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

The author in her kitchen holding a bowl of fried zucchini flowers ad fried zucchini rounds
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planting a Lettuce Patch…

and Harvesting – Part 3!

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

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

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

Below are photos from the lettuce patch in late July.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

Harvesting Zucchini Flowers

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

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

Three mounds of soil with young zucchini plants growning
Zucchini mounds June 10, with cucuzza in the back on the right
Larger zucchini plants
Zucchini mounds end of June 22. Notice the cucuzza, back right, take a longer time to germinate and grow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Fried Zucchini Flower Appetizers

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

Ingredients: 

For the stuffing:   

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

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

Method: 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Angel Hair Pasta with Fried Zucchini

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

View this post on Instagram

One pan pasta with zucchini and garlic for Friday night. From now on I will be posting easy pasta dishes made in one pan, the Italian way, so stayed tuned! For summer we will use our fresh vegetables. To make delicious zucchini and pasta, first take 2-3 cloves of garlic and cut in slices. Start to brown in olive oil. Add freshly sliced zucchini and fry. Remove garlic when it turns brown. Remove zucchini when it is lightly browned. Toss with angel hair pasta or thin spaghetti. Add a bit more oil from the pan and Parmesan cheese and toss again. Enjoy this simple dish! #osnap @niafitalianamerican @rossellarago @real.food.for.infants.toddlers @chicagolanditalians @quartinochicago @osia_su #pastaandzucchini #spaghettiandzucchini #spaghettiandzucchine #spaghettiandzuchinnisquash #zucchinirecipes #zucchinipasta #zucchiniandpasta #pastaandzucchini #pastaandzucchinis #foodblogger #foodbloggersofinstagram #italianfood #italianfoodlover #italianfoodbloggers #italianfoodbloggers🍷🍕🇮🇹 #italianfoodblogger2 #italianfoodblogg #onepanmeal #onepanpasta #onepastachallenge #onepandinner #onepanpastarecipes #onepanpastarecipes @chicagolanditalians @chicagobuffets

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

 

Ingredients: 

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

Method: 

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

 

 

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

Pulling New Potatoes

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

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

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

View this post on Instagram

Garden update. Pulled these “new” potatoes a couple of weeks ago. Started them this spring from pieces of potatoes that had sprouted their eyes last winter. You can see my “starter piece” in the video and hear my photographer son sigh because he’d rather be taking videos of people or places! Anyway, they are called “new” because they are pulled before they can fully mature in the fall. Just pull as many potatoes as you need and leave the rest in the ground. Of course, new potatoes will be smaller than mature potatoes so just boil in a little salted water. They have so much flavor I am going to plant an entire plot next spring. Look out for my next video when I cook up a quick dinner with these beauties! #gardeningtip #italiangarden #newpotatoes #growingpotatoes #harvestingnewpotatoes #italiangardener @burpeehg @real.food.for.infants.toddlers @theitaliangardenproject #growyourownfood #growvegetables #growvegetablesathome #growyourownfood #growvegetablesnotlawns #growvegetablesnotgrass #vegetablesinpots #vegetablesincontainers

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

 

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

Monday Night Pork Chops with New Potatoes

and Radish Greens

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

 

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

And, Finally,  Growing and Harvesting Tomatoes!

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

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

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

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

View this post on Instagram

Tomatoes starting to ripen in the garden (finalmente!). Too much rain this week so one ripe one split but was delicious anyway! San Marzano seedlings are smaller. Still have to wait. Zucchini growing like crazy (note to self: make some fried zucchini flowers) and beans have sprouted. Made a second planting of beans today in the few spaces left and staked the volunteer tomato plants from last year that are doing well. Hopefully this succession planting will give us beans into the late fall. In the background my volunteer Brussels sprout plant from last year flowered, made seeds and now is intent on growing. What a menagerie of plants but hopefully will yield delicious results soon! . @real.food.for.infants.toddlers @theitaliangardenproject @burpeehg @burpeegardening #gardeningtips #gardeninspiration #vegetablegarden #growingtomatoes #growingfood #growingfoodisfun @mygardenmanager @mygardenthismonth #growingzucchini #growingzucchinis #zucchiniflowers #growningbeans #growinggreenbeans #growinggreenbeansfromseeds #successionplanting #growfoodnotlawns #growfoodnotgrass #tomatoes🍅 #tomatoesofinstagram #italiangarden #italiangardens #italiangardenstyle #italianliving

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian

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

volere and desiderare.

See below for how this works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Say, “I want…”

with Volere and Desiderare in Italian

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

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

Volere – to want (present tense)

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

lei/lui

vuole you (polite) want

she/he wants

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

 

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

 

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

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

Volere – to want (conditional tense)

io vorrei I would like

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Voglio andare in Italia.

Voglio andare a Roma.

 (I) want to go to Italy.

(I) want to go to Rome.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

   Available on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

 

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

Mixed green lettuce salad with chive flowers and radishes set out on a plant with brie cheese in the center.
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planting a Lettuce Patch…

and Harvesting – Part 2!

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Four Salads for Summer Days

It’s salad time with chive flowers!

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

View this post on Instagram

Salade du jour. Insalata mista. Salad of the day is a “mixed salad.” @theitaliangardenproject @niafitalianamerican first salad from my lettuce garden, with mixed greens, chive flowers and baby radishes. Learn more about how to set up a garden in the Midwest with my blog: https://conversationalitalian.wordpress.com/. Enjoy with brie cheese or the cheese of your choice! #mixedgreens #mixedgreensalad #salad #saladsofinstagram #salads #saladdujour #saladgardener #kitchengarden #kitchengardening #kitchengardens #growingradishesfromseed #growingradishes #growingradishesathome #chives #chiveflowers #frenchchicago #frenchiesofinstagram #foodblogger #foodbloggers #foodbloggersofinstagram #insalata #insalatamista #insalatamista🍃🌿 #frenchsalad #frenchsalads #briecheese #briesalade #briesalade #makemorefrenchfood #saladedujour

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insalata Mista

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Mixed Green Salad

with Gorgonzola Cheese

and Raspberries

 

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

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

 

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

Spinach Salad with

Goat Cheese

and Strawberries

 

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

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

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

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

View this post on Instagram

Salade du jour = salad of the day. Insalata mista #Make a fresh baby spinach salad with strawberries and herbed goat cheese, red onions and almonds but leave out the sugary, artificially flavored dressing! Instead add extra virgin olive oil and mix salad greens, strawberries and onions. Put strawberries on top of leaves. Top with remainder of ingredients and drizzle with aged balsamic vinegar for a springtime treat! #springsalad #springsalads #springsaladseason #goatcheese #goatcheesesalad #goatcheeselover #goatcheeselovers #spinachsalad #babyspinach #babyspinachsalad #frenchfoodathome #frenchiesofinstagram #frenchies #healthylifestyle #healthyfood #healthyfoodie #strawberrysalad #strawberrysalad🍓 #strawberrysalads #berrysalad #berrysalad🍓#frenchsalad #frenchsalads #frenchsaladlovers #makemirefrenchfood #saladedujour #salade #insalatamista

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

 

 

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

 

 

Buon appetito!

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

Learn Conversational Italian books 2017
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 ******************************

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian

are used to talk about
the weather.

See below for how this works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Talk About…

The Weather in Italian

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fa bellissimo.

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

 

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 And our answers, depending on the situation…

Faceva caldo. It was hot. (lit. It made heat.)
Ha fatto caldo tutto il giorno. It was hot all day.  
     
Faceva fresco. It was cool. (lit. It made cool.)
Ha fatto fresco ieri. It was cool yesterday.  
     
Faceva freddo. It was cold. (lit. It made cold.)
Ha fatto freddo quest’inverno. It was cold all winter.  

 

Faceva bel tempo. It was nice weather. (lit. It made nice weather.)
Faceva bello. It was nice outside. (lit. It made nice weather.)
     
Faceva brutto tempo. It was bad weather. (lit. It made bad weather.)
Faceva brutto tempo. It was bad outside. (lit. It made bad weather.)

 


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

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

È primavera.* It is springtime.
Ci sono nuvole scure. There are dark clouds.
Viene a piovere. It is going to rain.
(lit. Here comes the rain.)
C’e la pioggia? Is it raining?
Piove. It’s raining.
Tira vento. It’s windy.
I fiori sono in fiore. The flowers are blooming.
Ho un mazzo di rose rosse che ho colto dal giardino. I have a bunch of red roses that I picked from the garden.

 

È estate.* It is summer.
C’è sole. It’s sunny. (lit. There is sun.)
È umido.
Andiamo alla spiaggia!
Andiamo in montagne!
It’s humid.
Let’s go to the beach!
Let’s go to the mountains!

 

È autunno.* It is autumn.
Fa fresco. It’s cool. (lit. It makes coolness).
Le foglie cadano dagli alberi. The leaves fall from the trees.

 

È inverno.* It is winter.
È gelido. It’s freezing.
La gelata è dappertutto. The frost is everywhere.

 

C’è la neve? Is it snowing?
Nevica. It’s snowing.
C’è la bufera di neve. It’s a snowstorm.
I fiocchi di neve sono tanti. There are so many snowflakes.
I bambini fanno un pupazzo di neve. The children are making a snowman.
Mi piace sciare. Ho gli sci belli. I like skiing. I have wonderful skis.

 

Devo spalare la neve ora! I have to shovel the snow now!
Voglio una pala per la neve. I want a snow shovel.
Uso sempre uno spazzaneve. I always use a snowblower.

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


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

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

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

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

            or

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

   Available on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planting a Lettuce Patch…

and Harvesting!

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

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

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

2 months lettuce 2020-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three rows of new greens in the garden, romaine lettuce, arugula and radishes.
Lettuce and arugula alongside radishes
Different types of young lettuce greens growing in a row with their identifying packet in the background
Mixed lettuce greens

 

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

And how did the herbs overwinter? 

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

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

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

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

Small plant of rue with its identifying marker planted in 2019. Leaves have an unusual feathery appearance.
Original rue plant 2019
Large rue plant after one year of growth outdoors
Rue, May 2020
Close up of the leaves of a small oregano plant from 2019 with marker
Original oregano 2019
Large oregano plant one year later, May 2020
Oregano, May 202
Chives growing outdoors in a pot with spikes of purple flowers in May 2020
Chives flowering May 2020

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

 

Planning Your Vegetable Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Planting Zucchini 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three seed packets with pictures of different types of zucchini.

Zucchini seeds from Italy

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

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

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

 Planting Tomatoes

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

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

Things I do:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Planting Strawberries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View this post on Instagram

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

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

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

Do you have a garden?  

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

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

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

Available on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many “commonly used phrases” in conversation

use the Italian verb
passare.

See below for how this works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Talk About…

The Many Uses for the  Italian Verb Passare

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

 

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

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

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

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

And a few more examples:

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

 

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

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

 

3. Use passare when making references about time

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

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

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

4. Use passare when talking on the telephone

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

 

5. Use the reflexive passarsi to exchange things with someone

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

 

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

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

   Available on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! – Past Tense Imperfetto

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

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

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

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

This post is the 31st in a series of Italian phrases we have been trying out in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group.  If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian

use the past tense

imperfetto

See below for how this works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imperfetto Italian Past Tense

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

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

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

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

Imperfetto Conjugation

  Abitare

(lived)
(used to live)
(was/were living)

Vedere

(saw)
(used to see)
(was/were seeing)

Dormire

(slept)
(used to sleep)
(was/were sleeping)

io abitavo vedevo dormivo
tu abitavi vedevi dormivi
Lei/lei/lui abitava vedeva dormiva
       
noi abitavamo vedevamo dormivamo
voi abitavate vedevate dormivate
loro abitavano vedevano dormivano

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

Below is an excerpt from a conversation between two women, Francesca and Caterina. Caterina is an Italian-American girl who is visiting Francesca and her family in Italy during the Italian holiday of Ferragosto in August.  Francesca meets Caterina on the beach and Francesca mentions that she saw Caterina talking to someone before her arrival. To describe this activity in the recent past, Francesca uses the imperfetto form of the Italian  past tense.

If you would like to listen to the entire dialogue, recorded with an Italian-American and a native Italian speaker, just click on the link from the website Learntravelitalian.com: On the Beach at Last.

Francesca:

Caterina:

Francesca:

Caterina:

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

You may have noticed from the previous dialogue that the imperfetto past tense was used in certain situations, sometimes in combination with the passato prossimo past tense.  If you need a refresher on when to use the passato prossimo past tense, please see our previous blog: Past Tense Passato Prossimo: “Avere” vs. “Essere”? 

So, when to use the imperfetto past tense?  Italians mainly use this tense to express an action that was done habitually in the past but is no longer being done.  Can you think of some things that might take place every day, for instance? For instance, reading the paper, going to school, going to work, and eating breakfast, lunch and dinner?  If you want to talk about how you’ve done these things in the past, use the imperfetto! Sentences that use the imperfetto in this way are translated into the simple present tense and often include an adverb of frequency. Several of these adverbs are listed in the following table:

Italian Adverbs of Frequency

di solito often times
spesso very often
quasi sempre almost always
sempre always

 

Di solito, io finivo la lezione all’una il lunedì.
Often times, I used to finish the class at one o’clock on Mondays.

Quando ero piccolo, andavo a casa di mia nonna molto spesso.
When I was small, I went to my grandmother’s house very often.

 Quasi sempre mi sentivo male quando viaggiavo in barca.
I almost always felt sick when I traveled by boat.

 

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

The other translation of the imprefetto past tense uses was/were -ing, and refers to an action performed in the past without mention of a particular starting or ending time.  This is especially important if two things have happened in the past, in which case the imperfetto is used for the first action in order to describe the setting at the time of both actions.  In this case, the completed action is given in the passato prossimo.  From our dialogue:

Caterina:

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

It is also necessary to use the imperfetto past tense with the Italian verbs of thinking, believing, knowing and feeling  pensare, credere, sapere and sentirein order to refer to situations in the past.

Other phrases that refer to a personal state of being in the past, such as  being hungry or simply existing, use the imperfetto form of the verbs avere and essere.

The imperfetto conjugation of avere is regular:
io avevo,  tu avevi, Lei/lei/lui aveva,  noi avevamo, voi avevate, loro avevano.

The imperfetto conjugation of essere is irregular:
io ero, tu eri, Lei/lei/lui era, noi eravamo, voi eravate, loro erano.

To summarize… More uses for the imperfetto Italian past tense are listed below:

Pensavo che… I thought that…
Credevo che… I believed that…
Non sapevo che… I didn’t know that…
Mi sentivo male. I was feeling badly.
Io avevo fame. I used to be hungry.
Caterina era felice. Kathy was happy.

You will notice a common thread in the reasoning behind when to use the imperfetto: use the imperfetto when making generalizations about the past.

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

For a final exercise using the imperfetto past tense, imagine you are a child and visited your Italian grandparents on their farm one summer. Tell a story in Italian about your daily routine.  Use adverbs of frequency and the imperfetto past tense to describe typical daily activities and how you felt living in the countryside. My attempt at this exercise is below.

Buon divertimento!  Have fun!

 

Un giorno in fattoria:                                    A day on the farm:

Avevo dieci anni l’estate scorso. I was 10 years old last summer.
Abitavo con mia nonna Maria e mio nonno Giuseppe durante l’estate a e mi piaceva molto la compagna! I was living with my grandmother Maria and my grandfather Joseph during the summer and I loved the country very much!
Di solito, io e nonna Maria preparavamo la prima colazione per la famiglia. Usually, io e nonna Maria made breakfast for the family.
Quasi ogni giorno, andavo di fuori per guardare gli animali della fattoria. Almost every day, I went outside to watch the animals on the farm.
Stavo molto bene in compagna. I felt really good in the country.
L’aria era fresca e il cielo era sempre blu.  The air was fresh and the sky was always blue.
Durante i pomeriggi, io e nonno Giuseppe camminavamo con il nostro gregge di pecore in montagne. During the afternoons,  Grandpa Joseph and I walked with our  herd of sheep in the mountains.
Nelle stasere, avevo molto fame! In the evenings, I was very hungry!
Ma non avevo fame per molto tempo perché a casa, nonna Maria cucinava una cena meravigliosa! But I was not hungry for very long, because back at home Grandmother Maria was cooking a wonderful dinner!

Of course, there are many, many more routine activities that can happen in a single day than what we have listed here. You may want to keep a short diary to practice using the imperfetto past tense forms in Italian. Every night before going to bed, write one or two sentences to describe in general how you felt during the day, or a habitual action that you performed. Soon it will be second nature to know when and how to use the Italian  imperfetto past tense!

Remember how to talk about the past using the Italian imperfetto and I guarantee
you will use this Italian past tense every day!

Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Verbs”

   Available on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

Your Italian-American Gardening Tips: Planting a lettuce patch and starting tomato and basil from seeds

Raised garden now has tomatose and peppers growing. Marigolds in the corners.
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! After the (hopefully) last snow, spring has arrived in Chicagoland! Despite all the turmoil in the world right now, in the last week, tulips and daffodils have popped up again around my neighborhood. To me, the reappearance of these pastel-colored, flowering bulbs has a special significance. It means that it is time for me to clear out my garden beds and plant my lettuce patch!

As I have mentioned in previous blogs in “Your Italian Gardening Tips,” last year I had to start a new garden from scratch after I moved from Peoria to a new house in the Chicago suburbs. For me this is a large job, so at first I focused on growing herbs in pots and shared Italian summer recipes that use fresh basil, parsley, and oregano.

This year I plan to focus on tending to my new raised garden. I’ll share photos taken while I plant lettuce and then Italian summer vegetables later in the season. In this blog, I’ll describe how is easy it is to plant a lettuce patch in the springtime and I will start San Marzano tomatoes and Genovese basil from seed.

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

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

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

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

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

Planting a Lettuce Patch

Luckily,  planting a lettuce patch provides some outdoor activity while we are all home bound this spring. All lettuce seeds require to grow is a rectangular bed of soil, some sunshine and a rainy springtime. Even a rectangular tub with low sides can be filled with soil, placed near a sunny, cool spot, and watered regularly for a small “indoor garden.”

But first, I’d like to share some photos from when I built my raised garden beds last year. When I lived in Peoria, I had lots of help from friends who knew how to do carpentry work and as a result I had a large, raised garden along the entire perimeter of my backyard.  But, after I moved, a friend told me about an easy-to-assemble kit that can be bought at Home Depot. Slats are carved into the posts that come in the kit. The planks fit snugly into the slats to create the walls of the garden bed and no nails are required. Being not very handy with a hammer and nails, I was thrilled to hear this!

There are many  raised garden bed kits to choose from on the Home Depot website, of all shapes and sizes. The kit I choose is a Greenes Fence Unfinished Cedar Raised Garden Bed.  I bought two 4 ft. x 8 ft. x 10.5 ft. sets, which I assembled one at a time.  I also bought Vigoro WeedBlock Weed Barrier Landscape Fabric to line the bed with prior to filling it with soil, as I’ve found this black fabric helps tremendously to keep the weeds at bay.  The WeedBlock fabric keeps sunlight out, so weeds cannot grow,  but allows water to drain through to the roots of the plants.

Below are the photos I took as I was assembling my garden last year (with a little help from my son and a friend). In the last photo, taken about a month later,  topsoil has been added and the raised garden completed with “tops” set on the corner posts. Tomatoes and peppers are starting to grow.

One rectangular raised garden bed, showing the slats in the posts and the planks that comprise the sides.
The slats in the posts fit the planks that form the sides of the bed in this raised garden.
A second rectangular raised garden bed has been added to the first and filled with soil, doubling the space available for planting.
Second raised garden bed added to the first

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raised garden now has tomatose and peppers growing. Marigolds in the corners.
Tomato and pepper garden, with marigolds in the corners

 

 

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

So, where is the lettuce patch, you ask? Well, after last year’s harvest, I have to admit I left the garden a bit messy.  But the posts and walls held up well over the winter. Today’s job was to finish clearing out the gardens and to plant the lettuce seeds. We will have to wait to see the lettuce grow! I plan to post the garden’s progress on my Instagram account,  Conversationalitalian.french.

Raised garden with one side cleared of leaves and the other side still to be cleared
Cleaning up a raised garden after winter
Raised garden cleared. Lettuce and sugar snap peas have been planted, but cannot be seen. Brussels sprouts plants along the center of the garden wall.
Lettuce and sugar snap peas planted

By the way, did you notice the Brussels sprout plants along the middle wall between the two gardens? I was shocked to see the stems from the Brussels sprouts that I had planted last year partially alive. They had tiny Brussels sprouts growing near the base of the stem and at the very top. So for now, I left these volunteer plants in place.

 

 

My daughter once called my method of gardening, “Survival of the Fittest” gardening. Sometimes, I think this is true. I don’t like to harm things that are already growing, and am hoping to see a few volunteer tomato and pepper plants from seeds left last year later in the season as well! But, to be honest, I am often distracted by different projects, leaving the poor garden vegetables to compete with the weeds or fen for themselves in the August heat.  I’ll try to do better this year so I have a few respectable photos to show.

Anyway, planting lettuce seeds is very easy.  Just make a shallow row with your spade and sprinkle the tiny seeds along the row.  Yes, there are instructions on the back of each seed packet about how to do this — the depth (important not too deep) and how far the seeds should be planted from each other (less important).  Lettuce seeds are so small, it is almost impossible to space them as described on the package. When the seeds sprout, any sprouts planted too closely can be pulled for your salad, and this will even up the spacing. So I simply sprinkle the seeds in a shallow groove, cover the seeds loosely with soil, water gently, and let them grow, as I know they will!

In the first bed I made 8 rows and planted radishes and different types of lettuces. In the second bed I planted 8 rows of sugar snap peas.  Peas love the cool weather and my family loves peas  so I am hoping these do well this season.

Below are  pictures of the lettuce seeds I planted today, with the row numbers labeled on each. I also planted radishes because they grow quickly and are great in salads and even as a snack. When I was in Paris a couple of years back, I saw a French couple eating them at a very nice restaurant as an appetizer. They spread a whole fresh radish with a bit of  butter and then gently bit into it. But, I have to say, I have not tried this myself. Maybe this year…

Packets of seeds include pictures of radishes, arugula, mixed greens, and romaine
Lettuce and radish seed packets, with rows numbered.

 

 

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

 Growing San Marzano Tomatoes
and
Genovese Basil from Seed

 

At my latest visit to the local Home Depo this year, I was excited to find seeds for Genovese basil and San Marzano tomatoes. I also found a small kit called a “Jiffy Professional Greenhouse” that will allow me to start these seeds indoors with just a grow lamp. I have not tried growing either tomatoes or basil from seed before, but for me it is worth the extra work to have these special Italian varieties available for my Italian cooking this summer.

The kits are small, square plastic containers with rows of starter peat moss.

Jiffy Professional Greenhouse, small plastic square box with San Marzano tomato seeds on top
Jiffy Professional Greenhouse with San Marzano tomato seeds
San Marzano tomato seeds have been planted into expanded soil packets
San Marzano tomato seeds planted

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simply fill with water to expand the peat moss, place 2-3 seeds in each, and cover. Place the beds on a small table with a grow lamp over-head.

When the seeds sprout, there are more instructions on the package about how to transfer them outdoors.  I can’t wait to see how mine do.  I could have as much as 36 plants of tomatoes and 36 more of basil.  Guess I will have to get started building another raised garden…

 

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

Available on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com