me)?

Vuoi sposarti con me?

Will you marry me?

 

How would you use sentirsi to tell your love how you feel?
Please leave some examples. I’d love to hear from you!

 

One last note…

Italians do not use the words contenta or felice, to wish each other a “Happy Valentines Day,”  but instead use “buon/buono/buona,” as for other holiday expressions, as in: Buona Festa degli Innamorati!

Click on this blog from expoloreitalianculture.com if you are interested in learning more about the traditions of Valentines Day in Italy.

Buon Festa degli Innamorati a tutti voi!

 

"Just the Verbs" from Conversational Italian for Travelers books
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Verbs”

Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! How to say “I feel…” in Italian with “Stare”

Burano in Venice, Italy and Everyday Italian phrases

Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

Buon anno a tutti! How do you feel now that 2021 is upon us? For me, anticipation of the year ahead always brings with it a sense of hope. Hope that old problems can be solved. Hope that new  achievements can be realized.

I believe that the hope most people feel with each new year springs from the opportunity to make a fresh start and to set new goals. And setting a goal is, of course, the first step one must take on the road to any destination.

Why not set a goal to learn Italian, starting today, for the year 2021? 

Of course, a goal to learn Italian may not be as life-changing as a goal to find a lasting relationship or a fulfilling job.  But, it has been shown in many studies that learning a new language can help us to set an intellectual and emotional foundation that will boost the enjoyment of our other endeavors.  And Italian is one of the most commonly studied languages in the world, perhaps because the rewards of delving into the rich Italian language and culture are so great!

But I started this blog asking how you, the reader feel now.  If you want to express your feelings in Italian, the verb stare is essential!  This verb is a part of many commonly used phrases in Italian. 

As I’ve said before in this blog series, I believe that “commonly used phrases” are the key for how we can all build fluency in any language in a short time.

If we learn how to incorporate “commonly used phrases”  when we talk about how we feel in Italian with the verb stare, we will be able to communicate with the same complexity as we do in our native language!

This post is the 40th in a series of Italian phrases we have been trying out in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group.  If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian

start with “I feel” 

and use the verb

Stare

See below for how this works.

As we all master these phrases, so will you. Try my method and let me know how it works. What sentences will you create with this verb?

Please reply. I’d love to hear from you! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

The basics of the Italian language are introduced in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar  

                       found on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel Italian.com.

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

Stare — to stay (to be)

The verb stare has an interesting history. Although the direct translation of stare is “to stay,” over the centuries stare has also taken on the meaning of “to be” with respect to one’s general health.

Stare is an–are verb that has an irregular root in the tu and loro forms. In the table below, the regular conjugations of stare are given in green and the irregular forms in brown,  in order to make them easier to recognize.  Stare is a verb that will truly be used every day, so each conjugation should be committed to memory.

Stareto stay (to be) 

io

sto I stay/(am)
tu stai you (familiar) stay/(are)
Lei

lei/lui

sta you (polite) stay/(are)

she/he stays/is

     
noi stiamo we stay/(are)
voi state you all stay/(are)
loro stanno

they stay/(are)

 

As most of us learn early on in our Italian studies, the familiar greeting, “How are you?” originates with the verb stare.

“Come stai?” is used with family and friends and “Come sta?” with acquaintances, and both mean, “How are you?”

In order to answer this common meeting and greeting question, let’s use our conjugations in the table above and describe in general if we are feeling well (bene) or badly/sick (male).  

Stare bene to feel well

io sto bene I am well
tu stai bene you (familiar) are well
Lei

lei/lui

sta bene you (polite) are well

she/he is well

     
noi stiamo bene we are well
voi state bene you all are well
loro stanno bene they are well

 

 Stare maleto feel badly/sick

io sto male I feel badly I am sick
tu stai male you (familiar) feel badly you (familiar) are sick
Lei

lei/lui

sta male you (polite) feel badly

she/he feels badly

you (polite) are sick

she/he is sick

       
noi stiamo male we feel badly we are sick
voi state male you all feel badly you all are sick
loro stanno male they feel badly they are sick

 

If you would like to change-up your answer a bit, and be more descriptive about how you feel, of course there are many other options than simply “well” or “badly.” The phrases listed in the table below describe general feelings, from the best to the worst.

Note that not all of the replies to “Come stai?” or “Come sta?” use stare.

If you really want to speak like a native Italian, choose one of the “-issimo” endings for your reply, which are very common in spoken Italian today. Or, choose “non c’è male,” which many superstitious members of my family use so as not to be too happy about things and bring on bad luck!

Also, it should be mentioned that in informal situations, it is very common to substitute “Come va?” or “How’s it going?” for “Come stai?”  In this case, a simple answer would be,“Va bene,” for “It’s going well/fine.” 

Come stai?
Come sta?
How are you? Familiar/Polite
Sto benissimo! I am feeling great!
I am really well!
The best ever!
Sto molto bene. I am very well.
Sto bene. I am well/fine.
Così, così. So, so.
Non c’è male. Not so badly.
Sto male. I am feeling badly/sick.
Sto molto male. I am feeling very badly.
I am very sick.
Sto malissimo! I am very feeling very badly.
I am really sick!
I am feeling the worst ever!
Come va? How’s it going?
Va bene. It’s going well/fine/good/OK.

To take this one step further, there is an important a part of the ritual of Italian greetings that should be followed. After stating how you feel,  you should add a quick thanks and an inquiry into the the health of another.

For instance, “Sto bene, grazie. E tu?” or “E Lei?” for “I am well, thank you. And you?  How are you?”

Or, if you know an individual’s family, it is considered polite to ask about them: “E la famiglia, come sta?” “And how is the family?

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We can also use stare in  many common expressions to tell someone else how we would like them to feel or even how to behave. In Italian, when we direct someone to do something, we must use the command form of a verb. For our purposes here, we will only discuss the familiar command forms of stare, which will be the same as the present tense tu and voi forms we have just reviewed. A negative command is given in the infinitive form in both English and Italian.

We can use stare to ask someone to remain calm (calmo),  to be still (fermo), to be careful (attento), or to be silent (zitto). Remember to  change the ending of each adjective to reflect the gender of the person who is being addressed.

A command is usually clear from the tone of voice when any language is spoken. In written English and Italian, a command is generally followed by an exclamation point.

Stare calmo(a)(i,e)! to be calm/to remain calm
Stare fermo(a)(i,e)! to stay still/to keep still
Stare zitto(a)(i,e)! to be silent/to be quiet
Stare attento(a)(i,e)! to be careful/watchful/pay attention

Some example sentences are given below.  How many more can you think of from your daily life?
If you’d like, leave some examples in the comment section.

Annina, stai calma! Non piangere più!
Little Ann, calm down!  Don’t cry any more.

Non muoverti! Stai fermo, Giovanni!
Don’t move (yourself)! Stay still, John!

Sono le undici di sera. Stai zitto! I miei genitori stanno dormendo.
It is 11 o’clock at night. Be quiet! My parents are sleeping.

State attenti quando scendete dal treno!
Be careful when you all get off the train!

By the way…

In order to ask someone to keep quiet in a rude way, or as we would say in English, “Shut up!” you can use the Italian expression,“Chiudi il becco!”

And if you want to use the expression “shut up” to mean, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” or “You don’t say!” there are several interjections to choose from in Italian: “Ma dai!” “Non mi dire!” or “Ma non mi dire!”

Remember how to use stare to describe
how you feel in Italian.

 I guarantee
you will use this verb every day!

"Just the Verbs" from Conversational Italian for Travelers books
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Verbs”

Available on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

“Tu Scendi dalle Stelle” — A Special Italian Christmas Carol

Close up of the statues in the Trevi fountain at night with water glistening
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Buon Natale a tutti voi!

Visiting Italy during Christmastime has been on my bucket list for many years.  I always travel to Italy during the spring or summer. And yet, from the photos I’ve seen, Italy is just as magical — or maybe even more so — during the Christmas season, when the towns sparkle with lights radiating from the shops and churches that are decked out in their special holiday displays. 

This year, visiting Italy during Christmastime will have to wait. But I would like to share an Italian Christmas carol that makes me feel close to the people in this special country. This Christmas carol is called “Tu Scendi dalle Stelle.” Although not well-known in America, it is said to be the most well-loved Christmas carol in Italy.

The music and lyrics for “Tu Scendi dalle Stelle” were written in 1732, by Saint Alphonsus Liguori, who was a Neapolitan priest. Liguori originally gave the song the title, “Little song to Child Jesus,” but the song has since become known by its first line, “From Starry Skies Descending,” or in modern English, “You Came Down from the Stars.”

Liguori most likely took inspiration for this Christmas carol from a Neapolitan song called “Quanno Nascette Ninno” (“When the child was born”) which is also called “Canzone d’i Zampognari” (“The Carol of the Bagpipers”).

I hope you enjoy reading the first two stanzas of the lyrics to this song. The traditional translation uses antiquated English. There are many versions recorded on You Tube. If you like, click on the link for my favorite, from the You Tube channel lorpre87.

“Tu Scendi dalle Stelle” with English Translation

  

Tu scendi dalle stelle

From starry skies descending,

O Re del Cielo

Thou comest, glorious King,

e vieni in una grotto

A manger low Thy bed,

al freddo e al gelo.

In winter’s icy sting.

O Bambino mio Divino

O my dearest Child most holy,

Io ti vedo qui a tremar,

Shudd’ring, trembling in the cold

O Dio Beato Great God,

Thou lovest me!

Ahi, quanto ti costò

What suff’ring Thou didst bear,

l’avermi amato!

That I near Thee might be!

   

A te, che sei del mondo

Thou art the world’s Creator,

il Creatore,

God’s own and true Word,

mancano panni e fuoco;

Yet here no robe, no fire

O mio Signore!

For Thee, Divine Lord.

Caro eletto Pargoletto,

Dearest, fairest, sweetest Infant

Quanto questa povertà

Dire this state of poverty

più mi innamora!

The more I care for Thee,

Giacché ti fece amor

Since Thou, O Love Divine

povero ancora!

Will’st now so poor to be.

Buon Natale a tutti voi!

Your Italian-American Gardening Tips – Fall Clean Up, An Autumn Soup, and Planting for Spring

oval plot of swiss chard plants growing after zucchini have been removed
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! I can’t believe that my last gardening blog was so many months ago in August! Actually, there hasn’t been much to report about maintaining the garden in the early fall,  and I have mainly spent these last few months harvesting, cooking with fresh tomatoes, and posting what I’ve cooked on Instagram. In short, maintaining a garden in early fall is relatively easy in northern Illinois. Simply harvest what you can and clear away the plants that have given their all or die off with the oncoming frosts.

Speaking of freezing temperatures,  I did post on my Conversationalitalian.french Instagam when it was time to take in my herb pots.  Was it really as early as October 5 this year?

Anyway, little by little, I have been clearing out my garden beds of the annual vegetables of summer. For my cold-hardy leeks and leafy greens, like Swiss Chard and cavolo nero (Italian “black” kale), I have been weeding (this job never seems to end) and harvesting sparingly so they will continue to grow.

I have also taken the opportunity this fall to plant an essential Italian ingredient — garlic — which came up faithfully every year in my old garden when I was living in Peoria. I always look forward to garlic scapes (green shoots) in springtime, and of course, harvesting the bulbs later in the season.  I also love shallots, and have planted these bulbs as well this year, so hopefully they will be ready to harvest in the summer. The enjoyable part of my fall garden duties this year has involved planting  for next spring!

As I have mentioned in my previous Your Italian-American Gardening Tips blogs, this year I have been focusing on my raised gardens, and all the wonderful Italian vegetables that can be grown in the suburbs, even in a small space.

My hope is that you will enjoy the tips I’ve learned about gardening through many years of experience and be encouraged to start an Italian garden yourself — be it large or small, in a yard or on your porch, or even indoors in pots near a sunny window — after reading the blogs in this series “Your Italian Gardening Tips.”  

Check out my Instagram account, ConversationalItalian.French to see photos of my garden as it progresses.

Below are my insights on how to clean up and prepare your garden beds for fall, caring for herbs over the winter, and what to plant for next spring.  

And remember the Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com if you want an easy, step-by-step way to learn the Italian of today. Free Cultural Notes, Italian Recipes, and Audio to help you practice your Italian are also found on Learn Travel Italian.com.

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Putting Garden Beds to Rest,
Harvesting Leeks and Planting Garlic

Fall 2020

As I mentioned in the introduction to my blog, during these past fall months, I did manage to complete the boring and labor intensive but necessary part of gardening —  putting my garden beds to rest. Little by little, when a sunny day would appear, I took the opportunity to pull out my old and spent tomato and bean plants. I also finally cleared out my lettuce patch.

The soil in the raised beds that grew these annual vegetables all summer was then amended with compost and mulched leaves. I also added crushed egg shells to provide calcium for the tomato plants next year. I planted garlic bulbs in the perimeter of the beds where I will grow tomatoes next year. Some gardeners believe that garlic planted by tomatoes is beneficial and although I am not sure this is true, the particular location  in my garden works for both plants for me and I will be able to harvest the garlic in mid summer before the tomato plants become too large and take over .

To plant garlic, simply separate the cloves and plant as you would any bulb, with the pointy side up. I like the Italian hard neck garlic best, of course. Homegrown garlic is said to be more flavorful, and I do love the garlic shoots (scapes) in the springtime.

Finally, I covered the garden beds that I don’t expect to produce until I plant again in spring with black landscape fabric, which I hope will keep weeds from growing in the meantime.

I had a small fall harvest of leeks from my garden beds as well. In the center of the lettuce bed, leeks had grown up nicely during the cool weather, just in time for me to harvest two for my family’s favorite “Thanksgiving Leek and Potato Soup.”  I have not mentioned that I have been growing leeks up until now, as this year was my first attempt, and I wasn’t sure how things would go. Actually, although the initial planting was a bit difficult (the young seedlings I bought were grown together in one pot), after each seedling separated and placed in the soil, my leeks grew pest-free and virtually weed-free. The only  activity required was to mound up the soil around each plant periodically as it grew.  Here is how my gardens looked in the early fall and today, with the leeks still happily growing in the center of my mulched plot in early December.

Two rows of leek plants growing in a raised garden bed
Young leeks growing in early fall 2020

 

December leeks are growing in the middle of a plot with leaf mulch
December leeks 2020. Self-seeded borage growing to the left of the raised bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving Leek and Potato Soup

Leek and potato soup is simplicity itself.  Just two ingredients boiled together in a little salted water and then puréed, with a bit of cream added, yield a light, delightfully complex oniony flavored soup.  Leek and onion soup is the most requested soup for Thanksgiving that I make, over mushroom and butternut squash. Below is my Instagram post from this year’s version.

My leeks were smaller than the grocery store leeks, but so flavorful that just two worked perfectly.  Whether store bought or homegrown, the only trick is to remember to continuously clean the leeks of the bits of dirt that hide in between the layers. The white, long “bulb” part of the leek is used in cooking, along with the tender green portion of the bulb at its top.  The long green leaves can be discarded into the compost bin.

 

 

 

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How to Overwinter Herbs

Overwintering herbs is one of the most tricky things about gardening.  One has to know which herbs will survive the particular winter climate where they are gardening. Herbs that are said to be perennial (come up on their own each year) in one region may have to be grown as annuals in a another, colder region. Here is a short run-down of what I have found to work in northern Illinois.

 

Since I find fresh herbs essential to good cooking
I’d love to hear more helpful tips on how to overwinter,
so please feel free to leave a comment at the end of this blog!

 

Rosemary and Bay leaf: Each year I plant rosemary and bay leaf in pots so I can take them indoors to overwinter.  Although their woody stems and tough leaves make it seem like the should be cold hardy, both plants will die with the first frost, so it is essential that they be moved indoors early. Rosemary and bay leaf are an important ingredient in Italian winter roasts and stews, so I find it wonderful to have easy access to these herbs in a sunny corner of my kitchen. The fresh bay leaf in particular has so much more flavor than the dried supermarket bay leaves that I will only use fresh bay leaves from my own plant, or those that I have dried myself the year before.

This is the second overwinter for my bay plant, and this year has been responding will to the blue spectrum of my new grow light, making many new leaves since I have brought it indoors. It is also the second year for my rosemary plant, which is particularly finicky, and needs  good, cool air circulation and therefore to be kept away from any heating vents. Both plants will die if given too much water, so it is best to keep the soil dry.

Parsley: Parsley is a biennial, which means that it will grow into a plant every other year (setting seed in the year in between). Parsley does not always grow easily from seed easily in Illinois, so I take a large pot of parsley indoors every year and keep it as long as it will last. I will obtain new plants in spring from the gardening store.

Basil: Basil, of course, will flower and die back right afterward, and needs to be cut back several times over the summer.  My mother and grandmother always clipped a few bunches of basil that would happily grow roots in water glasses on the window sill.

Marjoram and Oregano: Marjoram, which is also called “summer oregano”  (and I think far more complex-tasting and fragrant) is a tender perennial, meaning it will not survive a winter in Illinois. I have had oregano bushes outgrow everything else in my herb garden over the years, though! Oregano will die back in the winter and come back year after year.

Mint and Catnip: The mint I planted 2 years ago came up again this year, overtook much of the perennial herb garden, and continued to seed flower beds on the other side of my yard! No need to worry at all about mint surviving the winter! I have had a similar experience with catnip as well.

Ancient Roman Herbs: I love rue for its delicate, finger-like leaves and borage for it’s beautiful pink and blue flowers. The Romans favored these herbs in their cooking, even floating the borage flowers in their wine! Both rue shrubs and individual borage plants and come back year after year in my gardens. Rue even grew well during the 3 weeks of consecutive days over 100 degrees last summer. The borage I planted this summer has already seeded out of its original pot and this fall another crop is growing happily along the southern side of my raised garden.

 

 

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The Zucchini Plot turns into a Swiss Chard Bed

As I’ve discussed in the last blog in this series, Tomatoes, Zucchini, Italian Beans, Brussels Sprouts, Swiss Chard,  by late August my zucchini plants were growing valiantly outside their original garden plot, despite being infested by the squash-vine borer. I cleared out the old plants and harvested a few more zucchini flowers from the newer vines before removing all of the zucchini plants for the season. I specifically did NOT put the vines and leaves into my compost bin, so as not to spread disease. Instead, I bagged them up for the weekly neighborhood garbage collection.

This clean-up revealed the Swiss chard plants I had planted from seed in the summer, which were growing in the perimeter of the bed. Swiss Chard seedling dwarfed by a cucuzza zucchini plant.

Unfortunately, as the Swiss chard plants had been deprived of sunlight, they had not grown very large by the end of August. (See photo to the right.)

I did find a few additional Swiss chard plants that also had not grown to maturity on a visit to the garden store. So I weeded, amended the soil in my old zucchini bed with compost, and planted additional plants in the center of the garden bed.  All my Swiss chard plants have grown nicely in the cool weather and sunlight, and, despite several episodes of frost, one light snow, and a few of my harvests, they continue to do well. A recent photo is below from early December. I expect they will continue to do well as long as the late temperatures stay on the milder side. To harvest Swiss chard and other leafy greens like Italian cavolo nero (“black kale”), which I plan to plant next year, just take a few older leaves from the outer portion of each plant; more leaves will continue to grow in the center.

oval plot of swiss chard plants growing after zucchini have been removed
Swiss chard growing in my old zucchini bed on a sunny fall afternoon 2020

 

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Strawberry Plants with Rhubarb

My strawberry patch was newly planted this year, so I let it grow freely and have many healthy plants in the perimeter of this garden bed growing into the late fall.  Rhubarb is in the center of the same garden bed, since it is said to be a classic companion plant for strawberries. There are a lot of myths that have grown up and been repeated over the years regarding companion planting, and often not much science applied, but to my mind this combination makes sense. Rhubarb and strawberries both come back to life in the early spring, need an open, sunny location to grow, and last into the fall. And, of course, the flavor of the rhubarb stalk and the strawberry fruit blend beautifully together in the classic strawberry rhubarb pie, which was the pie that got me hooked on pie making when I moved to the Midwest!

The strawberries in my previous garden in Peoria did well year after year with a sprinkling of compost in the late fall and strawberry fertilizer in the spring. This year I am a little further north, and I have straw reserved for the coldest days of winter. I plan to cover the strawberries with a thick layer of straw when the temperature drops to -20° for consecutive days, as it usually does in the last two weeks in January.  Another precaution I always take is to cover strawberries with old sheets during a springtime frost, to protect the plants during their time of new growth.

 

Asparagus and Strawberries  

My newly planted asparagus also did well growing in their new beds this year. I love asparagus, so have two raised garden beds with asparagus growing in the center. I plan to plant strawberries in the perimeter of each bed this spring, which love to grow partially sheltered from the summer sun under the asparagus fronds. The broad leaves of the strawberry plants in turn provide good ground cover in the perimeter of the asparagus, which grow tall but do not spread.  

I will not be able to cut asparagus for the next 2-3 years, but will instead allow them to grow into high, lovely, fern-like plants. Asparagus should be cut back after the fronds turn yellow in the fall and a nice layer of compost applied over the crowns, so the roots can absorb nutrients through the winter and be ready for the springtime sprouts.  This year, they developed pretty red berries before I was able to achieve this task. So, I’ll find out in the spring if the birds were able to spread asparagus plants throughout the garden!

 

Close up of a fern-like asparagus plant with red berries
Asparagus in the fall with red berries

 

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Until it is time for spring planting, when I will revisit this series,
please follow  my Instagram account, Conversationalitalian.french
for the many ways to cook  with Italian winter vegetables and herbs!

An Italian-American Turkey Recipe for Thanksgiving 2020

Kathryn holding a platter with a turkey roll that has been cut in half and the swirl of sausage and mushroom ragù filling visible.
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! Since we in America are all celebrating Thanksgiving a bit differently this year, I thought I would post a turkey recipe I’ve made before for small gatherings.

My Italian-American turkey recipe uses a full, boneless turkey breast, which is flattened, spread with a ragù of Italian sausage and cremini mushrooms, and then rolled up to form a log.  When the log is cut into slices it makes an elegant presentation and a satisfying main course for 6 -8  people. I plan to use half the log for Thanksgiving and freeze the other half for an easy dinner later in the year.

I based my Italian sausage and mushroom ragù filling on the Bolognese ragù that my children have requested as their birthday dinner for years. Actually, the Bolognese ragù I make is by far my most requested dish all around (I have to admit, even though I am Sicilian and make a variety of southern Italian sauces). If you are interested in a true ragù recipe, here is the link to my blog: Italian Sauce Recipe: Bolognese Meat Ragù.

Check out my Instagram Conversationalitalian.french to watch the video when I cook my version of sausage and mushroom ragù filling and make the roasted turkey breast for my family to enjoy this Thanksgiving.  Then read on for the recipe below.

 

If you’d like,  leave a comment about your Thanksgiving celebration this year, and the traditions that are celebrated where you live.
I’d love to hear from you!

And by all means stay safe and have a wonderful Festa del Ringraziamento, however you celebrate this year.

 


 

Italian -American Thanksgiving Turkey Roll 

Kathryn Occhipinti holding an oval platter with the Turkey Roll ready to serve
Kathryn Occhipinti with Turkey Roll ready to serve

Ingredients
(Serves 4 -8)

1 (4 lb.) whole turkey breast, deboned

For the Ragù Filling: Sausage 

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1 small shallot (or 1/2 onion) chopped finely
1/2 carrot, chopped finely
1/2 celery stalk, chopped finely
1/4c  finely diced pancetta
Italian sausage meat from 2 links, casing removed
3/4c whole milk

For the Ragù Filling: Mushrooms

4 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, small dice

 
Procedure

For the Ragù Filling: Sausage 

Use a medium size frying pan. Add the olive oil and butter and heat over medium high heat.

Add the finely chopped shallot or onion, celery, and carrot, and cook with a pinch of salt until vegetables have softened.

Add the chopped pancetta and cook to render out the fat. 

Add the Italian sausage meat, and stir with a wooden spoon to break up meat as it browns.

Set aside while you cook the mushrooms.

For the Ragù Filling: Mushrooms

Use a medium size frying pan. Add the olive oil and butter and heat over medium high heat.

Remove garlic before it gets brown.

Add the diced mushrooms and cook over medium heat until the mushrooms soften.  At first, they will appear to absorb all the liquid in the pan. As they finish cooking, they will release juices back into the pan. 

When mushrooms have softened and there is liquid in the pan, add them to the sausage in the larger pan.

For the Ragù Filling: Finishing the Filling

Warm the sausage and mushrooms in the large frying pan over low heat.

Sprinkle 2 Tbsp. flour over the sausage and mushrooms and cook, stirring for about 2 minutes.

Warm the milk in the microwave (but do not boil, about 20 sec) and then drizzle slowly into the sausage/mushroom mixture while mixing over low heat. Bring to a very gentle simmer and then turn off heat. Continue stirring.  The mixture should thicken.

 

Make the Turkey Log:

Rinse the turkey breast and pat dry.  Trim any extra fat.

Remove the skin of the turkey breast carefully. Use the blunt edge of a carving knife. Try not to get any tears in the skin, as it will be used to cover the Turkey roll later. Set aside.

turkey breast with removal of skin
Preparing the turkey breast – Step 1

Set the turkey breast flat on the cutting board, skin side down. You will need to make the turkey breast as flat and as rectangular as possible. Start by trimming the tenders (the small, oblong pieces of meat along each underside) from the lower portion of the breast. Trim along the midline and then fold them outward to make “flaps” close to the main breast. The upper edges of the breast will be too thick; slice through them and remove or create an additional flap outward. Trim away any additional excess turkey to level off the breast.

Preparing the turkey breast - Step 2 - creating flaps with the tender of the breast
Preparing the turkey breast – Step 2

Cover the turkey breast with a sheet of wax paper. Then pound the turkey breast lightly with the flat side of a meat mallet to further flatten. Pound from the inner part of the breast to the outer edges on all sides.

Preparing the turkey breast - Step 3 flattening with a meat mallet
Preparing the turkey breast – Step 3

Spread the filling on the turkey breast and even out with a large spoon or spatula. You may have a bit too much filling; just discard what is left. Press the filling into the turkey breast with a wide spoon.

Roll the breast the long way from one side to to the other and make a tight, long log. The seam should be on the bottom of the roll.

Rolling the turkey breast with fillilng into a log
Rolling the turkey breast with sausage and mushroom filling into a log

Cover the log with the turkey skin and flatten around the roll with your hands so the skin is closely adhered to the turkey log.

Use cooking twine to tie the roast so it stays together while roasting. Three or four crosswise ties should cover most of the roll. No need to tie the roll lengthwise.

Brush olive oil on the skin surface and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. If your turkey breast came with a pop-up thermometer, make a small cut in the skin and insert it into the turkey log. Make sure it goes in as deeply as it would if it were in a regular breast.

Gently transfer the turkey log to a roasting pan, keeping the seam side down.

Turkey log prepared for roasting
Turkey log tied with thermometer re-inserted and prepared for roasting

Roast in the lower 1/3 of the oven 400° for 30 minutes. Then lower heat to 325° and cook for approximately 30 -40 minutes more. 

The roast is finished cooking when the interior reaches 170°, and a thermometer should be used to test for doneness. If your turkey breast comes with a meat thermometer, reinsert this and use it as a guide.

When the roast has finished cooking, remove the twine and thermometer and present on a large oval plate.  It looks lovely by itself or surrounded by roasted potatoes or a vegetable of choice.

Let rest 15 minutes, slice and serve.

Roasted turkey roll ready to slice and serve
Roasted turkey roll ready to slice and serve

Buon appetito e Buon Giorno del Tacchino!

Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases
Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases (with Restaurant Vocabulary and Idiomatic Expressions) is YOUR traveling companion in Italy! All the Italian phrases you need to know to enjoy your trip to Italy are right here and fit right into your pocket or purse.

Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! The many uses of the Italian Verb “Prendere”

Burano in Venice, Italy and Everyday Italian phrases
Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

Do you want to speak Italian more easily and confidently by the end of 2020? 

Many Italian verbs have a similar use to those in English, which simplifies translation from one language to the other. However, many times the use of an Italian verb will vary  from the usual English connotation.  And in many situations, the same verb can have many different meanings in both languages, depending on the context. Prendere, the  Italian verb that most commonly means “to take” is one of those verbs that is used in many ways in Italian and is important to “take seriously” if one wants to use it correctly.

As I’ve said before, I believe that “commonly used phrases” are the key for how we can all build fluency in any language in a short time.

If we learn how to incorporate “commonly used phrases”  when use the Italian verb prendere, we will be able to communicate just as we do in our native language!

This post is the 39th in a series of Italian phrases we have been trying out in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group.  If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE

Many “commonly used phrases” in conversation

use the Italian verb
prendere.

See below for how this works.

As we all master these phrases, so will you. Try my method and let me know how it works. What sentences will you create with these phrases?

Please reply. I’d love to hear from you! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

The basics of the Italian language are introduced in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar  

                       found on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel Italian.com.

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Let’s Talk About…

The Many Uses of the  Italian Verb

Prendere

Prendere  most commonly means “to take,” but can also be translated as “to bring,” “to pick up,” “to get,” or “to buy/acquire.”  The past participle preso can also be used to describe liking someone or something a lot. This use stretches the meaning of prendere a bit, but there is a similar expression in English — being “taken with” someone — that also expresses the same idea.  In its reflexive form, prendersi is used to convey how a person can  “catch/come down with” an illness.

When you are able to visit Italy, use prendere when ordering food in a restaurant to really sound like a native! Prendere is also commonly used by Italians in reference to earning money, taking medicine, or being “overtaken” by an emotional or physical condition. Finally, the Italian expressions for “to tease” and “to sunbathe” use prendere. As you can see, this verb is used in many ways in Italian! 

The present tense, familiar imperative (command) tense, and future tenses of prendere have a regular conjugation, and are used frequently in daily conversation.

Prendere is also commonly used in the past tense in order to describe what we “took,” “brought,” “picked up,” “got,” or “caught.” 

To describe a one-time event that occurred in the past with prendere, we will most often use the helping verb avere (to have) with the irregular past participle preso.

For conversation, we will focus on the io and tu forms. We can begin a statement with the io form, such as,“Ho preso….” for “I took…” We can ask questions with the tu form by simply stating, “Hai preso…?”

In the expressions that describe the subject “liking,” or “being taken with” a person or a thing, essere (to be) is used as verb that links the subject with the past participle preso. 

The  passato prossimo for the reflexive verb prendersi needs the helping verb essere, as do all reflexive Italian verbs.  Remember to leave out the subject pronoun io when you want to say, “Mi sono preso un raffredore ieri.” (I caught a cold yesterday.)

And, of course, when using essere as the helping verb with prendere, remember our usual rule for past participles: if you are female, or your subject is a group of people, make sure to change the past participle preso to presa, presi, or prese!

Examples follow below for the many ways to use the Italian verb prendere:

1. Use prendere to describe the act of  “taking,” “bringing” or “picking up” something

  • In order to direct someone to take something and put it in a different place, use prendere. This includes when the object is on the ground or resting on another object, and you must literally “pick it up” from that place.
  • When directing someone to take something in Italian, it is important to use the command form of prendere, which has the same “i” ending as the tu form in the present tense. (To use the familiar command form, just use the present tense subjunctive mood ending.  The familiar command form will not be used in our examples, but more information can be found at Italian Subjunctive (Part 7): Italian Subjunctive Commands). 
  • Remember that for events in the recent future, Italians use the present tense.  To emphasize that something will happen for sure in the recent future or well into the future, use the future tense.
  • Notice that in the past tense we must use avere as the helping verb with the irregular past participle preso to describe what we “took,” “brought,” or “picked up.”
“Prendi quella roba che nessuno vuole e mettila lì!”
“Take that stuff that no one wants and put it there!”
 
“Prendi il vino a tavola per cena!” (Porta il vino a tavola.)
“Take/Bring the wine to the table for dinner!”

“Quando faccio la spesa domani, prendo la tua macchina. Non voglio camminare con troppi bagagli pesanti.
“When I go grocery shopping tomorrow, I (will take) your car.  I don’t want to walk with so many heavy bags.
 
Prenderò tante cose da portare alla famiglia quando viaggerò in America tra cinque anni.
I will take many things to bring to the family when I travel to America in 5 years.
“Prendi il piatto che tu hai lasciato cadere per terra!
“Pick up the plate that you let drop on the floor!”
 
“Prendo tutta la spazzatura nella tua stanza e la butto via domani.”
” I will pick up all the garbage in your room and throw it out tomorrow.”

“Hai preso il vino da portare alla nonna per la cena?”
“Did you take the wine to bring to grandma for dinner ieri?”
 
“Si, ho preso una buona bottiglia di vino specialmente per la nonna ieri sera.”
“Yes, I took/brought a nice bottle of wine especially for grandma last night.”

 

2. Use prendere to describe “picking up” someone

  • Use prendere with the verb passare when you want to “pass by” and “pick someone up.” As we’ve already seen in our blog about passare, these two verbs are combined to make the important every day expression “passare a prendere,” which means “to pick (someone) up.” The reference now-a-days is usually to driving in a car, but the same expression could be used when taking someone on a walk.
  • In the examples given below, the pronouns ti and mi are given in red to demonstrate that they are attached to the end of prendere.
“Passerò/Passo a prenderti alle otto.”
“I will (pass by and) pick you up at 8 AM.” 
 
Grazie! Passa a prendermi alle otto! Sto aspettando!
Thanks!  Pick me up at eight.  I (will be) waiting!

Side note: if you want to ask someone to “pick you up” from a particular place, venire is used with prendere:

“Può venire alla stazione a prendermi?”
“Can you (polite) come to the station and get me?”

 

3. Use prendere when describing what food you would like to order/eat

“Prendo un piatto di spaghetti per il primo piatto.”
“I will take (have) a plate of spaghetti for the first course.
 
“Stammatina prendo un buon caffè prima di andare al lavoro.”
“This morning I will take (have) a good (cup of) coffee before going to work.”

“Dai, prendi l’ultima fetta di pane!”
“Come on, take the last slice of bread!”
 
“Che cosa vuole prendere per dolce, signore?”
“What would you like to have (take) for dessert, sir?”

 

4. Use prendere to describe the act of taking medicine

“Devo prendere una pillola ogni mattina per l’ipertenzione .”

“I have to take one pill every morning for hypertension.”

5. Use prendere to describe buying, acquiring or earning something

“Ho preso un chilo di mele ieri dal fruttivendolo in piazza.”
“I bought a kilogram of apples yesterday from the fruit vendor in the piazza.”
 
Lui ha preso la casa per pochi soldi la settimana scorsa.
He aqcuired (bought) the house for very little money last week.
Ho preso cinquanta euro al lavoro iera sera.”
“I earned 50 euros at work last night.”
 
Lui non ha preso molti soldi l’anno scorsa a vendere le scarpe.
He did not earn much money last year selling shoes.

 

6. Use the past participle preso with these expressions to describe liking something or someone a lot. 

  • The phrase “Sono preso da…” is similar to the phrase “Sono innamorato di…” and conveys the ideas of “I really like/I’m in love with…” 
  • Other Italian expressions that describe the different ways we can like someone are: “Sono cotto di…” ” I have a crush on…” and “Sono colpito da…” “I am impressed with..”
  • Notice that some of these phrases take the conjunction da, while others use the conjunction di.
  • To form the past tense for these phrases, we must add the past participle of essere, which is stato, and change the ending of stato to (a,i,e) as necessary to reflect the gender and number of the subject.
“Sono preso(a) da questo libro.”
“I  like this book a lot.”  (I am really taken with this book.)
 
“Sono preso(a) da te.”
“I like you a lot!”  (“I am really taken by you!”)

 

“Sono stato(a) preso da questo libro.”
“I  liked this book a lot.”  (I was really taken with this book.)
 
“Sono stato(a) preso da te.”
“I liked you a lot!”  (“I was really taken by you!”)
“Io e Anna  siamo presi molto l’uno dall’altra.”
“Ann and I (we)  like each other very much.”
 
Anna e Michele non sono presi molto l’uno dall’altra.
Ann and Michael (they) don’t like each other very much.

Side note: if you want to describe how someone or something has so enthralled or dazzled you, in effect “blinding you” literally or figuratively (abbiagliarsi) so that you make a mistake, use the expression prendere un abbaglio.

“Ha preso un abbaglio.
“I made a mistake.”

 

7. Use prendersi to describe getting sick, as in “catching a cold,” or “coming down with” an illness

  • Remember the Italian use of reflexive verbs to indicate “to get” in English.  If you would like to review this topic, check out our blog How to Say “To Get” in Italian.
“Mi sono preso un brutto raffredore improvvisamente.”
“I caught a bad cold all of a sudden.”
 
“Mi sono preso l’influenza ieri.”
“I came down with the flu yesterday.”

 

 

8. Use prendere to describe “being overtaken” by an emotion or sickness, and prendersela when offended/angered

“Sono stato preso(a) da un grand tristezza  quando ho incontrato il mio amore perduto.”
“I was overtaken by a great sadness when I met my lost love again.
 
Me la sono presa con te ieri sera durante la riunone!
I was offended by you last night during the meeting!

 

 

9. Two more common phrases that use prendere 

Prendere in giro = to make fun of, to tease

Mio fratello maggiore mi prende sempre in giro.
My big brother is always teasing me.

Non mi prendere in giro! (negative command)
Don’t make fun of me!

Prendere il sole = to sunbathe

Oggi prendo il sole sulla spiaggia per tutta la mattina.
Today I will sunbathe on the beach all morning.

Remember how to use the Italian verb prendere in conversation 
and I guarantee you will use this verb every day!

"Just the Verbs" from Conversational Italian for Travelers books
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Verbs”

   Available on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

Our Italy — All Saints Day and All Souls Day in Italy

A bowl of minestrone soup with chick peas on a table cloth with pictures of fruit.

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! For 2020, I have changed the name of my series, “Your Italian Travel Tips,” to “Our Italy.” In this series, I share bloggers’ experiences of Italy, a country whose culture has captivated the world for thousands of years. I think now is the time to share these memories, knowing that one day we will all be able to return, inspired anew by the Italian people and their land.

Today I am happy to share a guest blog  about how the Halloween season is celebrated in Italy, written by Cinzia, a native Italian who was born and raised in Liguria. Although Cinzia loves to travel the world, her heart is in Italy, and she now teaches Italian for foreign students. I love Cinzia’s blog,  Instant Italy   for the lighthearted insights I find there about  Italian life and culture. Here is what Cinzia has to say about herself

My name is Cinzia and Italy is the place I call home.

Books feed my soul, music fills my days and travelling makes my life richer. I am a day dreamer, tireless walker and believer in the power of little things.

I’ve created Instantly Italy to take you to Italy with me and explore together this crazy but “oh so lovely” country.

I’m sure you will enjoy reading Cinzia’s blog about All Saints Day and the day to follow, All Souls Day, celebrated on November 1st and 2nd in Italy. Since my father passed away almost 5 years ago, I have come to realize the importance of a day like All Souls Day.  I want my children to remember the times they shared with their grandfather and other relatives who are no longer with us. Setting aside a special day to get together and reminisce about the past is one way to make sure we remember the times we cherished together as a family. After all, our connections to the past help to shape our future as well.

Today, I’m told, Italians celebrate the Halloween that we in America have popularized around the world with costumes, candy for the children,  and parties for the adults. Of course, this is all great fun and my children always celebrate Halloween on October 31st.  But I am glad to see that the Italian traditions for the days after Halloween are still followed in Italy, and the food traditions have remained intact.

I was especially happy to read in Cinzia’s blog that in Liguria they celebrate All Souls Day with a special chick pea soup, ceci con le costine, and plan to make this soup to for my Sunday “remembrance” dinner in November this year. Given the circumstances (i.e. given that it is still 2020), this soup will be a warming treat I can present in decorative jars and drop on a few doorsteps.  Along with some ossi di morti from a previous blog!

Enjoy the excerpt below from Cinzia’s blog, All Saints’ Day in Italy and click on the link to continue reading the full blog.  Check out my Instagram Conversationalitalian.french to watch the video when I cook my version of ceci con le costine and try it yourself if you like!

How do we celebrate All Saints’ Day, here in Italy? 

First of all, let me just tell you one thing: we do not celebrate Halloween. Ok, I should be more precise: we used not to celebrate Halloween in the past, we have been doing it only lately.

When I was a kid, I had absolutely no clue of what Halloween was, for me it was just a weird celebration you saw in certain American movies or TV series. To be honest, I would never have believed we would end up celebrating it over here too. Probably people just wanted one more reason to have fun and decided it was time to make Halloween a proper feast in Italy as well.

Nowadays, shops are being decorated with carved pumpkins and scary stuff, kids go around asking for sweets and candies – even if, instead of saying “trick or treat”, they scream “dolcetto o scherzetto?” – and adults throw costume parties as they have seen in many TV shows, but Halloween is still not as huge as in the United States, for example.

After all, Halloween does not belong to our tradition, it is just something we borrowed from other countries.

Here in Italy, we celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, on November 1st and November 2nd respectively. All Saints’ Day, Ognissanti in Italian, is the feast of all the Saints of the Catholic calendar and it is a public holiday, exactly like Christmas or Easter. We do not work nor go to school on that day.  All Souls’ Day is called Giorno dei Morti in Italian and it is the day when we remember those who have departed.  Click HERE to read more…

 

If you’d like,  leave a comment how you celebrate Halloween, and the traditions that are celebrated where you live.
I’d love to hear from you!

Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases
Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases (with Restaurant Vocabulary and Idiomatic Expressions) is YOUR traveling companion in Italy! All the Italian phrases you need to know to enjoy your trip to Italy are right here and fit right into your pocket or purse.

Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! – Let’s Talk About… TV and the Movies in Italian

Burano in Venice, Italy and Everyday Italian phrases

Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

Do you want to speak Italian more easily and confidently by the end of 2020? 

One of the most common topics people discuss is what they have watched lately on their TV. But whether the discussion is about a made-for-TV series or a classic movie, the conversation usually revolves around the same topics: our likes and dislikes, intriguing points in the plot, and, of course, those fabulous actors. These common topics lead to common phrases we can learn in Italian to talk to our Italian friends!

As I’ve said before, I believe that “commonly used phrases” are the key for how we can all build fluency in any language in a short time.

If we learn how to incorporate “commonly used phrases”  when we talk about the weather in Italian we will be able to communicate just as we do in our native language!

What TV series have you watched lately?  On what site? were you thrilled, bored, or was it just an OK experience?  Or maybe you have just streamed (or put in your own DVD for the umpteenth time) a favorite classic movie.  Why is this movie your favorite?  What about the characters attracts you to this movie time and time again?

This post is the 38th in a series of Italian phrases we have been trying out in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group.  If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian

are used to talk about
TV and movies in Italian.

See below for how this works.

As we all master these phrases, so will you. Try my method and let me know how it works. What sentences will you create with these phrases?

Please reply. I’d love to hear from you! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

The basics of the Italian language are introduced in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar  

                       found on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel Italian.com.

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

Let’s Talk About…

TV and the Movies in Italian

How do I say, “TV show” and “movies” in Italian?

The programs we watch on a television set (il televisore) or on a screen (lo schermo) are referred to most commonly in both English and Italian as “TV.” The pronunciation, of course, is different in each language. In Italian, the abbreviation “TV” is pronounced as an Italian would pronounce the letters “t” and “v,” which sounds like “tee-vooh.” Notice from the table below that there is an Italian word for TV programs in general (la televisione), and therefore the Italian abbreviation TV is feminine as well, and takes the feminine definite article la, as in la TV.

TV La TV / La televisione
Cable TV La TV via cavo
Satellite TV La TV sattelitare
RAI-TV Italian state television
(Radio-Televisione Italiana)
Television set Il televisore
TV or computer screen Lo schermo
TV show Un programma 
Un programma televisivo
TV series Una serie TV/Due Serie
Un telefilm
Episode Una puntata
Situation Comedy Una serie TV sitcom
Una commedia
Comedy show Un programma comico

Back in the day, Italians used to refer to a movie as “una pellicola,” but that word is no longer in common usage. Nowadays, Italians most often refer to a movie with the American word “film.” For instance, Voleva la pena il film?” means, “Was it worth it to watch the movie?”

Movies in general are either “i film,” with the borrowed English word preceded by the plural masculine definite article “i” in Italian, or “il cinema,” which is a collective masculine noun. 

The usual Italian verbs for to watch (guardare) and to see (vedere) describe the act of watching a screen to see a TV show or movie.

Movie theater  Il cinema
Film studio Lo studio cinematografico
Movie Il film (La pellicola)
Movies I film / Il cinema
to capture an image for a film filmare / riprendere / girare
to be recorded essere filmato
to watch a movie guardare un film
to watch a movie vedere un film

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Using piacere to say we like a TV show or movie

In Italian, a few simple sentences will suffice to say if we liked what we saw — or not.  You may recall that Italians use the irregular verb piacere to convey the idea that they like something. For a refresher on how this verb works, please refer to past blogs, “Piacere — How Italians Say, ‘I like it!”  and “Piacere: How Italians Say, ‘I liked it!’

The most important thing to remember is that the conjugation of piacere
will have to agree with the number of things that are being liked. 

So, when speaking in the present tense, if one thing is liked, simply use the third person singular conjugation piace.

If many things are liked in the present, use the plural third person, which is piacciono.

For the past tense, we can use the passato prossimo third person singular forms è piacuto and è piaciuta for the one-time event when we liked something.

If many things are liked, the third person plural forms sono piaciuti for the masculine plural and sono piaciute for the feminine plural are used.

Then put the indirect object pronoun mi before the verb to make the simple sentence: “To me, this is pleasing!” Or, as we would say in English, “I like/liked this!”  

To ask a friend if they like or liked something, put ti before the verb, for: “Is/was this pleasing to you?” Or, as we would say in English, “Do/Did you like this?”

If, for some reason, you do NOT like what you have watched, just start your Italian sentence with the word non.

What we might say about our favorite TV show or movie that we like:

Mi piace questo film. I like this movie.
Mi è piaciuto questo film. I liked this movie.
Mi piace molto questo film. I really like this movie.
Mi è piaciuto molto questo film. I really liked this movie.
Ti piace questo film? Do you like this movie?
Ti è piaciuto questo film? Did you like this movie?

What we might say about our favorite TV show or movie that we did NOT like: 

Non mi piace questo film. I don’t like this movie.
Non mi è piaciuto questo film. I didn’t like this movie.
Mi piace molto questo film. I really don’t like this movie.
Mi è piaciuto molto questo film. I really didn’t like this movie.
Ti piace questo film? Don’t you like this movie?
Ti è piaciuto questo film? Didn’t you like this movie?

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

Using common expressions to say we like a TV show or movie

Of course, there are many common expressions that go beyond the simple, “I like it,” or “I don’t like it.” In English, for instance, we might say, “It was cool,” or “It was out of this world.” It seems like new English expressions are invented almost every day for how we feel about things! So, it should come as no surprise that Italians have also created expressions for feelings that go deeper than simply liking.  Let’s discuss a few that you may hear when carrying on a conversation with your Italian friends.

To get a conversation started, you can use the phrases, “Vale la pena?” for “Is it worth it?”  “Voleva la pena il film?” means, “Was the film worth it?” as mentioned earlier.

In the table below are some answers that you might hear from a native Italian who has enjoyed a film. Try them out and surprise your Italian friends!

Mi piace un sacco! I like it a lot! (lit. a sack full)
Mi è piaciuto un sacco! I liked it a lot!
È  stato bello! It was great!
È / È stato meraviglioso! It is / was wonderful!
È / È stato stupendo! It is / was amazing / cool!
È / È stato  fantastico! It is / was fantastic / cool!
È / È stato fico / figo! It is / was cool!
È /  È stato fichissimo / fighissimo! It is / was the coolest!
È / È stato da paura! It is / was cool!
È / È stato  il meglio! It is / was the best!
È il migliore film che io abbia mai visto. It is the best film that I have ever seen.

Some common movie genres

Action Film d’azione
Adventure story Storia d’avventura
Costume drama (historical TV show with costumes) Sceneggiato in costume
Costume drama (historical film with costumes) Film in costume
Comedy Film comico / commedia
Comedy drama Commedia drammatica
Dark comedy Commedia nera
High comedy Commedia sofisticata / da intenditori
Low comedy (bawdy) Commedia popolare
Slapstick comedy Farsa / Pagliacciata*
Musical comedy Commedia musicale
Romantic comedy Commedia romantica
Documentary Un documentario
Drama Storia drammatica
Drama movie Film drammatico / Dramma
Detective movie Un poliziesco / Un giallo**
Film noir (thriller genre) Film noir
Foreign Film Film straniero
Horror  Film horror / Film dell’orrore
Mystery Un giallo**
Science Fiction / Sci-fi Film di fantascienza
Psychological thriller Thriller psicologico
Thriller (suspense film) Thriller / Giallo
Western Film Western

*Reference to the opera Pagliacci, whose main character is a clown that performs slapstick humor with puppets.

**Mystery books and films are referred to by the color giallo, which is derived from the yellow cover all mystery books were given in the past.

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

Using common expressions to say what we prefer

The verb preferire means “to prefer,” which is a regular -isc conjugated -ire verb.“I prefer…” is “Io preferisco…” To ask a question of someone else, say, “Tu preferisci…?”

If you want to say you prefer one movie genre over another, just use the adjective preferito. This also works for your favorite movie, TV show, color, etc. Just make sure to change the ending of preferito (a,i,e) to reflect what it is you are describing, whether masculine or feminine, singular or plural.

Here are examples from the dialogue below:

È il tipo di film che io preferisco.
It’s the type of film that I prefer.

Non per me.  Il mio film preferito è un buon giallo.
Not for me. My favorite movie is a good mystery movie.

If you want to say, “I liked (film) better than…” use the sentence construction:

“Mi piace… (film)  più di + definite article… (film).  

Ma mi piace La Vita è Bella più del Commissario Montalbano.
I like La Vita è Bella more than Detective Montalbano.

Another way to make a comparison between films is to say:
“This film is much better than…”

“Questo film è molto meglio di + definite article…”

Questo film è molto meglio del Commissario Montalbano, sono sicuro!
This film is much better than Detective Montalbano, I am sure.

Finally, to mention who has written or directed a movie, use the conjunction “di” to mean “by.”

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

Below is a simple dialogue between two friends, Maria and Anna, talking about their favorite movie and TV show.  There are, of course, many variations.  Think about your favorite movie and create phrases describe your own feelings in Italian!

Maria:  Ieri sera, ho guardato il film, La Vita è Bella, di Roberto Benigni.
Last night, I watched the movie, “Life is Beautiful,” by Roberto Benigni.
Anna: Ne è valsa la pena?
Was it worth it?
Maria: Si, vale la pena.
Mi è piaciuto molto questo film!
Yes, it is worth it.
I really liked this film!
Anna: È una storia drammatica?
Is it a drama?
Maria: Si, è una storia drammatica, ma la prima parte è anche un po’ comica.
Yes, it is a drama, but the first part is also a bit funny.
Anna: Ah, una commedia drammatica.
I see, a comedy drama.
Maria: È il tipo di film che io preferisco.
It’s the type of film that I prefer.
Anna: Non per me.
Il mio film preferito è un buon giallo.
Not for me.
My favorite movie is a good mystery movie.
Commissario Montalbano è figo.
Detective Montalbano is cool.
Maria: Boh. Ho visto molte puntate del Commissario Montalbano sul TV.
Well. I have seen many episodes of Detective Montalbano on TV.
Ma mi piace La Vita è Bella più del Commissario Montalbano.
  I like La Vita è Bella more than Detective Montalbano.
   
  Questo film è molto meglio del Commissario Montalbano, sono sicuro!
This film is much better than Detective Montalbano, I am sure.
Anna: Allora, devo guardare La Vita è Bella un giorno.
Well, then, I will have to watch La Vita è Bella one day.

Remember how to talk about TV and the Movies in Italian and I guarantee
you will use these phrases every day!

Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases
Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases (with Restaurant Vocabulary and Idiomatic Expressions) is YOUR traveling companion in Italy! All the Italian phrases you need to know to enjoy your trip to Italy are right here and fit right into your pocket or purse.

   Available on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

Our Italy — Bologna Uncovered, by Silvia Donati

Panoramic view of the city of Bologna and the building San Michele in Bosco located in the hills above the city

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! For 2020, I have changed the name of my series, “Your Italian Travel Tips,” to “Our Italy.” In this series, I share bloggers’ experiences of Italy, a country whose culture has captivated the world for thousands of years. I think now is the time to share these memories, knowing that one day we will all be able to return, inspired anew by the Italian people and their land.

Today I am happy to share a guest blog written by Silvia Donati from  Bologna Uncovered.  Here is what Sylvia says about herself and Bologna on her website:

My name is Silvia Donati, I’m a licensed tour guide with specialization in hiking and the environment. I’m also a freelance journalist, writing for English-language publications about Italian travel, food and culture, including Italy Magazine, where I work as a contributing editor.

Bologna Uncovered started as a blog about my native Bologna and surrounding region of Emilia-Romagna. Despite being often overlooked in favor of more popular Italian destinations, this area offers a lot in terms of sightseeing, art, history, cuisine, natural landscapes, and fun times.

As I added more articles to the blog, readers started asking me if I offered tours in the area. At the same time, I developed a passion for hiking and mountains. Thus, I decided to obtain my license to work professionally as a guide.

I believe that active travel is the best way to travel. Only the slow pace of walking allows you to fully experience a place – to see, hear, smell, touch, and feel; to slow down, talk to the locals, explore hidden corners; and to be light on the earth.

I have always been intrigued by the city of Bologna, said to be home to the oldest university in the world and of course wonderful, rich Italian cooking. Think Prosciutto di Parma, Balsamic vinegar, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, combined with butter and cream to make delicious sauces.

As one who loves to search the Internet for information about Italy, I have seen countless panoramas of Bologna, with its sea of rose colored buildings and their red rooftops flanking the winding, ancient streets.

But Silvia’s blog Why You Should See San Michele in Bosco in Bologna describes the wonders of Bologna from a different viewpoint.  This blog focuses on the hillside outside of this great city that provides the classic panoramic view, but  also contains an important architectural site. Below is an excerpt from her blog.  Click on the link to read more about this Italian treasure in the hills outside Bologna.

San Michele in Bosco is mainly known for the panoramic view over Bologna, and rightly so because it is one of the best you can get of the city, from the so-called piazzale (plaza), the area in front of the church.

But San Michele in Bosco also refers to the architectural complex comprising both the church and nearby former monastery that stand on the plaza; it is one of the oldest religious settlements built in BolognaClick here to read more.

 

If you’d like,  leave a comment about Bologna..
Where did you visit? How did the experience make you feel? I’d love to hear from you!

Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases
Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases (with Restaurant Vocabulary and Idiomatic Expressions) is YOUR traveling companion in Italy! All the Italian phrases you need to know to enjoy your trip to Italy are right here and fit right into your pocket or purse.

Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! How to say “I know” in Italian: Sapere vs. Conoscere

Burano in Venice, Italy and Everyday Italian phrases

Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

Do you want to speak Italian more easily and confidently by the end of 2020?

To be “in the know” about how the Italian language works, we must know how to use the verb sapere and be acquainted with the verb conoscere.  

If we learn how to incorporate “commonly used phrases” with the verb sapere, we will be able to speak about what we know in Italian; and with the verb conoscere we will be able to to describe who are friends are. We will be on our way to building complex sentences and speaking more like we do in our native language!

As I’ve said before, I believe that “commonly used phrases” are the key for how we can all build fluency in any language in a short time.

If we learn how to incorporate “commonly used phrases”  when we ask for what we need in Italian, we will be able to communicate just as we do in our native language!

This post is the 37th in a series of Italian phrases we have been trying out in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group.  If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian

start with “I know” 
and use the verbs

sapere and conoscere

See below for how this works.

As we all master these phrases, so will you. Try my method and let me know how it works. What sentences will you create with these verbs?

Please reply. I’d love to hear from you! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

The basics of the Italian language are introduced in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar  

                       found on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel Italian.com.

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How to Say “I know ” in Italian  

Sapere 

To be “in the know” about how the Italian language works, we must know how to use the verb sapere and be acquainted with the verb conoscere.  

Let’s start with sapere.

Sapere is an irregular verb that ends in -ere.  It means to know,” as in to know a fact.

Since sapere is irregular, the root will be different from the infinitive verb for all forms except the voi form.  Interestingly, the root for the noi form differs by only a single letter from the regular root — with the addition of a second letter p. The irregular conjugations are given in the table below in brown and the regular conjugation in green. The syllable to be accented in each conjugation has been underlined.

Sapereto know (a fact)

io so I know
tu sai you (familiar) know
Lei

lei/lui

sa you (polite) know

she/he knows

     
noi sappiamo we know
voi sapete you all know
loro sanno they know

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How do we use the verb sapere

Just remember: “so, sai, sa”!

The present tense form for “I know…” from sapere is “Io so…” but of course, we leave out the subject pronoun, so the word that Italians use in conversation is just, “So…”

For the question, “Do you know…?” use the conjugated verb,  (tu) “Sai…?” for someone you are familiar with. Or: “Lei sa…?” for someone you have just met (including the subject pronoun Lei) to be polite.

“Does she or he know?” is, (lei, lui) “Sa…?” In order to emphasize the masculine or feminine nature of the subject, the subject pronouns lei or lui can also be used, for: “Lei sa?”  or “Lui sa?”  Most times, though, the subject is known to  the speakers from earlier in the conversation and therefore left out of the sentence.

Remember, there is no need to use the word “do” when asking a question in Italian.  Just these three simple, short Italian words, “so,” “sai,” or “sa” will suffice.  Use these short words to tell someone what you know or to ask someone what they know!

“Lei sa dov’è…” means, “Do you (polite) know where is the…?” (Or, in correct English: where the… is?”) This is an important Italian phrase to know when traveling in order to ask for directions. When approaching a stranger, it is customary to precede this question with the polite phrase “Mi scusi” for “Excuse me.”

Here are some examples of  travel phrases we can make with the verb sapere:       

Mi scusi, Excuse me,
…Lei sa dov’è… …(do) you (pol.) know where is…

…(do) you know where the… is?

…l’albergo? …the hotel?
…il ristorante? …the restaurant?
…la metro/metropolitana? …the subway?
…la fermata dell’autobus? …the bus stop?
…la stazione dei treni? …the train station?
…la banca? …the bank?
…l’ufficio postale? …the post office?
…il museo? …the museum?

Note: If the answer to these questions involves a particular street, the answer you will hear will use the phrase in… via, for the English on… street.

La banca è in via Verde.           The bank is on Green Street.     

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Use a similar format to ask questions about schedules using sapere when traveling.

Mi scusi, Excuse me,
…Lei sa quando… …(do) you (pol.) know when…
…arriva il treno? …the train arrives (lit. arrives the train)?
…arriva l’autobus? …the bus arrives?
…parte il treno? …the train leaves (lit. leaves the train)?
…parte l’autobus? …the bus leaves?
…apre il museo? …the museum opens (lit. opens the museum)?
…chiude il museo? …the museum closes?

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Finally, here are some commonly used, everyday phrases that you can make with the verb sapere. The word “Chissà” is a popular adverb and interjection used in Italian conversation. It is a word that can be used d in many different situations. Chissà can be used alone or in phrases that end with perché, se, or che (why, if, or what). Try to complete the questions that start with “Chissà…” in the table below on your own, using the simple present tense. 

Note the use of the subjunctive mode with the conjugation sappia and the imperfetto conjugation sapevo in our last two examples. Commit these phrases to memory, even if you haven’t fully mastered their verb forms, as they will come up often in conversation.  Knowing these two verbs will also impress your Italian friends!

So (qualcosa) a memoria. I know (something) by heart.
Chissà?
Chissà perché…?
Chissà se…?
Chissà che…?
Non si sa mai!
Who knows?
Who knows why…?
Who knows if…?
Who knows what…?
One never knows!
Come ben sai. As you well know.
Si sa che… Everyone knows that…
Non ne sa niente. He/she knows nothing about it.
Lo so. I know (it).
Non lo so. I don’t know (it).
Che io sappia.
Che lei/lui sappia?
As far as I know.
What does she/he know?
Lo sapevo! I knew it!

How to Say “I know ” in Italian  

Conoscere 

Conoscere is a regular -ere verb.  Conoscere also means to know,  with the connotation  to become acquainted with a person or a place.

The regular conjugation of conoscere is listed in the table below. Notice that the pronunciation of the ending of the io and loro forms will change once the regular endings are added on to the stem. There is a “hard c” sound with the endings of sco/–scono for the io and loro forms.  These verbs are listed in orange. The remaining forms retain the softer “sh” sound of the infinitive conoscere with their –sci and –sce combinations.

 The stressed syllable for each conjugation is underlined.

Conoscereto know (be acquainted with)

io conosco I know
tu conosci you (familiar) know
Lei

lei/lui

conosce you (polite) know

she/he knows

     
noi conosciamo we know
voi conoscete you all know
loro conoscono they know

How to Say “I know ” in Italian  

Sapere vs. Conoscere

As we have just described above, sapere and conoscere  are two Italian verbs that both mean, “to know.”  Think about how many times each day we say, “I know,” “you know,” or, “Do you know?”  In Italy, these expressions are also used frequently. But, there are differences in how each of these verbs that means “to know”  is used. If we learn which situations use the verb sapere and which use conoscere, we will be able to speak about what we know and who are friends are in Italian!

To follow are some specific examples of how each verb is used.

  1. Sapere is used to indicate knowledge of something, such as a fact. For instance, if we tell someone that we know a language very well we are stating a fact and use sapere. Notice how the definite article (the) (l’) is used after the verb sapere to describe the Italian language in this case.
(Io) So l’italiano molto bene.
I know (the) Italian language very well.
  1. Sapere is used to describe knowledge of something tangible that we can see or feel. The word that links the description of what we know to the subject of these types of sentences is the conjunction che.  Che cannot be omitted, as we often do in English.  Below are two examples that use sapere to describe something that we can see.
Ora so che il primo romanzo scritto in italiano si chiama, “I Promessi Sposi.”
Now (I) know that the first novel written in Italian is called, “The Betrothed.”
 
(Io) So che il cielo è blu.
I know that the sky is blue.

*By the way, if  you don’t know something, you must say,
“Non lo so.”“I don’t know (it).” 

  1. Sapere is used to describe the ability to do something. Notice in the translations below that the English phrase how to” is not necessary in Italian. Instead, and an infinitive verb follows directly after “so.”
(Io) So guidare la macchina.
I know (how to) drive a car.
  1. Sapere is also used when asking questions, as noted in the first section in this blog. If asking directions from a stranger, it is customary to begin with, “Mi scusi,” or just, “Scusi,” for the polite (command) form of “Excuse me.” Then follow with the polite, “Lei sa…”
Mi scusi. Lei sa quando arriva il treno?
Excuse me. (Do) (you pol.) know when arrives the train?
Do you know when the train arrives?
 
Mi scusi; Lei sa dov’è il binario tre?
Excuse me; (do) (you pol.) know where is (the) track three?
Do you know where track three is?                
  1. Conoscere means to know, as in to be acquainted with a person or a place.  
Io conosco Julia, la nonna di Paolo.
I know Julia, Paul’s grandmother. (lit. the grandmother of Paul)
 
Io conosco Milano molto bene.
I know Milan very well.

 

  1. Conoscere is also used in reference to meeting/getting to know someone for the first time.
Caterina vuole conoscere suo cugino Pietro in Italia.
Kathy wants to meet/get to know her cousin Peter in Italy.
Remember how to use sapere and conoscere to describe
what and who you know in Italian.

 I guarantee
you will use these verbs every day!

"Just the Verbs" from Conversational Italian for Travelers books
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Verbs”

Available on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

Your Italian-American Gardening Tips (with Recipes ) – Tomatoes, Zucchini, Italian Beans, Brussels Sprouts, Swiss Chard

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! Now that we are in late August, I am happy to report my harvest of tomatoes, zucchini and Italian beans is in full swing.  I planted my tomatoes late this year, and if the weather holds up I hope to continue to harvest until late September.

My zucchini plants have run into a bit of trouble. But luckily, I found a wonderful website to help out, which I will share.  I will also include tips from the same website for tomato problems that manifest this time of year.

Also, looking to the fall, my volunteer Brussels sprouts plants have survived from last year and have started to make side sprouts! I planted Swiss chard in the border of my garden and the plants are struggling right now, but still have plenty of time to come into their own.

Some of you may have already seen the Instagram posts  of my garden and the dishes I’ve been making with my fresh tomatoes and zucchini.  I will post the links and include the recipes after the update on how each section of my garden is growing.

As I have mentioned in my previous Your Italian-American Gardening Tips blogs, this year I have been focusing on my raised gardens, and all the wonderful Italian vegetables that can be grown in the suburbs, even in a small space.

My hope is that you will enjoy the tips I’ve learned about gardening through many years of experience and be encouraged to start an Italian garden yourself — be it large or small, in a yard or on your porch, or even indoors in pots near a sunny window — after reading the blogs in this series “Your Italian Gardening Tips.”  

Check out my Instagram account, ConversationalItalian.French to see photos of my garden as it progresses.

Below are my insights on growing and harvesting lettuce, zucchini and their flowers and “new potatoes,” along with recipe ideas.  And an update on growing tomatoes is here also, with recipes soon to follow!  

And remember the Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com if you want an easy, step-by-step way to learn the Italian of today. Free Cultural Notes, Italian Recipes, and Audio to help you practice your Italian are also found on Learn Travel Italian.com.

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The Continuing Saga of San Marzano Tomatoes

Summer 2020

If you’ve been following this blog series, you already know that this year I tried growing several different varieties of tomatoes in several different places in my back yard in the Chicago suburbs.  For the first time, I obtained seeds for San Marzano tomatoes and started them indoors before transplanting them into a raised garden bed and two large pots.  Please see my previous blogs for more information about growing tomatoes from seed and the best conditions to plant tomatoes. 

So, how are  my San Marzano tomatoes doing?  I’m happy to report that my plants have flowered and I now have tomatoes that will soon ripen But, you’ll notice from the photo below that the tomato plants in the far west side of the bed have grown out nicely, although those on the eastern side, just a few feet away, have lagged behind.  I am not sure why. But  I believe the problem is the plants were too weak when I transplanted them into the bed and they were not hardened off properly to the harsh Midwest summer sunlight. Lesson learned. Next year I will buy a grow light for the seedlings so that my plants are strong enough when it comes time to transplant. (Note: the plants in the center are eggplant. San Marzano tomatoes are on the perimeter of the bed.)

raised garden bed shows San Marzano tomato plants in the perimeter, with the larger plants in the back of the image. Marigolds in the perimeter and eggplant plants in the center.
San Marzano Tomato plants growing in the perimeter of a raised garden with marigolds. (Eggplant plants in the center).

The San Marzano tomato plants in pots are producing tomatoes as well, and have grown up a bit, but the plants are still not as full as I would have liked. These tomato plants are in the shade about half the day, which could account for the lack of growth, although they are a bit larger than some in the raised garden bed. This should be encouraging for those who do not have much outdoor space but want to grow some fresh tomatoes.

San Marzano tomatoes growing in a terracotta pot outdoors.
San Marzano tomatoes growing in a terracotta pot outdoors.

The surprise for me was how well my volunteer tomato plants have done. I call them “volunteers” because they grew up in the lettuce and pea/green bean patch on their own, from seeds left in the ground after last years’ crop.  They started out late and originally were much smaller than the tomatoes I bought from the garden store (not shown in this blog).  Yet they are now about as big and producing tomatoes, even in the raised bed that is in the shade for about half the day. If you look closely in the photo below, you can just barely make out the tomato plants with their spiral steak and orange string.

Volunteer tomato plants growing in the raised bed with the Italian beans
Volunteer tomato plants growing in the raised bed with the Italian beans

So far, I have been able to harvest heirloom and cherry tomato seedlings that I bought from the garden store (not pictured) and these plants are still producing. The only problem I’ve had with any of my tomato plants so far was during a period of heavy rain, when a few split their skin, as I noted in the previous blog. I’ve also found a half-eaten tomato in my bed. Not sure what critter did this, but I have not seen any slugs, so am thinking it was birds or a small mammal. Usually the marigolds I plant in the perimeter and the egg shells I sprinkle around the plants keep detrimental insects and slugs away from my tomato plants.

Partially eaten tomato in raised garden bed
Critter partially ate my nice, ripe tomato!

Now, it is very hot and dry so I have been watering my garden about every other day.  I’ve read it is best to water in the morning so that the water can evaporate and mold does not set in and kill off the tomato leaves.  I found this blog  Troubleshooting Tomato Problems, on the website http://www.gardeners.com, with some very helpful tips and lots of pictures that I am keeping for future reference.

If you’ve tried growing tomatoes this summer, I’d love to hear what part of the world you live in and what your experience has been like.  Do you have any tips for handling tomato problems?

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Pasta with Fresh Tomato and Basil Sauce Recipe

Last year, I used my garden tomatoes to make a wonderful cold caprese salad and a hot tomato and zucchini side dish . This summer, I’ve been making one pan pasta dishes and posting them on Instagram.

The recipe for my favorite fresh tomato and basil “sauce” is below.  As I noted in the introduction on my Instagram post, when I first tasted angel hair pasta tossed with gently cooked tomatoes and fresh basil in Northern Italy, it was a revelation to me just how good a pasta dish can be.  I think this is the same dish that the Stanley Tucci character, Chef Primo makes for his girlfriend in the movie “Big Night.” After tasting this dish he says something like, “You see?  To eat food like this is to be close to God!”

Primo may be exaggerating… but in my mind, only a little bit. Try this simple method yourself at home, with just-picked, ripe tomatoes and basi and extra-virgin olive oil and I am sure you will agree!

If you’d like to watch me as I cook this one pan pasta dish, here is the link on Instagram:

Bow-Tie Pasta with Fresh Tomato and Basil Sauce

Ingredients: 

1/4 cup olive oil
3-4 cloves of garlic
4 garden-ripened tomatoes
1 bunch of freshly picked basil
1 lb. box bow-tie pasta
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Method: 

  1. Set a pot of water on the stove to boil  for the bow-tie pasta. When the water has boiled, add salt, cover and bring to a boil again. Uncover when boiling.
  2. Chop the tomatoes and prepare garlic by removing skin and crushing with a large knife. Have fresh basil picked and rinsed nearby.
  3. Add the pasta to the boiling water and then start to make the sauce.  You will have to keep an eye on the pasta while cooking the sauce, stirring and checking until the pasta is al-dente.
  4. Pour the olive oil into a large pan with high sides. Add the garlic to the olive oil and let cook a couple of minutes on medium heat to flavor the olive oil, but don’t let brown.
  5. Reduce the heat to low. Add the chopped tomatoes and their juices to the pan and cook very gently for just a few minutes, so tomatoes soften but hold their shape.
  6. Remove the garlic.
  7. Off heat, shred a few basil leaves and mix into the tomatoes in the pan .
  8. Drain the pasta and add to the tomato and basil sauce.  Mix gently and serve immediately, with freshly grated Parmesan cheese on the side.

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Another of my favorite one pan pasta dishes that uses fresh tomatoes, this time paired with eggplant, is called “Pasta alla Norma.”  I tried this dish when in Sicily last year and loved it so much I made it this summer. Click on the Instagram post for the method and to watch me cook!

View this post on Instagram

One pan pasta is penne with eggplant for Thursday night! This pasta dish is known as “Pasta alla Norma.” I had this dish in Sicily with the eggplant skin on, but I always peel the skin of the eggplants I buy in the US as the skin of eggplants here seems tough and bitter to me. Recipe: start with about 1/3 cup olive oil. Add 1 small chopped onion, 2 cloves of garlic, chopped, and 1 medium size eggplant peeled and chopped (about 2 cups chopped eggplant), couple of pinches of salt and pepper. White pepper is nice if you have it. Cook over medium heat until eggplant softens but do not let brown. Add 1 cup dry white wine and a few leaves of hand torn basil. Cook on high heat to reduce wine by half. Add 28 oz. chopped crushed canned tomatoes and cook over medium low heat to let flavors blend for 10-15 min. Cook pasta in salted water until al dente. Reserve one cup of pasta water. Drain pasta and add pasta and a bit of pasta water to sauce. Mix and add more pasta water if needed. Add about 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan. Mix again and serve with Parmesan on the side. Enjoy with crusty bread dipped in olive oil! #osnap #eggplant #pastaandeggplant #pastaandeggplantsauce #pastaandeggplants #onepanmeal #onepanmeals #onepanpasta #onepanpastachallenge #onepanpastarecipes #onepandinners #onepanrecipe #onepanrecipes #onepanmeal #eggplantandpasta #pastaallanorma @niaf @osia_su @real.food.for.infants.toddlers @chicagolanditalians @rossellarago

A post shared by Kathryn Occhipinti (@conversationalitalian.french) on

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The Zucchini Harvest and Zucchini Pests

As I’ve discussed in the first blog in this series, “Zucchini, Tomatoes, Strawberries and More!” this spring I started zucchini from seed in my backyard in three separate mounds  I reserved the third mound in the back for the cucuzza plant, a very long gourd that matures in the summer and is eaten like a zucchini. I’ve already written about cucuzza in last year’s blog: Oregano and Zucchini.

In the blog earlier this month, Zucchini Flowers, New Potatoes, and Tomatoes, I showed this image below of how far the plants had come along by July 31st.

The three zucchini mounds are no longer visible, covered in zucchini plants that are flowering
Zucchini plants flowering on July 3

I have harvested many zucchini, despite pilfering many, many zucchini flowers for my favorite fried appetizer in the summer, fried zucchini flowers.  If you are interested, the method is in my previous blog.   The bees have been happily pollinating my zucchini flowers all summer, flitting from one plant to the next, which is necessary to fertilize the flowers and grow zucchini. Unfortunately, I recently discovered that another pest was hard at work at the same time to destroy my zucchini plants, even though they outwardly looked very healthy.

To make a long story short, squash vines are hollow, and the the base of a zucchini plant is the  perfect place for the squash-vine borer to lay eggs. The eggs then hatch into larvae that live inside the vine and eventually destroy the main stem and kill the entire plant. Below is a close-up photo of what one of my main zucchini vine looks like because of this pest.  Other vines have turned brown and dried up completely.

Luckily, several zucchini plants did survive and are not growing healthy vines and producing flowers outside the garden bed, as in the photo that follows. And since all the eggs have hatched by now, this pest should not be providing any more problems.

Next year I will have to check for the tell-tale signs of eggs and remove the larvae before it can do any damage.  For more information on how to control this pest, check out this blog Squash vine borer from the very helpful website, http://www.gardeners.com.

Zucchini with evidence of squash vine borer. The vine has turned brown and dried out and has brownish debree.
Zucchini with evidence of squash vine borer

Late summer zucchini plants have healthy, large, leaves, but are growing outside of the garden.
Late summer zucchini plants growing outside the garden

Meanwhile, the cucuzza zucchini, known for their exceptionally long vines and long gourds, have predictably grown out of their original garden mound.  I’ve trained them to grow behind the mound into a bit of space I have by the raised garden bed.  I assume they will continue to grow along the raised garden bed and onto the grass in a month’s time!

Cucuzza vine growing in back of original mound, along raised garden bed
Cucuzza vine growing in back of original mound, along raised garden bed

If you’ve tried growing zucchini this summer, I’d love to hear what part of the world you live in and what your experience has been like.  Do you have any tips for handling tomato problems?

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Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Zucchini  Recipe

Last summer, I posted a one pan pasta dish with tomatoes and zucchini on Instagram.  The method is similar to the one pan pasta dish Angel Hair Pasta with Fried Zucchini  that I posted in my last blog.  The addition of fresh tomatoes and basil adds another dimension to the flavor of the zucchini. And remember, freshly grated Parmesan cheese is essential to this dish! Watch me on Instagram and then try the recipe yourself!

Bow-Tie Pasta with Zucchini, Tomatoes and Basil 

Ingredients: 

1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 -3 medium-sized zucchini
4 garden-ripened  plum tomatoes
1 bunch of freshly picked basil
1 lb. box bow-tie pasta
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Method: 

  1. Set a pot of water on the stove to boil  for the bow-tie pasta. When the water has boiled, add salt, cover and bring to a boil again. Uncover when boiling.
  2. Pour the olive oil into a large pan with high sides. Add the chopped garlic to the olive oil and then the zucchini. Cook over medium heat, stirring, so the vegetables soften but don’t burn.
  3. Add the tomatoes and a few leaves of hand -torn basil. Salt to taste.
  4. Cover pan and cook vegetables to further soften.  Add a few laddles of pasta water as needed so vegetables do not dry out.
  5. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook pasta while the sauce finishes cooking.
  6. Drain the pasta (reserving pasta water) and add to the tomato and basil sauce.  Mix gently.
  7. Add pasta water as needed. Add the Parmesan cheese.
  8. Serve immediately, with freshly grated Parmesan cheese on the side.

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Italian Beans

I’ve posted about planting Italian beans on Instagram, and from the image above of the bean plants growning with the tomatoes in my raised bed you can see how nicely they’ve grown. Beans need to be planted when the soil is warm, in mid summer, and this was perfect for me since the spring peas and broccoli rabe in my partially shaded garden bed had died out and I had the space.  I planted two types, Roma and Borlotto.  And had my first harvest of the Roma beans last week.

I read that the beans will keep producing as long as they are picked.  I am looked forward to fresh green beans at least once a week.  I like to cook my Roma beans with… you guessed it — olive oil, a little chopped onion, pinch of garlic and some fresh tomatoes on the stove top. There is also a tradition of cooking these beans for a very long time until they melt in your mouth, but I think I will reserve this method for the store-bought beans. I am sure the Borlotto beans will be wonderful on their own or with… pasta, of course!

First harvest Roma beans in a collander
First harvest Roma beans

Borlotto beans still growing
Borlotto beans still growing in the garden

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Volunteer Brussels Sprouts

Looking ahead to fall, it seems that one of my volunteer Brussels sprouts plant has grown up nicely in the corner of my garden, and is making new sprouts along the stem.  These sprouts are wonderful when homegrown, as one can wait until the first frost and then harvest when they are sweet. I was happy to have this plant survive last year’s winter and re-grow, as this year there were no Brussels sprouts seedlings to be found in the gardening shop in my neighborhood.

Brussels Sprouts plant
“Volunteer” Brussels Sprouts plant growing happily in a corner of a raised garden bed

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Swiss Chard 

Finally, the Swiss chard seeds I planted in the perimeter of my zucchini patch (remember the chart I drew at the beginning of the season?) have been struggling.  Next year, I will certainly create an additional raised garden for them, as they in this location they have been crushed and light-deprived due to the zucchini growing way outside their mounds.  I also like to grow the cavolo nero (Italian “black” kale) that has become so popular in restaurants recently, but was not able to find the seeds this year.  We will see if the Swiss chard is able to take off once the zucchini die back.  In the past, I’ve kept these plants well into the fall.

Swiss Chard seedling dwarfed by a cucuzza zucchini plant.
Swiss Chard seedling dwarfed by a cucuzza zucchini plant.

For more (many more!) ideas about how to use those fresh tomatoes this summer, visit my Instagram at Conversationalitalian.french

Your Italian-American Gardening Tips (with Recipes ) – Zucchini Flowers, New Potatoes, and Tomatoes

The author in her kitchen holding a bowl of fried zucchini flowers ad fried zucchini rounds

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! Now that it is early August I am happy to report I am starting to harvest my favorite Italian vegetables: zucchini with their flowers and tomatoes. And I’ve harvested the last of my “new potatoes” and used them to make an easy Monday night dinner.

Some of you may have already seen the Instagram posts  of my garden and the dishes I’ve been making with my fresh lettuce and vegetables.  I will post the links and include the recipes after the update on how each section of my garden is growing.

As I have mentioned in my previous Your Italian-American Gardening Tips blogs, this year I have been focusing on my raised gardens, and all the wonderful Italian vegetables we can grow, even in a small space.

My hope is that you will enjoy the tips I’ve learned about gardening through many years of experience and be encouraged to start an Italian garden yourself — be it large or small, in a yard or on your porch, or even indoors in pots near a sunny window — after reading the blogs in this series “Your Italian Gardening Tips.”  

Check out my Instagram account, ConversationalItalian.French to see photos of my garden as it progresses.

Below are my insights on growing and harvesting lettuce, zucchini and their flowers and “new potatoes,” along with recipe ideas.  And an update on growing tomatoes is here also, with recipes soon to follow!  

And remember the Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com if you want an easy, step-by-step way to learn the Italian of today. Free Cultural Notes, Italian Recipes, and Audio to help you practice your Italian are also found on Learn Travel Italian.com.

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Planting a Lettuce Patch…

and Harvesting – Part 3!

When I last wrote, on June 21, 2020, my blog “Four Salads for Summer Days” focused on the lettuce patch that I had started from seed this spring.  Just a quick update on the lettuce before we proceed with my report on the new vegetables…

Now that the hot days of summer are upon us, the lettuce has “bolted” or “gone to seed.” This means that a long stem grows up from the center of the lettuce — very quickly, I might add, usually in a couple of days — and if not cut down will continue to form flowers, after which point the plant dies.

This year,  I planted my lettuce in the raised bed that gets sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon, which I believe helped lengthen the life of the plants.  Also, I discovered that if I cut the center stem from the lettuce near its base, but leave the plant in the ground, the plant’s core will re-grow and provide new lettuce leaves to harvest!  So, I have been enjoying lettuce well into the writing of this blog, early August, despite 90+ degree temperatures.  Romaine lettuce is said to be more “heat tolerant” than other varieties, and this is what has survived, along with two varieties of red leaf lettuce.

Below are photos from the lettuce patch in late July.

Romaine lettuce going to seed
Romaine lettuce with central stalk going to seed.

Regrowing curly leaf lettuce
Curly leaf lettuce is regrowing alongside the Romaine lettuce going to seed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Center stalks cut off lettuce going to seed
Lettuce going to seed, some with center stalks cut off

I even had enough Romaine lettuce to make a special July 4th Salad with watermelon, feta cheese, and balsamic vinegar.

 

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Harvesting Zucchini Flowers

Last May, in my blog “Zucchini, Tomatoes, Strawberries and More!” I reported on how to plant zucchini seeds in mounds for successful fertilization to maximize a zucchini crop.  I planted three types of Italian zucchini seeds in three separate mounds.  I reserved the third mound in the back for the cucuzza plant, a very long gourd that matures in the summer and is eaten like a zucchini. I’ve already written about cucuzza in last year’s blog: Oregano and Zucchini.

Actually, I planted too many zucchini seeds in each mound this year, because I wanted to be sure to have enough zucchini flowers to harvest for my post on fried zucchini flowers!  Check out the images below to see how they have grown in the short time from mid June to early July.

Three mounds of soil with young zucchini plants growning
Zucchini mounds June 10, with cucuzza in the back on the right

Larger zucchini plants
Zucchini mounds end of June 22. Notice the cucuzza, back right, take a longer time to germinate and grow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The three zucchini mounds are no longer visible, covered in zucchini plants that are flowering
Zucchini plants flowering on July 3

 

So, by July 3 I had zucchini flowers on the plant in the front mound, which was planted with seeds from Italy called “le bizzarre zucchino,”  said to be prized for the flower more than the zucchini.  I waited a few more weeks to allow some to be pollinated and start to make zucchinis.  By that time, my other zucchini plant had also started to flower. Then I clipped a good number of zucchini flowers to make fried, stuffed flowers.

 

large yellow zucchini flower open and two more closed
“Le bizzarre” Zucchino flowers end of July

Clip zucchini flowers when they are closed (usually early morning and late afternoon/evening). Take a bit of the stem along with the flower to make it easier to work with them. Ants and bees sometimes get trapped if they are caught sipping nectar when the flowers close in the latter part of the day, so be careful! My favorite are the flowers that have a small zucchini growing off the base of the flower. They are easy to hold and provide two treats! Check out my method below. These are delicious with any one of three different types of stuffing, or none at all.

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Fried Zucchini Flower Appetizers

The author in her kitchen holding a bowl of fried zucchini flowers ad fried zucchini rounds
Fried zucchini flowers and Fried Zucchini

Ingredients: 

For the stuffing:   

1/4 cup breadcrumbs,  1-2 anchovy fillets, fresh, finely chopped parsley
-or-
mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes, anchovy fillets
-or-
mozzarella cheese cut into small cubes

For the batter:
1 cup of  cold water
3/4 cup of flower + 1/4 cup more as needed

Method: 

  1. First, prepare a simple batter of water and flour.  This is called “la pastella” in Italian, and is used to obtain a thin, crisp crust for frying vegetables. The secret to the best crust is to let the batter sit for 1 hour so the gluten in the flour has time to “relax,” although this is not absolutely necessary.
  2. I like to get started with 1 cup of cold water and 3/4 cups of flower.  I sift the flower into the water gradually while whisking gently to combine. The final batter should not be too thin or too thick, something like pancake batter.  If the batter is too thin, I gradually add more flour, but no more than an additional 1/4 cup.  Let the batter rest 1 hour while preparing the zucchini, and during this time it will thicken a bit as well.

bowl with flour in a sifter above water, ready to be mixed into the water
Making a simple flour and water batter (la pastella)

 

 

  1. Next, prepare the zucchini flower stuffing if desired.  The flowers can also be fried without stuffing, and I usually don’t attempt to stuff the smaller flowers.  A favorite stuffing is 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs with an anchovy and some chopped parsley, fried briefly in olive oil until lightly brown.  Mozzarella cubes are also delicious when stuffed into a zucchini flower and melt during frying, with or without a small bit of anchovy fillet.

  2. Finally, prepare, stuff and fry the zucchini flowers.  Gently rinse each flower and trim off the greenery at the base.  Gently open each flower and reach inside to remove the stamen (the long, powdery protrusion with yellow pollen) to allow more room for the stuffing. Also, the stamen can be bitter with some varieties of zucchini.  Add a bit of stuffing and then twist gently to close the tip of the flower.

 

tray of zucchini flowers lined up waiting to be stuffed. One flower is being opened just before stuffing is put in.
Stuffing zucchini  flowers with mozzarella, anchovies, or breadcrumb mixture

 

 

  1. Fry the zucchini flowers in a large pan of oil over medium high heat.  Adjust the heat as you are frying so that the flowers sizzle as they cook but do not allow the oil to become too hot and burn the batter.  Turn once or twice so all sides fry evenly. Generally, when the batter takes on a light golden color it is cooked.  If the mozzarella melts it may start to seep out of the flower, and this is also a sign to remove the flower from the oil.

  2. Remove each fried zucchini flower with a slotted spoon to a plate covered with a paper towel.  After the oil has drained a bit, and while still hot, remove to another plate and sprinkle with salt.

  3. If you do have some zucchinis available to fry, you can cut them in mounds or strips and fry these in the same batter, in the same way, drain, and salt.

8.  Serve hot and enjoy as the perfect summer appetizer before an Italian meal!

 

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Angel Hair Pasta with Fried Zucchini

This is a favorite family zucchini dish my mother recently remembered from her childhood.  So simple to make, with just zucchini, olive oil and garlic, and so delicious! It is a great way to use some of the many zucchini that should follow the zucchini flowers.  Watch this method in real time by clicking the link from my Instagram account:

 

Ingredients: 

2-3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1-2 zucchini, sliced cross-wise
olive oil for frying
1 lb. thin spaghetti or angel hair pasta
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Method: 

  1. Set a pot of water on the stove to boil  for the thin spaghetti or angel hair pasta.
  2. Cover the bottom of a large frying pan with olive oil and heat over medium heat.
  3. Add the garlic to the olive oil and let cook a couple of minutes to flavor the olive oil, but don’t let brown.
  4. Add the zucchini to the olive oil a little at a time, so as not to crowd the pan, and fry over medium to medium-high heat, turning once or twice. At first it will seem like the zucchini are not cooking much, but they will then start to lose water, shrink, and finally turn a light brown. Remove with a slotted spoon to a serving bowl.
  5. Remove the garlic when it turns brown and continue to fry zucchini.
  6. When almost all the zucchini has been fried, cook the pasta.
  7. Add the cooked pasta to the bowl with the fried zucchini.  Add a bit of the oil from the frying pan and mix to coat.
  8. Add freshly grated Parmesan cheese to taste, and mix again. Enjoy!

 

 

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Pulling New Potatoes

This  past spring, I found several potatoes in the back of my cupboard that had started to grow eyes, so I tried something new.  I cut up the potatoes so each piece had an eye and buried  the pieces in large pots outdoors, with the eyes facing upward.  I was hoping to grow some “new potatoes,”  which are simply potatoes that are pulled to eat before they flower and become mature in the fall.  They are, of course, smaller than the  mature potatoes but have an exceptionally good flavor. 

I have to say, the potatoes grew nicely in the pots through the spring and even into the early summer without any help at all from me.  Below is the Instagram video I created when I pulled the last of the “new potatoes” for a Monday night pork chop dinner.  If you look closely you can still see the chunk of “old potato” that I started with. 

They were so delicious that night for dinner that next year I plan to plant many more to have a continual harvest through the springtime.

 

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Monday Night Pork Chops with New Potatoes

and Radish Greens

Below is an Instagram link to a simple dinner I made in two frying pans.  Pork chops in olive oil with garlic and rosemary (my favorite way to make them) in one pan and radish greens in olive oil and garlic for the second pan. The bitter radish greens went beautifully with the pork chops. The new potatoes were so flavorful all they needed was a quick boil in water. 

 

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And, Finally,  Growing and Harvesting Tomatoes!

I think every Italian gardener cherishes the appearance of the first ripening tomato more than any other vegetable they are growing.  I was very careful this year to follow proper procedures while planting my tomatoes, especially the San Marzano tomatoes I had grown from seed.  Please see my previous blogs for more information about growing tomatoes from seed and the best conditions to plant tomatoes. 

Once planted, it is a good idea to steak tomato plants, making sure to tie the main stem loosely as it grows. For cherry tomato plants I use a tomato cage, as they tend to have more greenery, but this year I also put a steak in the middle of the cage as the plants became larger in an attempt to tie up the branches and lift them off the ground.

As the tomato plants grew, I followed protocol and pinched off the side shoots, or “suckers” that grow between the main stem and the main branches on many types of tomato plants. ( This included all I had planted this year except the cherry tomato plants.) Pinching off side shoots should allow my plants to direct their energy into producing more tomatoes.  In previous years, I was always concerned that I would mistakenly pinch back a flowering branch, so I created this video to show how to find those “useless” side shoots that create greenery instead of tomatoes.

Tomatoes need full sun and lots of water to thrive — but not too much water! I planted a variety of different tomatoes I had bought from the nursery in a raised garden, and my San Marzano tomatoes in a raised garden and in pots.  All did well, and I was careful to water on the many July days we’ve had this summer that were 90+ degrees.  But just as my nursery tomatoes started to ripen, down came heavy rain.  For several days on end. The very first tomatoes had a split in the skin, an unavoidable problem, but they were delicious just the same.  Below are some images of my early ripened tomatoes.

For my next post in August, I will be focusing on “one pan pasta” dishes with the tomato as the star of the dish.

For now, use your fresh tomatoes to make a wonderful cold caprese salad or a hot tomato and zucchini side dish from recipes I posted last year.  But above all, enjoy your summer and your garden!

Large bowl of sliced tomatoes layered with slices of mozzarella and basil leaves
Tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella or “Caprese” salad

 

For more (many more!) ideas about how to use those fresh vegetables this summer, visit my Instagram at Conversationalitalian.french

 

Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! – How to Say, “I want” with “Volere” and “Desiderare”

Burano in Venice, Italy and Everyday Italian phrases

Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

Do you want to speak Italian more easily and confidently by the end of 2020? 

One of the most important things for any language student to learn is how to ask politely for what they want. In Italy, of course, there are many social interactions that routinely occur between a customer and service people  — clerks, shopkeepers, waiters — and there several commonly used phrases that make these interactions pleasant and polite.

As I’ve said before, I believe that “commonly used phrases” are the key for how we can all build fluency in any language in a short time.

If we learn how to incorporate “commonly used phrases”  when we ask for what we want in Italian, we will be able to communicate just as we do in our native language!

This post is the 35th in a series of Italian phrases we have been trying out in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group.  If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian

start with “I want” or “I would like”
and use the verbs

volere and desiderare.

See below for how this works.

As we all master these phrases, so will you. Try my method and let me know how it works. What sentences will you create with these verbs?

Please reply. I’d love to hear from you! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

The basics of the Italian language are introduced in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar  

                       found on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel Italian.com.

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How to Say, “I want…”

with Volere and Desiderare in Italian

Volere is an Italian verb that means “to want” or “to need.” Volere ends in -ere, which makes it a second conjugation verb.  However, it is also an irregular verb, and the stem will change for all forms except the voi form.  As you can imagine, volere is a very important verb to know in order to communicate what your needs are while in Italy, and you will find the io and tu forms are very important to commit to memory.

The verb conjugation table below is reprinted from the Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Verbs” book and textbook.  In all Conversational Italian for Travelers books,  material is presented with the visual learner in mind, and this includes color-coding for easy memorization. In the conjugation table below, the irregular verb forms for the present tense of volare are given in brown, and the regular voi conjugation is given in green. Notice also that the stressed syllable for each verb has been underlined.

Volere – to want (present tense)

io voglio I want
tu vuoi you (familiar)want
Lei

lei/lui

vuole you (polite) want

she/he wants

     
noi vogliamo we want
voi volete you all want
loro vogliono they want

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The conditional form of volere is also very useful, since it is a polite way to ask for something from a clerk at a store or a waiter at a restaurant.  The io conditional form of volere is also irregular, and is vorrei, which means, “I would like.”

Use the polite vorrei and say, I would like…” instead of the more demanding “Voglio…” when asking for what you need in Italy; politeness is usually rewarded with the same in return. Conditional verb forms are generally studied at the intermediate level, but “vorrei” is one verb that every student of Italian should learn right from the start!

Volere – to want (conditional tense)

io vorrei I would like

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So, now we know how to tell someone what we want.  Or do we?  After “I want,” we often need to add another verb to express what we want to do – to go, to return, to buy, etc.

To express what you want, first conjugate the verb volere into one of the first conjugation, or io forms: voglio or vorrei.  Then simply add the infinitive form of the action verb directly after the conjugated form of volere.  This is the same as we would do in English!  The verb volere is known as a helping verb for the way that it modifies, or adds to, the meaning of the main verb in the sentence.

See below for Italian example sentences that use the helping verb volere. Both the helping verb and the main verb in the sentence have been underlined.

Notice that the subject pronoun io is left out of the Italian phrases, as usual.  Remember that when going “to” a country, region, or large island in Italy, you must use the Italian preposition “in” (which has the same meaning as the English word “in”). However, when going to a city, town, or a small island in Italy, you must use the preposition “a,” for “to.”

Voglio andare in Italia.

Voglio andare a Roma.

 (I) want to go to Italy.

(I) want to go to Rome.

Vorrei comprare un biglietto. (I) would like to buy a ticket.
Voglio tornare lunedì. (I) want to return Monday.

Of course, the verb volere can also be followed by a noun, the “object of our desire”!  Some examples:

Voglio un’appartamento a Roma. (I) want an apartment in Rome.
Vorrei quella macchina rossa! (I) would like that red car!
Voglio una grande festa quando faccio cinquanta! (I) want a big party when I turn 50!

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After learning how a visitor to Italy should express their needs using the verb volere, it is important to realize how the verb desiderare comes into play in every day life.  When one is out and about shopping in Italy, desiderare is the verb most commonly used by a clerk or shopkeeper to ask a customer what they want. Desiderare is most often used with the meaning “to want” in the business setting, but can also mean “to desire” or can have the more forceful meanings of  “to demand” or “to require” (another person to do something).

Desiderare is a regular -are verb, and the polite “you” form, “Desidera..?” is commonly  by shopkeepers when a customer enters a store. This is a shorthand way to ask, “Can I help you?” Of course, a customer may also hear, “Posso aiutarla?” for the official, polite, “May I help you?”

An example conversation between a traveler, Caterina, and a ticket clerk, Rosa, is given below from Chapter 4: At the Train station, an excerpt from our Conversational Italian for Travelers story with interactive dialogues.

In this example, directly after Rosa, the clerk at the ticket counter says, “Buon giorno,” she asks, “Dove desidera andare?” as a way of inviting Caterina to purchase a ticket.  Desidera is now the helping verb and is conjugated into its “polite you” form, while andare follows in the infinitive.

Caterina answers the initial question in the dialogue with the polite vorrei but then later on uses the io form of desiderare, which is desidero;  desiderare can, of course, be used by the customer as well as a clerk or salesperson!

Read the dialogue below through as an example of how these words might be used. To hear the full dialogue between Caterina and Rosa on your computer or smartphone, just click here: Chapter 4: At the Train station.

Rosa:                          Buon giorno.  Dove desidera andare?
                                    Hello.  Where (do) you (pol.) want to go?
Caterina:                   Vorrei andare a Milano.
                                     (I) would like to go to Milan
Rosa:                          Prima o seconda classe?
                                    First or second class?
Caterina:                   Desidero la prima classe, diretto, per Milano, per favore.
                                    (I) want first class, direct, for Milan, please.

There are, of course, many more situations in which one could ask for what they want using voglio, vorrei, or desiderare.  How many more can you think of?

Remember how to use the verbs volere and desiderare to ask for what you want in Italian and I guarantee you will use these verbs every day!

"Just the Verbs" from Conversational Italian for Travelers books
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Verbs”

   Available on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

Your Italian-American Gardening Tips (with Recipes ) – Four Salads for Summer Days

Mixed green lettuce salad with chive flowers and radishes set out on a plant with brie cheese in the center.

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! It’s been almost one month since my last gardening blog, and over these last weeks I’ve been thinning out my lettuce patch and enjoying delicious, fresh salads almost every day of the week.

Some of you may have already seen the Instagram posts of my “Insalata del giorno” / “Salade du jour,” or “Salad of the day.” Today I’m going to collect all of the salad ideas I’ve been sharing on Instagram, and a couple more, to share with you in this blog.

As I have mentioned in my previous Your Italian-American Gardening Tips blog, from May 26, this year I have been focusing on my raised gardens.  In this blog we’ll check in on the lettuce patch I planted in early spring and see how it has been doing after the few episodic heat waves we’ve had here in Chicagoland.

My hope is that you will enjoy the tips I’ve learned about gardening through many years of experience and be encouraged to start an Italian garden yourself — be it large or small, in a yard or on your porch, or even indoors in pots near a sunny window — after reading the blogs in this series “Your Italian Gardening Tips.”  

Check out my Instagram account, ConversationalItalian.French to see photos of my garden as it progresses.

Below are my insights on growing lettuce, along with some salad recipe ideas.  Please leave a comment if you want and let me know what your favorite salad combination is!

And remember the Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com if you want an easy, step-by-step way to learn the Italian of today. Free Cultural Notes, Italian Recipes, and Audio to help you practice your Italian are also found on Learn Travel Italian.com.

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Planting a Lettuce Patch…

and Harvesting – Part 2!

When I last wrote, on May 26, 2020, I already had small radishes to harvest and also a variety of baby lettuces growing closely together in rows. I started the lettuce this past spring by seeding rows directly outdoors, and chose my raised garden that is in shade for part of the day so the lettuce would have some relief from the afternoon soon as the days got hotter. Lettuce loves the cool weather and did well this year with the temperature and amount of rain (lots) here in my part of Illinois.

I’ve continued to thin out the lettuce rows by harvesting a few early lettuce greens each day,  and the space left has quickly filled in as the remaining lettuces have grown. The bonus I get from this method of direct seeding and gradual thinning is fresh baby lettuce for my salads at lunchtime!

All varieties of lettuce have continued to do well.  Romaine lettuce is one of the most heat tolerant types, and  a few of my larger heads of romaine lettuce have been maturing nicely and are now forming the “core” or “heart” in the center.

Below are photos of the lettuce patch in late May and in mid-June.

Different types of young lettuce greens growing in a row with their identifying packet in the background
Mixed lettuce greens May 2020

 

Two rows of mixed lettuce greens that have grown since May 2020,
Mixed lettuce greens June                                                                            2020

 

Mixed lettuce greens and Romaine lettuce
Rows background to foreground: radishes, Romaine lettuce, mixed lettuce greens

My radishes have already started to go to seed, though.  In the background of the last photo you can see that long stalks have formed on my radish greens and there are far fewer leaves growing off the plant than usual. When I started to notice this happen, I quickly harvested my other two rows of radishes (not shown here), and was able to save the leafy greens. They are bitter but very good sauteed in garlic and olive oil, as I mentioned in my last blog. I’ve stored the radishes with their greens intact in my refrigerator for now, where they should keep for several weeks.. I plan to keep this last row in the photograph in the ground for now.

In the place of my radish rows, I’ve planted shallots and a few red onions, which are handy to have for cooking and can be kept in the ground through the heat of summer into the late fall.

Unfortunately, my rows of arugula also quickly went to seed when we had a short heat wave. Arugula (also called roquette) is technically an herb of the mustard family, with leaves that resemble lettuce. As I’ve mentioned before, I love to toss these pungent, peppery leaves into my salad. But this year, it was not meant to be for very long! Check out the long stalks with white flowers in the photo below. I will let it seed the garden this year, as I’ve had a second growth of arugula in the past with this method when the cooler weather takes over again.

Arugula plants growing in a row with long stalks tipped with white flowers after it has gone to seed
Arugula gone to seed, with long stalks and white flowers

 

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Four Salads for Summer Days

It’s salad time with chive flowers!

In last month’s gardening blog, I shared a photo of my salad of baby mixed greens, chive flowers and radishes.  Below is the Instagram link that I later published, which lists all the ingredients and basic method for making a salad.

 

For this salad of early greens, I used what I had at the time in my garden: mixed greens, chives flowers for an onion flavor, and radishes.  By the way, all parts of the chive plant are edible, including the flower, which makes a colorful addition to salads. I always discard the stalk the flower is growing on, though, as it is too hard to eat.

Adding a bit of cheese to salad is something I learned long ago on a trip to France, and I couldn’t resist adding some fresh brie I had on hand on top of the salad greens. Off camera, both were delicious with a bit of crusty bread!

Since my first salad of the year, I’ve enjoyed creating many more salads. It has been fun for me to make a sort of  salade composée  (a salad in which the ingredients are arranged on an individual plate rather than being tossed in one big bowl) for Instagram photos, like the one above. But, of course. the flavor of the salad is what really counts.

 

So, how does one go about creating a flavorful salad?  I like to follow a few rules.  

Some of these rules may seem obvious, but I always like to start from the beginning when approaching any topic.

 

  • For me, the first rule, which should be evident from my past two blogs, is to always start with fresh greens.

Having my own small lettuce patch has made such a big difference in the quality of my salads. The freshest greens are just beyond my kitchen door, growing steadily until the instant I pluck them for my salad, instead of slowly wilting in my refrigerator “crisper” drawer. Also, I make salads more often as it is now much easier since  the major ingredient is readily available.

To prepare salad greens: rinse salad greens thoroughly in cold water, as dirt tends to stick in between the leaves.  Then spin all the water particles off with a salad spinner. This will allow the salad oil to cling to the leaves, rather than run off into a pool of water at the bottom of the plate or bowl. If not using the salad right away, refrigerate to keep the leaves crisp and cool and compose the salad just before serving.

 

  • The second rule I follow is to always choose a good quality oil, and this is most often extra-virgin olive oil.  (As a corollary to this, I never eat twice at a restaurant that will serve me a salad made with flavorless cooking oil.) I also keep walnut oil on hand for when I make a salad with walnuts, but this is a very delicate oil that is expensive and will loose flavor quickly once open, so it is not nearly as useful as extra-virgin olive oil.  

Extra-virgin olive oils come from many different regions of Italy, and have many different flavors and intensities. That said, of course, always choose your favorite olive oil when making a salad, since the flavor of the oil will definitely come through in a salad with fresh greens.

A word of caution when choosing extra-virgin olive oil: always read the ingredients on the label, as not all extra-virgin olive oils are first press or cold press (which bring out the most flavor) and many companies will combine Italian olive oil with olive oils from one or even several other countries.  True extra-virgin olive oil is not a blended oil.

Also, try to avoid buying older olive oils that are “on sale” because  this usually means that they have been on the shelf for longer then they should be —  maybe 6 months… or even 1 year or more! Unlike wine, olive oil looses flavor with exposure to air and so the freshest olive oil is the best tasting olive oil. It is likely that much of the original flavor of the olive oil put on “special sale” will have been lost at the time of  this special promotion, especially if the oil is in a bottle that does not have a covering or dark glass to protect it from the light.

 

  • The third key ingredient is the vinegar, and I choose my vinegar based on the style of salad I am making.

For Italian salads, a simple drizzle of red wine vinegar along with the extra virgin olive oil  and a quick mix to coat the leaves will usually suffice. Balsamic vinegar has become very popular in America, but is less common in green salads than red wine vinegar in Italy, and is usually reserved for the appetizer “prosciutto e melone” or a special dessert.

American “Italian dressing” in the bottle with a strong garlic flavor and an assortment of pungent herbs is not found in Italy. And only fresh salad greens are served in Italy (at least at the restaurants I’ve eaten at), so the lettuce leaves are not drowned in a lot of dressing, would hide their delicate flavor and make the lettuce leaf limp.

I love a good French vinaigrette, which is simply a more formal ratio of vinegar to olive oil with the addition of salt, pepper, and if desired fresh herbs and a touch of mustard.  My favorite ratio of vinegar to oil is 1 Tb. vinegar for each 6 Tb/ olive oil.  If you like less vinegar, use 1/2 Tb. (1 1/2 tsps).  If you like more, use 2 Tb. vinegar.

What about that orange “French Dressing” sold in supermarkets? I have yet to find a French cook who promotes this type of dressing as French!

 

  • Finally, I like to add interest to my  fresh green salad with ingredients that add flavor, texture and a bit of crunchiness.

Over the years, I learned the value of adding a bit of cheese to a salad to add flavor, and I especially like the Gorgonzola or goat cheese-baby spinach combination. Any cheese eaten with or along side a fresh green salad with a bit of bread, is wonderful in my opinion!

Nuts are commonly added to salads now-a-days, such as walnuts or almonds, for crunch and flavor. I love homemade croutons as well (see below for a 2 step “how to make garlic croutons” below).

It is fun to add spring fruit such as strawberries, and later raspberries, to salad as well; after a long winter without either fruit or fresh salad greens, it just seems right to put them together in one dish! Also, I love a cool watermelon and feta salad in the late summer, but that is for another blog…

Many brightly colored raw vegetables add both flavor and interest as well as a bit of crunch to a salad.  I love carrots, peppers, radishes and celery. Red onions, or a more mild onion flavor such as that found in chives and chive flowers or scallions (green onions) add an expected salad flavor,  and onions also add color and texture.

And, of course, tomatoes are an important component in salads when they are in season and vine-ripened. Cherry tomatoes in particular are the perfect size for a mixed salad. The salads mentioned below do not include tomatoes, as they were not in season at the time of this writing.

See my blogs from last year for salad recipes that feature tomatoes, such as Caprese salad and Panzanella Salad.

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Insalata Mista

Almost every restaurant in Italy that serves dinner will have an “insalata mista” listed on the menu. The name literally means “mixed salad,” and it signifies that the chef will include the fresh ingredients of the day, “mixed” gently and served simply.

For my “insalata mista” pictured below, I choose baby romaine lettuce from my garden, with a few of my mixed lettuce greens for color, along with carrots, red peppers and radishes.  Red onions would also have been a good addition.

I couldn’t resist making some large garlic croutons  for the side by cutting up crusty Italian bread into large rectangles and drizzling on a mixture of  extra-virgin olive oil and crushed garlic. I cooked them at 350° until lightly brown, but not too long, or the tiny garlic pieces will burn. Remember to turn them once while they are in the oven so each side can brown. In Italy, slices of bread are often brushed with olive oil and rubbed with a fresh clove of  garlic to be served as is or as the base of a bruschetta (pronounced broo-sket-ta).

plate of salad with mixed greens and small pieces of carrots, radishes and red peppers in the center, and large garlic croutons in the periphery
Insalata mista with garlic croutons

 

 

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Mixed Green Salad

with Gorgonzola Cheese

and Raspberries

 

Pictured below are mixed greens with gorgonzola cheese sprinkled throughout, crushed bits of walnut, and raspberries. Salad greens are tossed with extra-virgin olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar.  Balsamic vinegar is drizzled on raspberries. A salad with Italian ingredients and a bit of a French flair since the walnuts and raspberries are included.  Here is a chance to use your walnut oil before it becomes stale!

Mixed salad greens with gorgonzola cheese, walnuts and raspberries
Mixed salad greens with gorgonzola cheese, walnuts and raspberries

 

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Spinach Salad with

Goat Cheese

and Strawberries

 

There are many versions of spinach salad, some of which use strawberries, probably because both ingredients are available at about the same time late spring, as I mentioned above. And they taste delicious together. I love this combination.

The pungent flavor of goat cheese is (in my mind) also connected with springtime, and I enjoy the combination of spinach and goat cheese.

I added red onion for contrasting flavor and for a bit of crunch I added almonds to the spinach salad below.

Instead of a sugary, strawberry-flavored dressing often found with this type of salad, I used extra-virgin olive oil and a bit of aged balsamic vinegar, which goes well with fruit and holds up nicely with the fairly strong flavor of spinach.  The Instagram post is below:

 

 

For more (many more!) salad ideas this spring and summer, visit my Instagram at Conversationalitalian.french

 

 

Buon appetito!

Italian Genealogy Podcast: Occhipinti Interview “How to Learn Italian for Travel”

Learn Conversational Italian books 2017

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Last month I had the pleasure of speaking with Bob Sorrentino on his podcast for Italiangenealogy.com, and I’ve included the link to our 30 minute conversation, entitled “How to Learn Italian for Travel” at the end of this blog.

If you listen, you’ll hear about my effort to find my Occhipinti relatives in Sicily and also about Bob’s fascinating family tree.  Bob was kind enough to ask me the story behind why I wrote my Conversational Italian for Travelers books, and  of course I couldn’t resist including some of my tips for learning Italian near the end of the podcast!

As many of you probably know, I have been building the Occhipinti family tree with my cousin, Jennifer Petrino of Sicilianfamilytree.com  for over 4 years now.  Actually, I should say that Jennifer has been building my Occhipinti family tree, as she has done all the research, with me serving only to outline the information I want her to find! This effort finally culminated in a long-anticipated trip last September to the Occhipinti home town of Ragusa, Sicily, which I wrote about in the blog Your Italian Travel Tips – Visit Ragusa, Sicily and Experience Centuries of Culture.

Jennifer introduced me to Bob Sorrentino’s website, Italiangenealogy.com, and I was immediately impressed. Bob has compiled a treasure trove of information about Italian Genealogy that covers many details of the field and he makes this information free to his readers. On his website one finds information on Italian family lines, Italian history, and Italian law and politics, with articles such as, “How Professional Genealogists Determine Ancestral Nobility in Italy” and “Medieval Genealogical Research.” I was also fascinated by the research he did to find his relatives back to the 900s AD and what he uncovered about his relatives along the way. I even found a video map of the peoples who have inhabited Sicily over the ages, which I was so enthralled with that I’ve copied it to this blob at the end of this section.

Here is what Bob has to say about his work, in his own words:

I was always a history buff and enjoyed going though the family photo albums. One item in the album was my great grandfather’s “calling card” that my maternal grandmother brought from Italy. The story was that he was a Count or at least Italian Nobility.

About 12 years ago I began the research into both my parents Italian families… I thought it would be fun to not only share my findings, but potentially help others find their roots. Not being a professional genealogist, I figured the best way to do this would be to create a website and a blog http://www.italiangenealogy.blog.
The blog is fun, but it is only a one way medium, so in early 2020 I create my podcast to interview not only professionals, that can help people with research and getting Italian citizenship, but just regular people that want to tell their story.

 

 

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And now, through the magic of the internet, I’m happy to be able to share my  experiences searching for my Italian heritage and my tips to learn Italian! 

Here is the link to the Podcast on Italiangenealogy.com
Buon divertimento!

 

Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases
Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases (with Restaurant Vocabulary and Idiomatic Expressions) is YOUR traveling companion in Italy! All the Italian phrases you need to know to enjoy your trip to Italy are right here and fit right into your pocket or purse.

 

Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! – Let’s Talk About… The Weather Italian

Burano in Venice, Italy and Everyday Italian phrases

Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

Do you want to speak Italian more easily and confidently by the end of 2020? 

If I am making small talk with someone I’ve just met, or conversing with a friend or family member, I find that knowing a little bit about how to describe the weather in Italian is very useful.  And, now that the warm weather is upon us in Chicagoland, I’m betting that we will all spend more time than usual talking about the weather.

As I’ve said before, I believe that “commonly used phrases” are the key for how we can all build fluency in any language in a short time.

If we learn how to incorporate “commonly used phrases”  when we talk about the weather in Italian we will be able to communicate just as we do in our native language!

This post is the 34th in a series of Italian phrases we have been trying out in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group.  If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian

are used to talk about
the weather.

See below for how this works.

As we all master these phrases, so will you. Try my method and let me know how it works. What sentences will you create with these phrases?

Please reply. I’d love to hear from you! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

The basics of the Italian language are introduced in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar  

                       found on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel Italian.com.

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Let’s Talk About…

The Weather in Italian

For a general assessment of the weather, Italians use the ever-popular verb fare in the third person singular, which you will remember is fa. (If you need a refresher on how to conjugate the verb fare, you will find this in our Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Verbs”  reference book.)

In English, the verb to be is used to directly refer to “it,” meaning “the weather,” and how “it” actually “is” outside Instead, Italians speak of the weather “it” is making with the verb fa. So, it is very important to think in Italian if we want to talk about the weather in Italian!

Remember that the reference to “it” in the Italian sentence will be left out, as usual.

Below are some examples of how this works, with the correct English translation in black and the literal Italian translation in gray, so we can understand the Italian language approach to this topic.

If you want to ask someone how the weather is, rather than telling them, you can use many of the same phrases, but just raise your voice at the end of the sentence. There is no need to invert the subject and the verb, as we do in English.

Notice that in Italian the same word means both time and weather — il tempo.

Che tempo fa?
What is the weather?  (lit. What weather does it make?)

Fa caldo.
Fa molto caldo!
Fa caldo?
It is warm/hot.
It is very hot!
Is it warm/hot?
(lit. It makes heat.)
Fa fresco.
Fa fresco?
It is cool.
Is it cool?
(lit. It makes cool.)
Fa freddo.
Fa freddissimo!
Fa freddo?
It is cold.
It is very cold!
Is it cold?
(lit. It makes cold.)
Fa bel tempo.
Fa bel tempo?
It is nice weather.
Is it nice weather?
(lit. It makes nice weather.)
Fa bello.

Fa bellissimo.

It is nice/very nice out. (lit. It makes nice/very nice weather.)
Fa brutto tempo.
Fa brutto tempo?
It is bad weather.
Is it bad weather?
(lit. It makes bad weather.)
Fa brutto. It is bad outside. (lit. It makes bad weather.)

Of course, we may want to know how the weather was during a certain event or at a certain time.  Chatting about the weather is a common pastime in any country. Why not chat about how the weather was in Italian?

To talk about the weather in the immediate past tense, we must return to the imperfetto and the passato prossimo.  We have been learning about these two forms of the past tense recently, in our last two blogs in this series.  For a more in-depth explanation of how to use the imperfetto and passato prossimo forms of the Italian past tense, click on the link for the verb tense you want to learn about.  Or, take a look at our reference book, Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Verbs”.

The imperfetto third person singular form of fare, which is  faceva, is the most commonly used form with our general expressions.

Of course, if we want to refer to a specific time frame, the passato prossimo third person singular form of fare, which is ha fatto, should be used.

Below are general questions about the weather, this time in the past tense: 

Che tempo faceva? What was the weather? (lit. What weather did it make?)
Come era il tempo? How was the weather?  

 And our answers, depending on the situation…

Faceva caldo. It was hot. (lit. It made heat.)
Ha fatto caldo tutto il giorno. It was hot all day.  
     
Faceva fresco. It was cool. (lit. It made cool.)
Ha fatto fresco ieri. It was cool yesterday.  
     
Faceva freddo. It was cold. (lit. It made cold.)
Ha fatto freddo quest’inverno. It was cold all winter.  
Faceva bel tempo. It was nice weather. (lit. It made nice weather.)
Faceva bello. It was nice outside. (lit. It made nice weather.)
     
Faceva brutto tempo. It was bad weather. (lit. It made bad weather.)
Faceva brutto tempo. It was bad outside. (lit. It made bad weather.)

Now, let’s try to be more specific and descriptive when we talk about the weather in Italian; let’s talk about common weather conditions, such as the rain, snow and wind, and how the weather changes throughout the seasons.

Below are a few conversational sentences.  Since I am living in the Chicago area, I couldn’t resist a few lines about the show we’ve had to shovel this past winter (although this does seem a long time ago by now).  How many more can you think of?

È primavera.* It is springtime.
Ci sono nuvole scure. There are dark clouds.
Viene a piovere. It is going to rain.
(lit. Here comes the rain.)
C’e la pioggia? Is it raining?
Piove. It’s raining.
Tira vento. It’s windy.
I fiori sono in fiore. The flowers are blooming.
Ho un mazzo di rose rosse che ho colto dal giardino. I have a bunch of red roses that I picked from the garden.
È estate.* It is summer.
C’è sole. It’s sunny. (lit. There is sun.)
È umido.
Andiamo alla spiaggia!
Andiamo in montagne!
It’s humid.
Let’s go to the beach!
Let’s go to the mountains!
È autunno.* It is autumn.
Fa fresco. It’s cool. (lit. It makes coolness).
Le foglie cadano dagli alberi. The leaves fall from the trees.
È inverno.* It is winter.
È gelido. It’s freezing.
La gelata è dappertutto. The frost is everywhere.
C’è la neve? Is it snowing?
Nevica. It’s snowing.
C’è la bufera di neve. It’s a snowstorm.
I fiocchi di neve sono tanti. There are so many snowflakes.
I bambini fanno un pupazzo di neve. The children are making a snowman.
Mi piace sciare. Ho gli sci belli. I like skiing. I have wonderful skis.
Devo spalare la neve ora! I have to shovel the snow now!
Voglio una pala per la neve. I want a snow shovel.
Uso sempre uno spazzaneve. I always use a snowblower.

*In a simple statement about what season it is, the Italian definite article (il, la, l’ = the) is not used after È.  However, in a longer sentence such as, “È l‘inverno che porta la neve,” the definite article (in this case l’) is used. (Translation: It is the winter that brings the snow./Winter brings the snow.)


Finally, there are a few rules to follow if we want to talk about specific weather conditions in the Italian past tense.

If we want to talk about a particular instance in time when we experienced a certain weather condition, we must use the passato prossimo form of the past tense.

When using the passato prossimo, the verbs piovere, nevicare, and tirare can be conjugated using either avere or essere, as in:

Ieri ha piovuto per due ore.         Yesterday, it rained for two hours.

            or

Ieri è piovuto per due ore.          Yesterday, it rained for two hours.

General phrases in the past tense about the sun, clouds, fog or humidity are talked about using the imperfetto. Or, if we want to mention the weather as the “setting” during a certain activity that happened once in the past, we would again use the imperfetto (usually as the first phrase) along with the passato prossimo (usually as the second phrase).

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The expressions we have already encountered in the second part of this blog are given below again, this time with the imperfetto in the first column and with the passato prossimo in the second column.

Notice the different meanings for each type of past tense. And how the word “it,” as usual, is left out of the Italian phrase, but is necessary for the English translation.

The words gia (already) and appena (just) are commonly used with the passato prossimo to give additional information.

Pioveva.
It was raining.
Ha già piovuto.
It already rained.
Nevicava.
It was snowing.
Ha appena nevicato.
It has just snowed.
Tirava vento.
It was windy.
Ha tirato vento tutto il giorno.
It was windy all day.
C’era sole. It was sunny.
C’era nebbia. It was foggy.
Era nuvoloso. It was cloudy.         
Era sereno. It was clear.
Era umido. It was humid.
L’umidità è stata molto alta oggi. The humidity was very high today.
L’umidità è stata bassa oggi. The humidity was very low today.

Remember how to talk about the weather in Italian and I guarantee
you will use these phrases every day!

Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases
Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases (with Restaurant Vocabulary and Idiomatic Expressions) is YOUR traveling companion in Italy! All the Italian phrases you need to know to enjoy your trip to Italy are right here and fit right into your pocket or purse.

   Available on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

Your Italian-American Gardening Tips: Zucchini,Tomatoes, Strawberries and more!

Curved pathway is lined with pots growing herbs with markers in each pot. This leads to the background of a raised garden growing lettuce in one plot and peas in the other. Further in the background are zucchini mounds marked with the type of zucchini being grown.

 

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! It’s been another month since my last gardening blog and over these last weeks I’ve been thinning out my lettuce patch and enjoying delicious, fresh salads almost every day of the week.  Some of you may have already seen my Instagram posts of my “Salads du jour” “Salads of the day”

As I have mentioned in my previous Your Italian-American Gardening Tips blog, from March 29, this year I plan to focus on tending to my new raised gardens.  In this blog we’ll check in on the lettuce seeds I planted in early spring, and then set up our zucchini, tomato, and strawberry beds.

And also… we will check out how our perennial herbs I planted last year made it through the winter.

My hope is that you will enjoy the tips I’ve learned about gardening through many years of experience and be encouraged to start an Italian garden yourself — be it large or small, in a yard or on your porch, or even indoors in pots near a sunny window — after reading the blogs in this series “Your Italian Gardening Tips.”  

Check out my Instagram account, ConversationalItalian.French to see photos of my garden as it progresses.

Below are my insights on growing lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini, strawberries and herbs.  Please leave a comment if you want. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned about gardening!  

And remember the Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com if you want an easy, step-by-step way to learn the Italian of today. Free Cultural Notes, Italian Recipes, and Audio to help you practice your Italian are also found on Learn Travel Italian.com.

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Planting a Lettuce Patch…

and Harvesting!

When I last wrote, in March 2020, I demonstrated how a little plot of tilled soil can be used to spread lettuce seeds in rows.  Since that time, I’ve been watching the seeds as they have sprouted and started to mature.  It was a very rainy spring here in Chicagoland, so I did not have to water, except for the first few days after planting, to encourage the seeds to germinate.

As of this post, I have small radishes to harvest and also a variety of immature lettuces growing closely together.

Radish plants with small radishes growing in a row in a garden, with their identifying seed packet as a marker.
Radish seeds planted two months ago yield small, fully developed radishes.

2 months lettuce 2020-3

Radishes are one of the quickest vegetables to mature, and are not as harsh tasting if the weather remains cool.  They are also good to harvest young and small before they develop a more tough, woody texture.  I harvest radishes as I need them, pulling the entire plant out and choosing the largest to thin out the row and leave space for other plants to grow.

I scatter the radish bulbs in salads.  The radish greens are edible, but even young greens have a coarse texture that is not appealing in fresh salads.  Radish greens can be cooked on the stove-top in the same manner as other edible greens (olive oil and garlic if you are Italian) and I’ve even seen internet recipes for pesto, although I have not tried these.

Now that the lettuces have started to grow, I have been making my own “baby lettuce” salads, which I enjoy, while at the same time thinning out the rows so the lettuces can mature.  I especially like to eat these lettuces young, as in my area of the Midwest the weather tends to go from cold to very hot quickly.  Unfortunately, the heat will make lettuce “bolt,” which means a long flower stem will quickly grow and mature.  After this, the plant dies back.

Mixed green lettuce salad with chive flowers and radishes set out on a plant with brie cheese in the center.
Mixed green lettuce salad with chive flowers, radishes and brie cheese

For more (many more!) salad ideas this spring and summer, visit my Instagram at Conversationalitalian.french

This year I grew arugula ( also called roquette, or garden rocket), romaine lettuce and mixed lettuce greens.  I have yet to get romaine lettuce to fully mature (see reason above), but the young leaf makes a nice salad. Like most Italians, I like the bitter taste of arugula in salads, which technically is a mustard green. It is best eaten young,  because the hotter it gets outside and the larger the leaf, the more pungent and peppery the flavor. Spinach can also be grown easily from seed and is wonderful in salads, of course, and many years I also have young spinach leaves at this point as well.

Three rows of new greens in the garden, romaine lettuce, arugula and radishes.
Lettuce and arugula alongside radishes

Different types of young lettuce greens growing in a row with their identifying packet in the background
Mixed lettuce greens

 

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And how did the herbs overwinter? 

Overwintering herbs is always a challenge for me mainly because the heat and sunlight that herbs love are difficult to provide indoors. Rosemary, in particular is picky.  Rosemary likes a lot of sunlight and cool breezes; it needs heat, but does not like our heated homes. It grows wonderfully in the California bay area, where I’ve seen entire hedges of rosemary.  At home, this year I managed to find a corner close to, but not too close to a heat source, which was also by a large window, and this seemed to work fairly well. The plant survived, but looked a lot less happy then when it was growing outdoors this summer.

Also, as the winter progresses, I pinch off rosemary and bay leaves for cooking stews, leaving much less of a plant then when they started! Since there were only small herb plants this year at the nursery, and not much variety, I am glad my rosemary and bay plants survived indoors.

My potted herbs lead the pathway to my raised garden out back again this year.  I love having herbs right out my kitchen door, fresh and ready to use from spring to the first frost in the fall.  It takes only a morning of planting the annuals (and a little watering during dry spells) for a month’s long reward!

The rue, oregano and mint I planted outdoors last summer are perennials and loved our mild, rainy winter and have reappeared. Rue and oregano are already many times their original size! And the chives I planted about 10 years ago in a pot and have left outdoors in all types of weather, have predictably come up once again this year and are showing their lovely, spikes of purple flowers.

Small plant of rue with its identifying marker planted in 2019. Leaves have an unusual feathery appearance.
Original rue plant 2019

Large rue plant after one year of growth outdoors
Rue, May 2020

Close up of the leaves of a small oregano plant from 2019 with marker
Original oregano 2019

Large oregano plant one year later, May 2020
Oregano, May 202

Chives growing outdoors in a pot with spikes of purple flowers in May 2020
Chives flowering May 2020

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Planning Your Vegetable Garden

Before I plant my vegetable garden each year, I always draw a diagram that allows me to determine how much space I have for what I want to grow. Most times, I have more ambition than space! The drawing allows me to realize this.  I also (usually) check the seed packets and a gardening book to make sure the area I choose will give the plants the sunlight they require. I love the book Growing Fruit and Vegetables,by Richard Bird, but have also found lots of helpful advice on the Internet.

My raised garden with the lettuce patch is in a shady area of the yard, and in the more sunny raised garden next to it contains sugar snap peas for my spring greens.  I planted  zucchini along the side of the raised garden that gets the most sunlight.  Even here, I will probably not have enough space and will end up with vines growing on the lawn, but which looks a bit messy in a suburb, but it is the best I can do for now! I am going to try to train the vines to grow into a small area between the sunny part of the garden and the raised bed. We shall see…

Below is my “idea” of how my garden should look.  You will notice that I’ve made notes and “inter-planted” leeks and shallots between the rows of lettuce in the lettuce garden and seeds for an Italian turnip that is eaten like a broccholi rabe (cima di rapa) between the pea bushes.  The pots along the perimeter of the raised bed will start herbs from seed that I could not find in the nursery this year (more on these in later blogs).

Drawing of where lettuce, peas, zucchini, swiss chard and herb pots are to be planted
Lettuce and zucchini garden 2020

Oh, and I almost forgot the Swiss chard in the perimeter of the zucchini mounds. I’ve had good success in the past growing Swiss chard and cavolo nero (the so-called black Tuscan kale that has lately become so popular) from seed, with both plants producing stalks with large, colorful leaves that last through even in the hottest Illinois summers into the fall. These large, leafy greens have the added benefit of providing a natural “fence” that shelters the garden a bit from onlookers.  My plans for sorrel, cardoon and turnips had to be scratched for next year as I realized later that I will need a place to train my zucchini vines.

Because I like a large number and large variety of tomatoes and peppers, I built another raised garden in the sunniest part of the yard.  It is also a bit sheltered, just beside a fence, which will help protect the tomato plants from the fierce wind and thunderstorms we get in the Illinois summers. I also love strawberries and these fruits come up nicely each year in Illinois (although they are best when covered with sheets during episodes of frost), so I planted these in the middle of this raised garden.

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Planting Zucchini 

Zucchini grow wonderfully from seeds in the hot, humid summers of the Midwest. A few stray seeds have even been known to germinate in my compost heap!  I started growing zucchini in my home garden mainly for the zucchini flowers because zucchini flowers were not available at our local farmer’s market 10 years ago. They’ve become more popular now, but are often wilted in the heat of the market, and have to been cooked right away. So instead of purchasing them,  I’ve been growing zucchini for their flowers every year since I found out how easy it is to do.

There are only a few things to know about zucchini to ensure a large crop of zucchini to pick throughout the summer.

First, plant zucchini after the threat of frost is over in your region and the soil has warmed up.

Second,  zucchini love rich soil.  I always weed and then loosen the top soil and mix in cow manure. I know, not a fun job but put on your gardening jeans and long gardening gloves and use a shovel with a long handle!  Every time I do this I think of my Grandfather Occhipinti dragging my father along on the subway from Manhattan to their garden plot in Brooklyn, along with  bags of manure for their summer vegetable garden.  That must have been a sight (and a smell), no doubt!

Third, and maybe most important: there are both male and female zucchini plants. Bees must fertilize the female flower from the male flower for the female to mature into a zucchini.  (See blog from last year about zucchini).  For this reason, it is best to mound up the soil and plant the seeds around the mound, rather in a row.  The male and female vines will be close to each other for easy fertilization.

This year I found a company called Seeds from Italy that imports Franchi brand seeds from Italy and will mail the seed packets directly to your door. Below are the zucchini types I will try to grow.

Three seed packets with pictures of different types of zucchini.

Zucchini seeds from Italy

I am particularly excited about the zucchini variety that yields large flowers for making stuffed zucchini flowers called “le bizzarre. ” This will be my first year attempting to grow cucuzza, the popular very long, southern Italian gourd that grows in the summer and is eaten like a squash.  More about this particular squash can be found in my blog from last year, Your Italian-American Gardening Tips (with Recipes): Oregano (Origano) and Zucchini (Zucchina)

Unfortunately, I did not discover the flyer that came in the package with the cucuzza seeds until after I planted!  The flyer advised, ” Because the seeds are so hard, germination can take as long as four to six weeks. To speed germination, scarify the seeds before planting: the easiest way to scarify is to rub the seeds on coarse sand paper, just enough to weaken the seed coat without damaging the interior part of the seed. Then soak the seeds for 24 hours to further soften the seed coat… Germination of scarified seeds occurs in about 10-14 days.”  So, I will follow this process and replant at another sunny location in my yard, as advised, along a support by my fence for these vines that can grow 25 feet or longer. Even the best plans may need to be modified!

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 Planting Tomatoes

This past Memorial Day weekend,  I got lucky and coincidentally planted my nursery-bought tomatoes the day after a furious spring thunderstorm with hail.  It is possible to plant tomatoes earlier in Chicagoland, and many gardeners set Mother’s Day weekend as their target day for planting. This year was a bit cooler than most years in May. Also, because one year previously  my entire tomato crop was ruined by a hailstorm, and had to replanted just 3 days later, I always plant very late in May.

In general, tomatoes need to be planted after the last threat of frost is over.  They need a manured, fertile bed, lots of sun and lots of water. And with these three things the results will be so far superior than any store-bought tomato you will ever come across! I think it is the amazing flavor of a home-grown tomato that has kept Italian-American gardeners at it all these years more than any other vegetable.

Things I do:

I save my egg shells all winter, and then put them in a paper bad and crush them while inside the bag with a meat mallet. The calcium in the crushed egg shells is said to prevent bottom rot, and I’ve never had a case of this so it may be true. It may also create a sharp environment that slugs do not like to slide over, and I have not had a problem with slugs in the past either.  It is best to work the egg shells into the soil at the same time as the manure about a month before planting.  Calcium should leak out of the shells as they disintegrate over time, providing a steady source of this nutrient throughout the summer.

Marigolds are said to attract beneficial insects that prey on garden pests, so I plant marigolds in along the borders of my tomato patch. I’ve also read that if you sow marigolds as a cover crop and then plow them under before planting, they will repel harmful nematodes, such as roundworms, that like to feed on the greenery of growing vegetable plants.

Raised garden bed with tomatoes and their steaks. marigolds in the perimeter to keep away pests..
Just planted tomatoes and marigolds May 2020

Before planting a nursery-bought tomato plant, I pinch off any tomato flowers or tomatoes that may have started to form, to give the plant a chance to grow a bit before producing.

I plant the tomatoes as deeply as the first true leafy branch to encourage root growth. I set a tomato cage around the cherry tomatoes.  The rest have a steak set next to them so I can tie the stem loosely to give the plant support as it grows. There are other methods to support tomato plants, of course.

Watering  to get tomato plants through dry spells is essential.  It is best to water in the morning so the plants have water available during the hottest hours of the day.  Watering at night may also lead to mold formation.

Always check they information each particular tomato variety comes with. The “cordon variety” of tomato (not cherry tomatoes) will produce a side shoot (sucker) between the main stem and the fruit bearing stem.  If these are not trimmed off, the plant will  grow bushy and not produce much fruit. The best way to tell if you need to pinch off a side shoot is to watch the tomato plant as it grows.

So what happened to our San Marzano tomatoes that were planted from seed?

The good news is that almost all of the tomato seeds germinated nicely.  Their stems are spindly, so next year I will buy a grow light to help them to grow straight.

I transplanted the San Marzano seedlings into containers I had left over from last year.  When I first brought the transplanted seedlings outside, I left them in the shade as directed.  But, I think I brought them into the sunlight too quickly afterward, as the leaves started turning white around the edges, equivalent to a “plant sunburn,” according to my reading.  So the seedlings are back indoors to harden off for a bit.   There is a third raised garden with marigolds planted in the perimeter waiting for them.

transplanted San Marzano tomato seedlings in their small containers
San Marzano tomato transplants

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Planting Strawberries

There is really not much to know about planting strawberries, except that it is essential choose a variety that will grow nicely in your region and to use a berry fertilizer.  I like having a strawberry patch since my family loves strawberries and it seems like the ones in the grocery have become larger and larger and have less and less flavor as each year goes by.  Home-grown strawberries will be smaller, but taste more like the highly prized “fragole di bosco” or wild “strawberries of the woods” hand harvested in Italy.

There are many different varieties of strawberries that fruit at different times, some more continuously than others. It is best to go to a local nursery that you can trust with someone you can talk to before choosing your strawberries since, if properly planted they will come up again for many years.

There is a professional seed store I used to go to in Peoria, Kelly Seed and Hardware,  that sells just the root and shoot of a berry plant. The strawberries I bought from them over 10 years ago are still producing.  Soak the root in water for 24 hours and then plant the root underground, leaving the shoot above ground.

Or, just go to your local nursery and buy a strawberry plant that has already been started in a small container. Remove from container and plant at ground level, as you would any other container plant. The plants I bought for my new strawberry patch were the last flat of berries  at the nursery near me, so really no choice this year.  They are “ever bearing” type and the label says these berries produce fruit in June and then in the early fall.

Plant strawberries in a sunny location. My strawberries in Peoria like a bit of shade in the afternoon from companion-planting with asparagus. I will put a bit of straw under them when they start to produce berries to keep the fruit cleaner, although this is not absolutely necessary.  Water as you would any new transplant. The instructions on the strawberries I planted advised pinching off any strawberry flowers that develop for the first month. So, I will likely not have many (or any) berries this June, as I planted too late in the season.

Runners will develop after fruiting to create new plants. They can be removed once you have enough plants established and planted in another part of the garden if you wish.

After strawberries have fruited, my gardening book recommends cutting off the leaves and disposing of leaves and straw to prevent the spread of mold and diseases; although, I have to say I have not often (ever!) done this.

In the spring, when the plants start to come alive again, fertilize and cover with an old sheet to protect from frost when necessary. Below is my strawberry patch.  Since I planted late this year, I’m hoping for some berries this fall!

Raised garden bed with strawberries planted in the perimenter
Strawberries just planted May 2020

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Relaxing after a morning of gardening! Planted 3 types of authentic Italian zucchini and also Swiss chard in my garden next to the raised beds. Also some herbs I can’t find at the nursery are now starting from seeds in pots – borage, chervil, camomile, and sorrel. Borage is a uniqueherb loved by Romans. It makes both pink and blue fowers on the same plant. Can’t wait to float them in my wine the way the Romans did! Maybe I can make some Roman food with the leaves. I love the French Sorrel in my salads – tastes a bit like celery. If I can get it to grow in it’s pot I can transplant and it will come up easily every year in Illinois. Fresh Chervil is a must have for French cooking. And who doesn’t love the beautiful daisy flowers of camomile for their beauty and tea? Visit www.conversationalitalian.wordpress.com to follow my garden this year. More info and gardening tips on the blog! @theitaliangardenproject @niafitalianamerican @sons_of_italy #italiangarden #italiangardens #italiangardenstyle #frenchherbs #plantingherbs #plantingherbs☘️ #plantingherbseeds #frenchgarden #frenchgardenstyle #frenchgardenhousestyle #camomile #camomila #sorrel #borage #borageflowers #borageflowergarnish #borageflowertea #chervil #romancooking #romanscookingcorner #foodblogger @burpeehg @burpeegardening #italianzucchini #zucchiniflowers #zucchiniflowers🌼🌼🌼

A post shared by Kathryn Occhipinti (@conversationalitalian.french) on

I hope you enjoyed reading about my gardening adventures so far this year.

Do you have a garden?  

Do you have a gardening story to share or any gardening tips? 

Please leave a comment!  I’d love to hear!

Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases
Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases (with Restaurant Vocabulary and Idiomatic Expressions) is YOUR traveling companion in Italy! All the Italian phrases you need to know to enjoy your trip to Italy are right here and fit right into your pocket or purse.

Available on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! – “The Many Uses for “Passare”

Burano in Venice, Italy and Everyday Italian phrases

Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

Do you want to speak Italian more easily and confidently by the end of 2020? 

Many Italian verbs are similar to those in English, which sometimes makes it easy to transition between English and Italian during conversation. However, many times the use of an Italian verb will vary  from the way a verb with a similar meaning is used in English.  Passare, the  Italian verb that means “to pass by” is one of those verbs that is important to “get to know” if one wants to use it correctly.

As I’ve said before, I believe that “commonly used phrases” are the key for how we can all build fluency in any language in a short time.

If we learn how to incorporate “commonly used phrases”  when use the Italian verb passare, we will be able to communicate just as we do in our native language!

This post is the 33rd in a series of Italian phrases we have been trying out in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group.  If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE

Many “commonly used phrases” in conversation

use the Italian verb
passare.

See below for how this works.

As we all master these phrases, so will you. Try my method and let me know how it works. What sentences will you create with these phrases?

Please reply. I’d love to hear from you! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

The basics of the Italian language are introduced in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar  

                       found on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel Italian.com.

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Let’s Talk About…

The Many Uses for the  Italian Verb Passare

The Italian verb passare means “to pass,” as in “to pass through,” “pass by,” “pass time,” or “spend time.” This verb is used in many ways in Italian! We use the verb “to pass” or “passed” less often in informal English, often defaulting to more general English verbs like, “get/gone,” put” or “spend/spent” when we really mean “pass or passed.” But in Italian, it is important to be more specific and use the verb passare if you want to sound like a native when describing situations that have come to pass!

 

1. Use passare when you will “pick up” or “spend time with” someone

  • Use the Italian verb passare when you want to “pass by” and “pick someone up.” Passare is used in the important everyday expression “passare a prendere,” which means “to pick (someone) up (by car).”  
  • In the same way, use the verb passare to describe “dropping in to see” someone or “dropping in to visit” someone with the phrases, “passare a far visita” and “passare a trovare.” The latter phrase is similar to, but not identical in meaning to “andare a trovare,” which you may recall means “to go to visit” someone.
  • If you are inviting someone to visit you informally, but in an business setting, simply use passare with “in ufficio.” This phrase may be useful if you do not have a specific time you need to see someone on a particular day.
  • Another common informal phrase is “passare un attimo da casa,” which means, “to drop by the house for a bit.” Use this phrase to invite a friend over for an informal get-together or quick meeting at your house. If you use the verb passare in conversation, this will signal both your familiarity with both the person you are visiting, and with the Italian language!
Passerò/Passo a prenderti alle otto.”
I will (pass by and) pick you up at 8 AM.” 

Side note: if you want to ask someone to “pick you up” from a particular place, venire is used with prendere:

“Può venire alla stazione a prendermi?”
“Can you (polite) come to the station and get me?”

And a few more examples:

Domani, passo a far visita a mia zia Anna.
Tomorrow, I will drop in to see my Aunt Ann.
Domenica, passo a trovare la mia amica del cuore Maria.
On Sunday, I will drop in to visit my dear friend Maria.
Per favore, passi in ufficio domani mattina,
alle otto o dopo.
Please drop in to my office tomorrow morning,
at 8 AM or later. (polite)
La settimana prossima, passeremo un attimo da casa mia.
Next week, let’s drop by my house for a bit.

 

2. Use passare to mention somebody “passing by.”

  • If a person has recently “passed by,” someone else or “passed by”/ “gone through” a place, whether walking or driving, we must use essere as our past tense helping verb. Notice that this differs from English, and the English translation uses the verb “to have” instead.
“Ma quando Giovanni è passato davanti a me, l’ho riconosciuto.”
“But when John passed by in front of me, I recognized him.”
Michele non in piazza ancora. È passato!
Michael is not in the piazza anymore. He has passed by!

 

3. Use passare when making references about time

  • Use the verb passare to talk about time “passing by” in Italian, just as we do in English.  Time “passes by” all by itself, and is the subject of the sentence, so we must use essere (to be) as our past tense helping verb.
“Quanto tempo è passato!” ha detto Maria quando lei ha incontrato una vecchia amica* per strada.
“How much time has gone by!” Mary said when she met an old friend on the street. 

*una vecchia amica = an old (longtime) friend; una amica vecchia= a friend that is old in years

  • If we want to talk about how we were doing something “to pass the time,” in the recent past, or if we have “spent time at” a certain location, we must use the verb passare with avere as our helping verb for the past tense.
  • To mention that you have “passed the night together with someone,” and imply a close relationship with that person, use the phrase, “passare una serata insieme.” 
  • To express the wish that someone “passes time well” over the holidays, use the verb passare with avere for the helping verb. (Notice the use of the subjunctive tense for avere with the verb sperare (to wish) in the example sentence.)
Ieri, ho passato tutto il pomeriggio a casa di Giulia.
Yesterday, I stayed at Julia’s house all afternoon.
Ieri sera, io e Michele abbiamo passato la serata insieme.
Last night, Michael and I spent the night together.
“Passa un buon Natale a Chicago!”
“Have (spend) a nice Christmas in Chicago!”
“Spero che la famiglia abbia passato un buon Natale!”
“I hope that the family had a nice Christmas!”
Lascia passare  i mesi dell’inverno e d’estate pensiamo alle vacanze.
Let the winter months pass and in the summer we will think about vacation.

4. Use passare when talking on the telephone

  • Use the verb passare to ask someone to “put through” another person talking on the telephone to you. This situation is encountered most often at work, of course, when trying to reach an individual important enough to have a secretary to screen calls. The first example given below is therefore in the polite tense. Now-a-days many individuals have cell phones, so it is less common, but still possible, to call a land-line at home and have a family member answer, so the same question may also be useful in the familiar tense.
  • When describing the act of passing the phone to someone in the past tense, use the helping verb avere (to have).
  • Notice the use of definite and definite pronouns to replace subject pronouns and names in the last examples.  If you need a refresher course on how to use these pronouns, check out Chapter   in Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Grammar.
Mi può passare il signor Rossi? Can you put me through to Mr. Rossi?
Passami Michele! Put me through to Michael!
Ho passato Michele a te.  I’ve put Michael through to you. (Italian “a te” not frequently used.)
Ti ho passato Michele! I’ve put Michael through to you!
Te l’ho passato! I’ve put him through to you!

 

5. Use the reflexive passarsi to exchange things with someone

  • Finally, the reflexive verb, passarsi, has a slightly different meaning from the non-reflexive form that we have been discussing above.  The reflexive verb passarsi means “to exchange” something and is used in the same way as the verb scambiarsi. Both verbs take essere in the past tense, of course, because they are reflexive!
“Allora, ci siamo passati i numeri di telefono per tenerci in contatto d’ora in poi.”
“Anyway, we exchanged telephone numbers and will stay in contact from now on.”

 

Remember how to use the Italian verb passare in conversation and I guarantee
you will use this verb every day!

"Just the Verbs" from Conversational Italian for Travelers books
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Verbs”

   Available on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

 

Our Italy — Jo Mackay’s A to Z guide to the Towns and Villages of Lake Maggiore

Mountains surround a lake. In the center of the lake is an island called Isola Bella, or the beautiful island, with a large Italian villa on one end and an even larger terraced garden on the other end.

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! For 2020, I have changed the name of my series, “Your Italian Travel Tips,” to “Our Italy.” In this series, I share bloggers’ experiences of Italy, a country whose culture has captivated the world for thousands of years. I think now is the time to share these memories, knowing that one day we will all be able to return, inspired anew by the Italian people and their country.

Today I am happy to share a guest blog written by my friend Jo Mackay from  Bookings for You.com. Jo Mackay’s company, Bookings for You, offers a range of holiday villas and apartments in Italy and France for rental, and Jo herself has owned a holiday home on the beautiful Lake Maggiore since 2006.

When I read Jo’s Blog about Lago Maggiore I really felt like I had found a kindred spirit.  Lago Maggiore was the very first place I had visited as well when I returned to Italy as an adult in… 2001! Prior to this, I had only spent one week in the cities of  Rome and Florence as a college student. I  immediately fell in love with the beauty of this large, oval lake carved out from the surrounding pre-Alps just north of Milan. Due to its temperate stunning location, temperate climate, and many lush gardens filled with exotic plants, Lago Maggiore has been a favorite vacation spot for the well-to-do in Italy and Europe for centuries.

I enjoyed my stay on Lago Maggiore so much, in fact, that I made the town of Stresa on Lago Maggiore the focus of my Conversational Italian for Travelers story that is the framework for my books to teach Italian.

The story dialogues about Caterina, from my Conversational Italian for Travelers books, are free to listen to on my website, Learntravelitalian.com, either on your computer or phone (no APP required). Click on the Chapter 1 link on my website to start the story in simple, beginning Italian, when Caterina boards a plane from Chicago to Italy. If you’d like to hear more advanced Italian, click on the Chapter 13 link,when Caterina and her Italian family begin their Ferragosto vacation in Stresa on Lago Maggiore, 

And, of course,  be sure to read Jo Mackay’s wonderful photographic summary of Stresa, the small towns that dot Lago Maggiore, and the exotic islands within it by clicking the link below:

Our A to Z Guide of the Towns and Villages of Lake Maggiore/

 

If you’d like,  leave a comment about your first trip to Italy.
Where did you visit? How did the experience make you feel? I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases
Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases (with Restaurant Vocabulary and Idiomatic Expressions) is YOUR traveling companion in Italy! All the Italian phrases you need to know to enjoy your trip to Italy are right here and fit right into your pocket or purse.

 

Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! – Past Tense Imperfetto

Burano in Venice, Italy and Everyday Italian phrases

Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

Do you want to speak Italian more easily and confidently by the end of 2020? Let’s continue to learn about the Italian past tense to work toward this resolution!

As I’ve said before, I believe that “commonly used phrases” are the key for how we can all build fluency in any language in a short time.

If we learn how to incorporate “commonly used phrases”  in the past tense into our conversations, we will be able to talk about our daily lives just as we do in our native language! For instance, if we want to make general statements about what has happened in the past in Italian, we will need to master the imperfetto past tense. The conjugation of the imperfetto past tense is fairly straightforward.  The tricky part is knowing how to use this verb form.

This post is the 32nd in a series of Italian phrases we have been trying out in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group.  If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian

use the past tense

imperfetto

See below for how this works.

As we all master these phrases, so will you. Try my method and let me know how it works. What sentences will you create with these phrases?

Please reply. I’d love to hear from you! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

The basics of the Italian language are introduced in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar  

                       found on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel Italian.com.

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

Imperfetto Italian Past Tense

If we want to make general statements about what has happened in the past in Italian, we will need to master the imperfetto past tense. The conjugation of the imperfetto past tense is fairly straightforward.  The tricky part is knowing how to use this verb form.

The Italian imperfetto past tense refers to the recent past, and is useful when describing events that happened frequently in the past without a specific time frame.  The imperfetto in Italian translates into the simple past tense in English and also into “used to” or “was/were…ing.”  Let’s learn how to form this tense, which is actually quite easy, as the same endings are added to the stems for the –are, -ere, and ire verbs.

To change any infinitive verb into the imperfetto past tense, first drop the -re from the   -are, -ere, or -ire endingThis will give stems that will have the last letters as: a, e, and i.  Then, just add the following endings to the stems for all three conjugations: vo, vi, va, vamo, vate, vano. 

Let’s see how this works by conjugating some familiar verbs in the table below.  The stressed syllables have been underlined for easy pronunciation. Notice how the stress falls on the syllable just prior to the ending we add for the io, tu, Lei/lei/lui and loro forms.  For the noi and voi forms, the stress instead falls on the first syllable of the ending that is added.

Imperfetto Conjugation

  Abitare

(lived)
(used to live)
(was/were living)

Vedere

(saw)
(used to see)
(was/were seeing)

Dormire

(slept)
(used to sleep)
(was/were sleeping)

io abitavo vedevo dormivo
tu abitavi vedevi dormivi
Lei/lei/lui abitava vedeva dormiva
       
noi abitavamo vedevamo dormivamo
voi abitavate vedevate dormivate
loro abitavano vedevano dormivano

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Below is an excerpt from a conversation between two women, Francesca and Caterina. Caterina is an Italian-American girl who is visiting Francesca and her family in Italy during the Italian holiday of Ferragosto in August.  Francesca meets Caterina on the beach and Francesca mentions that she saw Caterina talking to someone before her arrival. To describe this activity in the recent past, Francesca uses the imperfetto form of the Italian  past tense.

If you would like to listen to the entire dialogue, recorded with an Italian-American and a native Italian speaker, just click on the link from the website Learntravelitalian.com: On the Beach at Last.

Francesca:

Caterina:

Francesca:

Caterina:

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You may have noticed from the previous dialogue that the imperfetto past tense was used in certain situations, sometimes in combination with the passato prossimo past tense.  If you need a refresher on when to use the passato prossimo past tense, please see our previous blog: Past Tense Passato Prossimo: “Avere” vs. “Essere”? 

So, when to use the imperfetto past tense?  Italians mainly use this tense to express an action that was done habitually in the past but is no longer being done.  Can you think of some things that might take place every day, for instance? For instance, reading the paper, going to school, going to work, and eating breakfast, lunch and dinner?  If you want to talk about how you’ve done these things in the past, use the imperfetto! Sentences that use the imperfetto in this way are translated into the simple present tense and often include an adverb of frequency. Several of these adverbs are listed in the following table:

Italian Adverbs of Frequency

di solito often times
spesso very often
quasi sempre almost always
sempre always

 

Di solito, io finivo la lezione all’una il lunedì.
Often times, I used to finish the class at one o’clock on Mondays.

Quando ero piccolo, andavo a casa di mia nonna molto spesso.
When I was small, I went to my grandmother’s house very often.

 Quasi sempre mi sentivo male quando viaggiavo in barca.
I almost always felt sick when I traveled by boat.

 

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The other translation of the imprefetto past tense uses was/were -ing, and refers to an action performed in the past without mention of a particular starting or ending time.  This is especially important if two things have happened in the past, in which case the imperfetto is used for the first action in order to describe the setting at the time of both actions.  In this case, the completed action is given in the passato prossimo.  From our dialogue:

Caterina:

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It is also necessary to use the imperfetto past tense with the Italian verbs of thinking, believing, knowing and feeling  pensare, credere, sapere and sentirein order to refer to situations in the past.

Other phrases that refer to a personal state of being in the past, such as  being hungry or simply existing, use the imperfetto form of the verbs avere and essere.

The imperfetto conjugation of avere is regular:
io avevo,  tu avevi, Lei/lei/lui aveva,  noi avevamo, voi avevate, loro avevano.

The imperfetto conjugation of essere is irregular:
io ero, tu eri, Lei/lei/lui era, noi eravamo, voi eravate, loro erano.

To summarize… More uses for the imperfetto Italian past tense are listed below:

Pensavo che… I thought that…
Credevo che… I believed that…
Non sapevo che… I didn’t know that…
Mi sentivo male. I was feeling badly.
Io avevo fame. I used to be hungry.
Caterina era felice. Kathy was happy.

You will notice a common thread in the reasoning behind when to use the imperfetto: use the imperfetto when making generalizations about the past.

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

For a final exercise using the imperfetto past tense, imagine you are a child and visited your Italian grandparents on their farm one summer. Tell a story in Italian about your daily routine.  Use adverbs of frequency and the imperfetto past tense to describe typical daily activities and how you felt living in the countryside. My attempt at this exercise is below.

Buon divertimento!  Have fun!

Un giorno in fattoria:                                    A day on the farm:

Avevo dieci anni l’estate scorso. I was 10 years old last summer.
Abitavo con mia nonna Maria e mio nonno Giuseppe durante l’estate a e mi piaceva molto la compagna! I was living with my grandmother Maria and my grandfather Joseph during the summer and I loved the country very much!
Di solito, io e nonna Maria preparavamo la prima colazione per la famiglia. Usually, io e nonna Maria made breakfast for the family.
Quasi ogni giorno, andavo di fuori per guardare gli animali della fattoria. Almost every day, I went outside to watch the animals on the farm.
Stavo molto bene in compagna. I felt really good in the country.
L’aria era fresca e il cielo era sempre blu.  The air was fresh and the sky was always blue.
Durante i pomeriggi, io e nonno Giuseppe camminavamo con il nostro gregge di pecore in montagne. During the afternoons,  Grandpa Joseph and I walked with our  herd of sheep in the mountains.
Nelle stasere, avevo molto fame! In the evenings, I was very hungry!
Ma non avevo fame per molto tempo perché a casa, nonna Maria cucinava una cena meravigliosa! But I was not hungry for very long, because back at home Grandmother Maria was cooking a wonderful dinner!

Of course, there are many, many more routine activities that can happen in a single day than what we have listed here. You may want to keep a short diary to practice using the imperfetto past tense forms in Italian. Every night before going to bed, write one or two sentences to describe in general how you felt during the day, or a habitual action that you performed. Soon it will be second nature to know when and how to use the Italian  imperfetto past tense!

Remember how to talk about the past using the Italian imperfetto and I guarantee
you will use this Italian past tense every day!

Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Verbs”

   Available on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

Your Italian-American Gardening Tips: Planting a lettuce patch and starting tomato and basil from seeds

Raised garden now has tomatose and peppers growing. Marigolds in the corners.

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! After the (hopefully) last snow, spring has arrived in Chicagoland! Despite all the turmoil in the world right now, in the last week, tulips and daffodils have popped up again around my neighborhood. To me, the reappearance of these pastel-colored, flowering bulbs has a special significance. It means that it is time for me to clear out my garden beds and plant my lettuce patch!

As I have mentioned in previous blogs in “Your Italian Gardening Tips,” last year I had to start a new garden from scratch after I moved from Peoria to a new house in the Chicago suburbs. For me this is a large job, so at first I focused on growing herbs in pots and shared Italian summer recipes that use fresh basil, parsley, and oregano.

This year I plan to focus on tending to my new raised garden. I’ll share photos taken while I plant lettuce and then Italian summer vegetables later in the season. In this blog, I’ll describe how is easy it is to plant a lettuce patch in the springtime and I will start San Marzano tomatoes and Genovese basil from seed.

My hope is that you will enjoy the tips I’ve learned about gardening through the years and be encouraged to start an Italian garden yourself — be it large or small, in a yard or on your porch, or even indoors in pots near a sunny window — after reading the blogs in this series “Your Italian Gardening Tips.”  

Check out my Instagram account, ConversationalItalian.French to see photos of my garden as it progresses.

Below are my insights on growing lettuce, tomatoes and basil from seed.  Please leave a comment if you want. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned about gardening!  

And remember the Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com if you want an easy, step-by-step way to learn the Italian of today. Free Cultural Notes, Italian Recipes, and Audio to help you practice your Italian are also found on Learn Travel Italian.com.

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Planting a Lettuce Patch

Luckily,  planting a lettuce patch provides some outdoor activity while we are all home bound this spring. All lettuce seeds require to grow is a rectangular bed of soil, some sunshine and a rainy springtime. Even a rectangular tub with low sides can be filled with soil, placed near a sunny, cool spot, and watered regularly for a small “indoor garden.”

But first, I’d like to share some photos from when I built my raised garden beds last year. When I lived in Peoria, I had lots of help from friends who knew how to do carpentry work and as a result I had a large, raised garden along the entire perimeter of my backyard.  But, after I moved, a friend told me about an easy-to-assemble kit that can be bought at Home Depot. Slats are carved into the posts that come in the kit. The planks fit snugly into the slats to create the walls of the garden bed and no nails are required. Being not very handy with a hammer and nails, I was thrilled to hear this!

There are many  raised garden bed kits to choose from on the Home Depot website, of all shapes and sizes. The kit I choose is a Greenes Fence Unfinished Cedar Raised Garden Bed.  I bought two 4 ft. x 8 ft. x 10.5 ft. sets, which I assembled one at a time.  I also bought Vigoro WeedBlock Weed Barrier Landscape Fabric to line the bed with prior to filling it with soil, as I’ve found this black fabric helps tremendously to keep the weeds at bay.  The WeedBlock fabric keeps sunlight out, so weeds cannot grow,  but allows water to drain through to the roots of the plants.

Below are the photos I took as I was assembling my garden last year (with a little help from my son and a friend). In the last photo, taken about a month later,  topsoil has been added and the raised garden completed with “tops” set on the corner posts. Tomatoes and peppers are starting to grow.

One rectangular raised garden bed, showing the slats in the posts and the planks that comprise the sides.
The slats in the posts fit the planks that form the sides of the bed in this raised garden.

A second rectangular raised garden bed has been added to the first and filled with soil, doubling the space available for planting.
Second raised garden bed added to the first

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raised garden now has tomatose and peppers growing. Marigolds in the corners.
Tomato and pepper garden, with marigolds in the corners

 

 

I like to put marigolds along the borders of my vegetable garden.  This year I put groups of them in the corners. Marigolds are said to attract beneficial insects that prey on garden pests. I’ve also read that if you sow marigolds as a cover crop and then plow them under before planting, they will repel harmful nematodes, such as roundworms, that like to feed on the greenery of growing vegetable plants.

So, where is the lettuce patch, you ask? Well, after last year’s harvest, I have to admit I left the garden a bit messy.  But the posts and walls held up well over the winter. Today’s job was to finish clearing out the gardens and to plant the lettuce seeds. We will have to wait to see the lettuce grow! I plan to post the garden’s progress on my Instagram account,  Conversationalitalian.french.

Raised garden with one side cleared of leaves and the other side still to be cleared
Cleaning up a raised garden after winter

Raised garden cleared. Lettuce and sugar snap peas have been planted, but cannot be seen. Brussels sprouts plants along the center of the garden wall.
Lettuce and sugar snap peas planted

By the way, did you notice the Brussels sprout plants along the middle wall between the two gardens? I was shocked to see the stems from the Brussels sprouts that I had planted last year partially alive. They had tiny Brussels sprouts growing near the base of the stem and at the very top. So for now, I left these volunteer plants in place.

 

 

My daughter once called my method of gardening, “Survival of the Fittest” gardening. Sometimes, I think this is true. I don’t like to harm things that are already growing, and am hoping to see a few volunteer tomato and pepper plants from seeds left last year later in the season as well! But, to be honest, I am often distracted by different projects, leaving the poor garden vegetables to compete with the weeds or fen for themselves in the August heat.  I’ll try to do better this year so I have a few respectable photos to show.

Anyway, planting lettuce seeds is very easy.  Just make a shallow row with your spade and sprinkle the tiny seeds along the row.  Yes, there are instructions on the back of each seed packet about how to do this — the depth (important not too deep) and how far the seeds should be planted from each other (less important).  Lettuce seeds are so small, it is almost impossible to space them as described on the package. When the seeds sprout, any sprouts planted too closely can be pulled for your salad, and this will even up the spacing. So I simply sprinkle the seeds in a shallow groove, cover the seeds loosely with soil, water gently, and let them grow, as I know they will!

In the first bed I made 8 rows and planted radishes and different types of lettuces. In the second bed I planted 8 rows of sugar snap peas.  Peas love the cool weather and my family loves peas  so I am hoping these do well this season.

Below are  pictures of the lettuce seeds I planted today, with the row numbers labeled on each. I also planted radishes because they grow quickly and are great in salads and even as a snack. When I was in Paris a couple of years back, I saw a French couple eating them at a very nice restaurant as an appetizer. They spread a whole fresh radish with a bit of  butter and then gently bit into it. But, I have to say, I have not tried this myself. Maybe this year…

Packets of seeds include pictures of radishes, arugula, mixed greens, and romaine
Lettuce and radish seed packets, with rows numbered.

 

 

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 Growing San Marzano Tomatoes
and
Genovese Basil from Seed

 

At my latest visit to the local Home Depo this year, I was excited to find seeds for Genovese basil and San Marzano tomatoes. I also found a small kit called a “Jiffy Professional Greenhouse” that will allow me to start these seeds indoors with just a grow lamp. I have not tried growing either tomatoes or basil from seed before, but for me it is worth the extra work to have these special Italian varieties available for my Italian cooking this summer.

The kits are small, square plastic containers with rows of starter peat moss.

Jiffy Professional Greenhouse, small plastic square box with San Marzano tomato seeds on top
Jiffy Professional Greenhouse with San Marzano tomato seeds

San Marzano tomato seeds have been planted into expanded soil packets
San Marzano tomato seeds planted

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simply fill with water to expand the peat moss, place 2-3 seeds in each, and cover. Place the beds on a small table with a grow lamp over-head.

When the seeds sprout, there are more instructions on the package about how to transfer them outdoors.  I can’t wait to see how mine do.  I could have as much as 36 plants of tomatoes and 36 more of basil.  Guess I will have to get started building another raised garden…