Your Italian-American Gardening Tips: Leeks come back! Planting Strawberries, Asparagus, Spinach and Peas in the Springtime

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

Ciao a tutti! It’s been so nice to be out in the garden again this spring! It seems like ages have passed since my last gardening blog in December of 2020.

January was temperate in Chicagoland.  It finally started to snow in earnest in February, and then seemed like it would never stop.  By the end of the month, my yard was blanketed in 4 feet of snow!  But once the snow cleared, I was excited to see the tiny, bright yellow, sun-like faces of my winter buttercups, followed by daffodils, tulips and hyacinths in the early spring. Check out my Instagram posts at Conversationalitalian.french  to follow my flower beds  more closely if you like.

I have great expectations for the vegetable garden this year, since I hired a landscape crew to build 4 new raised beds! These beds are on the top of a hill, in the sunniest location in my yard, and I know this will be wonderful for the Italian summer vegetables my family loves. 

As I have mentioned in my  Your Italian-American Gardening Tips blogs, for the last two years, my focus has been on how to grow Italian vegetables 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.

In this blog I’ll describe how to get started in the springtime with vegetables and greens that love the cool weather, and set out my garden plan for 2011. 

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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Watching Leeks Spring Back to Life

 

In my December post, I mentioned my first attempt at growing leeks last year. In short, I had found leek sets in the garden shop and  planted them in two rows in the center of my lettuce bed by the house. Although I did not realize it at the time, they were planted in a good location for over-wintering; that particular bed is sheltered by a large tree on one side and the house and patio wall on the other two sides. The leeks provided greenery in the center of that bed all winter, their long so I knew they were alive. By early spring, when the ground thawed I was able to pull two fragrant leeks to make with my salmon for Friday night during lent.  

A few tips about cooking with leeks:

Whether store bought or homegrown, remember to continuously clean the leeks of the bits of dirt that hide in between the layers.

The long, white “bulb” portion of the leek (called the “shank”) is used for cooking, along with the tender green portion of the bulb at the border with the white.  The long green leaves are normally discarded into the compost bin. Although, I did find an article from La Cucina Italiana that mentions boiling the tough green leaves and rolling each to make individual serving “rounds,” with a filling or to use them for soups or stews. Interesting ideas!

The “white part” of the leek is usually cut crosswise, is tender when cooked, and has a delicate, oniony flavor and  floral scent.  This portion of the leek alone can flavor an entire dish. So when I paired leeks with salmon for the Instagram post shared below, I did not use the usual Italian technique of a preliminary sauté in olive oil to soften them, and I did not include garlic in the dish. But the pasta in this dish is cooked and then added in the “typical” Italian way.

My salmon, leek, and cream with pasta dish is so simple to make. It takes only one large pan and I think the flavors meld beautifully. Check out how I did this on my Instagram video below and then try it yourself and see if you agree!

 

 

 

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Planting Seeds for Spinach

and Italian Greens

 

This year I wasted no time ordering seeds. As soon as the catalogues appeared in my mailbox in January, I sent out my order. The first item on my list was spinach, as it is one of my favorite leafy green vegetables. It is said that Catherine de Medici from Renaissance Florence loved spinach so much that when she was queen of France she asked it be served at every meal! Perhaps this is why dishes that feature spinach are called “Florentine.”

Spinach grows easily from seed in the cool spring of Chicago, and homegrown spinach has a fresh taste that the supermarket spinach lacks. I especially love young spinach leaves and it is wonderful to have them available right in my backyard for an afternoon lunch. This year I planted two varieties of spinach, both of which were advertised as being resistant to going to seed and dying out in the warm weather. Fingers crossed, because it typically turns from a cool spring into a hot summer very quickly in Chicagoland.

Other than spinach, I like to plant greens that are not commonly found in the grocery stores here in the US. My favorite company to order from is Seeds from Italy. They are an American distributor of seeds from authentic Italian producers.  As a result, I was able to find two varieties of arugula, lamb’s lettuce, and several types of Italian leafy romaine that love cool weather but are also supposed to be resistant to going to seed when it turns warmer. 

Another of my favorite Italian greens that can be planted in the springtime is cavolo nero.  The name means “black cabbage,” but it is really a kale. This leafy green has become popular lately, but I’ve grown it in my garden for years. Cavolo nero grows easily from seed and will last all summer into the late fall. Cavolo nero is an attractive, tall leafy green and needs a lot of space, so I planted the seeds in their own row just outside the garden bed. 

Just north of the cavolo nero is my bed of Swiss chard. One valiant plant came up again on its own this year. I’ve planted more seeds in the perimeter of the old bed since Swiss chard needs cool weather to germinate. The package recommended soaking the seeds in water for 24 hours prior to planting for best germination. And in the center of this garden bed, I trying to grow some new vegetables from seed: broccoli rabe and romanesco broccoli from Seeds of Italy.  

Shallot sets and green onion sets from the garden shop in my neighborhood complete my lettuce beds this year. My chives came up again in their own pot nearby, as expected early in spring, as they have been for over 10 years!

Of course, before planting this year, I added more soil to my garden beds and amended the soil with cow manure and some garden compost. In my experience, lettuce will grow well without any other additions to the soil. 

See below for an image of my garden beds with the greens and onions this year.  Between the garden beds are lavender that I planted last year as part of my herb garden. A row of sedum was planted by the previous owners of my house, and comes up reliably every year, so I have kept it in place as a border. The leeks are in the center of the southern raised garden bed. Otherwise, not much to look at right now, but I know from experience that it will not be long before the seedlings pop their heads out of the ground!

Leeks growing in the center of a raised garden bed; in the distance another raised garden bed and additional land for leafy greens. Seeds have just been planted.
Italian garden beds for lettuce, onions, and leafy greens, after seeds were planted. The leeks overwintered from last summer.

 

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Last Year’s Overwintered Strawberry Plants


and Planting New Bare Root Strawberries

 

Last year’s strawberry plants have greened up again. At this point, with many of the leaves now green and functioning again, I’ve read it’s important to cover the plants with a old sheet if the temperature dips below freezing at night. I’ve sometimes followed this advice and sometimes not. Either way, my strawberry plants seem to survive. They do need fertilizer for berries early in the spring and then in mid spring (about 30-45 days later)  when they get ready to flower.

 

Raised garden bed with overwintered strawberries, now with green leaves
Strawberries spring 2021, overwintered with green leaves. Two small plants showing new red stalks and green leaves, peeking out in the center are overwintered rhubarb.

I’ve also planted more strawberries in the periphery of my asparagus beds at the top of my hill. Strawberries love the dappled shade that asparagus provides and are a nice border plant. I’ve always found the two to grow well together.

This year I was able to get down to Peoria (where I lived for about 18 years and learned to garden) and bought bare root strawberries from Kelly’s Seed in Peoria, Illinois.  A family run business since 1905, Kelly’s seed only sells plants that will grow well in central Illinois. All of their staff today are knowledgeable about when and how to plant the seeds and root stock they sell, which is a huge added benefit. Plus is is always fun for me to share stories with them about my garden and they always listen and are helpful!

Check out your area for a  local gardening store instead of the big box stores. If you are lucky enough to have a garden store in your area, and can buy bare root strawberries, just click on the link I’ve found to a post that will walk you through each step for planting strawberries:  How to Plant Bare Root Strawberries.

Below are my morning’s adventure. Only 1 1/2 hours and 18 strawberry plants planted in each box! For that little work, hopefully I will be enjoying strawberries for years to come.

 

Bare root strawberries as they are sold on the left, demonstrating their long roots and a second image of the roots trimmed and ready to plant.
  Bare root strawberries as they are sold on the left, and trimmed and ready to plant on the the right. Roots were soaked about 4 hours.

       

Newly planted strawberry crowns peeking out of the soil
Strawberry crowns, newly planted

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Last Year’s Asparagus Plants

 

I planted asparagus crowns in the spring of last year,  and after they came up posted about how to get them ready for winter. 

Since it is now spring again, here are some tips about planting asparagus. First: check your location and see if asparagus will grow. Asparagus likes cool weather. The best way to plant asparagus is by buying “crowns” or the roots of the asparagus plant. I found an excellent post about how to plant asparagus that will take you through each step, with lots of pictures. The details about how to plant the crown are in the middle of the post. I would skip there as the home gardener would find it difficult to plant asparagus from seeds (as mentioned in the article).  I have only grown asparagus from crowns. How to Plant Asparagus.

Asparagus that has overwintered needs a covering of cow manure compost in the spring and fall and with this little care the plants should continue to produce asparagus each spring for about 10 years and even up to 25 years. Since I live in hardiness zone 5 (temperature falls to -20 degrees for part of the winter) I cannot cut my asparagus for the first three years or the plant will die. Extra root power is needed to survive the cold Illinois winters! So no posts on fresh asparagus will appear until the year after next! 

I plan on planting potatoes in the beds next to the strawberry patch along the west side of the house, and moving the tomatoes that were in these beds last year to the new beds when it gets warmer this spring. But for now, I have other plans for the new beds…

 

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This Year’s Peas and Then…

Tomatoes, Peppers and Eggplant

 

And in my four new raised garden beds? I’ve planted peas! My family and I love fresh peas and this year I hope to have enough peas to enjoy all spring. A second planting in two to three weeks will help to prolong the season as long as it does not become hot too quickly.

Peas are also a good vegetable to start with in a new garden bed because they accumulate nitrogen gained from a symbiotic relationship between their roots and the bacteria in the soil. The bacteria are able to obtain nitrogen from the air and transfer it to the pea plant. After harvesting the peas, the remaining plants can then be turned into the soil to increase the nitrogen available to the next set of plants to be grown in the bed. Which in this case will be the Italian favorites — tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

Here is an image of the raised beds. Nothing to look at for now. I just need to keep them watered and my fingers crossed they will germinate. A tip: Soak peas overnight in cold water and they will germinate more quickly.

 

Four new raised garden beds planted with peas
Four new raised garden beds planted with peas

 

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 My Grand Plan for 2021

Below is a map of my garden plan for this year. A map always helps me to plan what I need to do for each part of the spring and summer. You may notice the blackberries, raspberries and cherry trees… hopefully we will have fruit from these new plants in a few years also!

 

Italian garden plan for Spring 2021
IItalian gardening plan for Spring 2021
 

 

 

Please write and let me know what you are planting in your garden this spring.
I’d love to hear how your garden grows!
Until the next blog, follow my Instagram account, Conversationalitalian.french
for recipe ideas from my garden to yours!

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.

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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.

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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 they 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 than Italian oregano) is a tender perennial, meaning it will not survive a winter in Illinois. I have had Italian oregano bushes outgrow everything else in my herb garden over the years, though! Italian 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.

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

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.