Discovering Pesto alla Genovese

Metropolitan Farms grows Genovese basil.
Kathryn for
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel

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

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

Walking through the Metropolitan Farms greenhouse, I could almost smell the fragrant pesto that would come from this ingenious system.

Visit the recent Learn Italian! blog post from October 11, 2017, to read all about my experiences trying to create an authentic pesto for my family. Learn (probably) more than you’ve ever wanted to know about pesto history, making pesto, and growing basil! Below is an excerpt:


Pesto alla Genovese Meets American Aquaponic Farming in Chicago

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

Diary of my first experiences making pesto…

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

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

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

Pesto success at last?

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

Visit for more of my Italian and Italian-American recipes, cultural notes and  advanced Italian language blog posts updated monthly. Click on the link “our blog” in the upper right hand corner to reach blog.Learn Travel


When in Rome… Your Italian Travel Tips

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

Ciao a tutti! There are so many great blogs with unique travel tips out now that I thought I would share my favorites with you.

About once a month, I will reblog a post about little-known sites or places to visit in Italy under the title “Your Italian Travel Tips.” We start with my favorite city—Rome. Enjoy our first post in this series from the blog “Revealed Rome” by Amanda Ruggeri. Her updated book, Revealed Rome Handbook, is now available if you’d like even more information.

And remember Conversational Italian for Travelers: Just the Important Phrases on and Learn Travel if you need a compact, light-weight pocket guidebook to take on your next trip! Free Cultural Notes, Italian Recipes, and Audio to help you practice your Italian are also found on Learn Travel


Sometimes, I get a call from a client who needs help planning their second, third, even fourth trip to Rome. The issue isn’t that they need to know how to use Rome’s public transport, or where to eat, or whether to book the Vatican Museums in advance. What they want to know is if there’s…

via What To Do in Rome When You’ve Done… Everything — Revealed Rome

Buon Fine Settimana con Proverbio!

Italian Proverb 

Il 29 di Settembre 2017


Buon fine settimana con proverbio! from our Facebook group, Conversational Italian!

Isn’t it interesting the way the Italian proverb mentions “doing – fare” before “saying – dire,”  while we English speakers have the same proverb in reverse?  Italians also say, “It is like white and black,” rather than “black and white,” like us English speakers.

I’d love to hear more Italian phrases where the descriptive words are opposite than English.  Please write if you know of others.

Can anyone guess where the name of the church in the photo?  Would love to hear!

Italian proverbs
Learn Italian with Italian proverbs!


Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! What I Know…

Burano in Venice, Italy
Kathryn for
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel

Do you want to speak Italian more easily and confidently by the end of 2017?

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 speak Italian, we will be able to express ourselves more easily and quickly. We will be on our way to building complex sentences and speaking more like we do in our native language!

This post is the sixth in a series that will originate in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group. After our group has had a chance to use these phrases, I will post them on this blog for everyone to try.

Another of our “commonly used phrases,” that will help us talk more easily is
 “What I know..”
leading into “Do you / Does he/she know?”

 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.

This material was adapted from the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books  Just the Important Phrases and Just the Grammar  

                       found on and Learn Travel

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


What I Know …

in Italian

If you remember from our last blog, “Italians Know – ‘Sapere’ and ‘Conoscere’, “there are two verbs that translate into English as “I know.”  When an Italian wants to describe a fact or the knowledge of how to do something, he/she uses the verb sapere, and this is the verb that will be the topic of our blog today.


Sapere:  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 is conversation is just, “So…”

For the phrase, “Do you know…?” use the conjugated verb, ” (tu) Sai…?” for someone you are familiar with, or, “Lei sa…?” for someone you have just met, using the pronoun Lei in this case to be polite.

“Does she or he know?” is,(lei, lui) Sa…?In order to emphasize the masculine or feminine subject, the subject pronouns lei or lui can also be used to start the sentence in this case, but this is usually not necessary in a conversation if both speakers know who they are talking about.

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 what someone else knows!

“Lei sa dov’è…” which means, “Do you (polite) know where is the…?” (Or in correct English: where the… is?”) is an important phrase to know when traveling, as it is used to ask for directions.  In this case, it is customary to precede the question with the polite, “Mi scusi,” for “Excuse me.”

Here are some examples of  travel phrases that 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?

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.     

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?

Finally, here are some commonly used, everyday phrases using the verb sapere. 

Note the use of the subjunctive mode conjugation “sappia” and the imperfetto conjugation “sapevo” in our last two examples.  Commit these phrases to memory, even if you haven’t fully mastered all of the verb forms, as I am sure 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.
Chi si sa?
Non si sa mai!
Who knows?
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 he/she know?
Lo sapevo! I knew it!

Remember these phrases, and I guarantee you will use them every day!

Buon Fine Settimana con Proverbio!

Italian Proverb 

Il 8 di Settembre 2017


Buon fine settimana con proverbio! from our Facebook group, Conversational Italian!

I like this proverb because it mentions a type of zucchini, cocuzza. There have been songs written about this zucchini, believe it or not, which is very, very long. Does anyone know about music or other sayings that include this zucchini? Recipes? Would love to hear! – Kathryn

Learn Italian Proverbs and Learn Italian Culture
Restaurant on the Lido, Venice, Italy


Italians Know – “Sapere” vs. “Conoscere”

Rome's via dei Fori Imperiali
Kathryn for
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel

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 consoscere.  As summer comes to a close and the new school season begins here in America, we had a request to spend a little time focusing on the verbs sapere and conscere  in our Conversational Italian! group on Facebook.

Once we tap into the Italian way of thinking and learn a few simple examples, it becomes easy to express what we know in Italian! Read below to see how this works.  The excerpt is adapted from our Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books
Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar. To listen to these Italian verbs in action, go to the audio tab for Chapter 5 on our website

How many ways can you think of to use the verbs sapere and conoscere? Please reply. I’d love to hear! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

This material and more on this topic are available in the
Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books,
Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar
found on and Learn Travel

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


To Know in Italian – 

Sapere vs. Conoscere


Sapere is an irregular verb that ends in -ere.  It means to know.  Think about how many times each day we say, “I know,” or, “you know,” or, “Do you know?”  In Italy, these expressions are also used frequently.  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.  As usual, try to remember the most commonly used io, tu and noi forms.

Sapereto know (a fact)

io so I know
tu sai you (familiar) know


sa you (polite) know

she/he knows

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



Conoscere is a regular -ere verb.  This verb also means to know, but is used differently, more along the lines of to become acquainted with a person or a place.  The regular conjugation will be given here for completeness.  Notice that the pronunciation of the ending changes, with a “hard c” sound for the io and loro forms due to the endings of sco/–scono, and the “sh” sound for the forms that have the –sci and –sce combination.


Conoscereto know (be acquainted with)

io conosco I know
tu conosci you (familiar) know


conosce you (polite) know

she/he knows

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


As an aside:  Later, in Chapter 7, we will learn how to conjugate the –ire verb capire, which means to understand (capisco, capisci, capisce, capiamo, capite, capiscono). Back in the 70’s, a common phrase among Italian-Americans in New York used between family members and friends was, “Capisci?” (“ka-peesh” in New Yorkese) meaning, “Do you get it?”  Don’t confuse the different forms of capire with the conjugations of conoscere!



Technically, both sapere and conoscere can be translated as to know, although they are used in different situations.  To follow are some 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 knowlege of something tangible that we can see or feel. In our dialogue for Chapter 5 of Conversational Italian for Travelers, Caterina and Susanna describe what they do (and do not) know about the corn that they can see growing in northern Italy using the verb sapere. In order to say specifically, “I know that,” in Italian, Caterina includes che, which means that, in her sentence.  The word che cannot be omitted in these types of sentences, as we often do in English.  Here are two examples that use sapere to describe something that we can see.
“Ma ora so che anche voi avete il granturco in Italia.”
“But now (I) know that you all have (the) corn in Italy.”
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 “io so.”


Io so guidare la macchina.
I know (how to) drive a car.


  1. Sapere is also used when asking questions. 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. In our dialogue from Chapter 5 in Conversational Italian for Travelers, when Susanna asks Caterina if she knows any people other than her cousin in Italy, they both use the verb conoscere.


Susanna:        Tu conosci altre persone a Milano?
(Do) you know (any) other people in Milan?
Caterina:        Si, io conosco mio zio Salvatore e mia zia Rosa.
                        Yes, I know my Uncle Salvatore and my Aunt Rose.


Here are some additional examples of when to use conoscere:


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.