Your Italian Travel Tips – Visit Ragusa, Sicily, and Experience Centuries of Culture

Sicily Ragusa Ibla
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! For October, I would like to share details of my recent visit to the ancestral hometown of my Occhipinti family,  which is called Ragusa, and is located high in the mountains of the southeastern tip of Sicily.

If you’ve been following my activities through my Instagram posts on Conversationalitalian.french,  or through my Facebook group,  Conversational Italian! you know that I was thrilled to spend 7 full days in Ragusa just last month.

About once a month, I have been re-blogging a post about lesser-known sites or places to visit in Italy under the title “Your Italian Travel Tips.” I’ve been featuring travel bloggers in this series, but this month I will use this feature to show a bit of what I’ve just experienced in Ragusa in “travel blogger style,” with my own emphasis on language and history.

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


 

Learning Italian
with
Commissario Montalbano

 

Before starting our virtual blogging tour of Ragusa, it should be mentioned that, due to the popularity of the BBC series Detective Montalbano (Commissario Montalbano), based on the detective novels of the brilliant Andrea Camilleri, who the world lost this past July 17, 2019,

the ancient Baroque towns of Ragusa and nearby Scicli and Modica, along with many places along the coast of Southern Sicily, have come into the forefront once again.

Yes, it is true. I am a HUGE fan of the Detective Montalbano series! Over the years,  this BBC series has helped me to gain an understanding of how people really use common Italian expressions (most of which, of course are not found in textbooks, and which I try to focus on in my own books and blogs).

Anyone who has attended even one of my Italian lessons has heard my recommendation for using the Detective Montalbano series as an aid to learning Italian. Listen to the characters as they interact, pick out the phrases you understand and focus on how these phrases are used.  Some characters will be easier to understand than others, just like people in real life.  One caveat—don’t try to understand the character Catarella, who speaks his own version of Sicilian/Italian that even the other characters often mention they do not understand!

Actually, it is amazing that I waited until this late in the blog to mention that I visited many of the locations where the Detective Montalbano series is filmed!

If anyone else is a fan of the Detective Montalbano series, you should know that the entire set of the Montelusa police station is now on permanent exhibition in the city of Scicli and that the Montalbano character’s villa at Punta Secca is now a tourist attraction, along with the restaurant Enzo da Mare a little further down on the beach. There are even “Detective Montalbano” tours on the internet.  If you’d like to create your own tour, simply download the sites of interest from the Ragusa Turismo Site on the internet.  

You will need a car to visit the sites outside of Ragusa, though, as the train is not very efficient in Sicily (or so I am told).

 


 

Particulars of Visiting Ragusa

Transportation (or lack of it) to your hotel:

Ragusa Ibla, or the historic, older section of Ragusa, is an ancient city, carved into the side of a mountain, with narrow, winding cobblestone streets that are interconnected by many steep and just as winding stairways.  As such, most of the city is protected by a limited traffic zone. Tour buses and city buses, along with a train station, are located in lots at the base of this mountain city. So, practically speaking, the first thing to do once you have booked your hotel is to contact the hotel before you arrive (either over the phone or through the Internet), the best way to get from those lots to the hotel front door!  Many hotels will send a porter to help with luggage, and many drivers know also that it will be necessary for them to get out of the car and to walk with luggage to get their guests to their hotel door.  It is always better to arrange this beforehand to eliminate confusion and any hidden fees.

Sicily Ragusa Ibla
Ragusa Ibla (old Ragusa) as viewed from the boarder with Ragusa Superiore (new Ragusa). Maiolica roofed bell tower of Santa Maria dell’Itria and Chiesa Anime Sante del Purgatorio are in the foreground.  The dome of the Baroque cathedral of San Giorgio is in the background.

 

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Where I’ve stayed:

Given the size and age of Ragusa Ibla, it should be noted that accommodations are provided mainly through bed and breakfast style hotels.

The exception is the San Giorgio Hotel, which is literally built into the side of the southern part of the mountainside of Ragusa Ibla. I did stay at this hotel in 2016, and found the staff so pleasant and accommodating (the  concierge actually took it upon himself to help me find the location of my great grandfather’s home) that I would recommend this hotel for those who want a more formal stay. Some of the rooms do not have windows, though, given the location, so I would ask about this if it is a concern. Otherwise, the hotel furnishing were modern, the hotel itself was clean, breakfast was lovely, and as I’ve mentioned the staff were wonderful, and even overly concerned that I enjoy my stay, some even mentioning their cousins with the Occhipinti name.

I have to admit that I chose the bed and breakfast I stayed at just recently for my 7 day trip based mostly on photos of the breakfast selection I found on the internet!  After several evenings of searching, I came upon the breakfast room of the lovely Hotel Sabbinirica, and chose to stay in the guesthouse around the back of the main hotel.  The guest house was spacious and clean, with a small courtyard, although it did not offer a view of the city.  And the breakfast did not disappoint! Every day the owners were on sight to make fresh espresso drinks to order and the breakfast table was laden with fruit, many varieties of Sicilian pastries (with new ones to try each day), Sicilian cheeses, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, toast and cold cuts. Juices, as usual throughout Italy, were freshly squeezed.  And the breakfast room was charming, a mixture of the old and new, built into the side of the mountain.

Sicilian Pastries from Hotel Sabbinirica Ragusa Sicily
Sicilian Pastries from Hotel Sabbinirica in Ragusa Ibla

 

Sicilian Pastries from Hotel Sabbinirica

 

Breakfast room at Hotel Sabbinirica, Ragusa, Sicily
Breakfast room at Hotel Sabbinirica, Ragusa, Sicily

 

The owners came to pick us up from the parking at the foot of the mountain in a motorized golf cart and drove us to the entrance of the bed and breakfast, showed us our room, and very kindly gave us directions on how to reach the main piazza (which was not far away) with the restaurants for dinner. At the reception were pamphlets that held suggestions for tours, both group and private and notice of a bus schedule to the surrounding town. To the side of the reception area was a small boutique filled with handcrafted Sicilian pottery and embroidery.

After our check-in, it was a long walk up the stairs each evening to reach the Hotel Sabbinirica from the taxi station at the Piazza Repubblica, or an even longer climb from the parking lot below. But, once reached, the hotel is on the same level as the lively main piazza that is lined with most of the shops and restaurants in town and hosts the largest church, San Giorgio at its far end. In the morning and evening, the hotel entrance boasted spectacular views of Ragusa Superior, and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at this hotel. 

Stairway to Hotel Sabbinirica, Ragusa Sicily
Stairway to Hotel Sabbinirica, Ragusa Sicily
Walking to the Piazza San Giorgio, Ragusa Ibla
Walking to the Piazza San Giorgio, Ragusa Ibla

 

There are many charming bed and breakfasts in Ragusa Ibla.  If you have a favorite, please share your experience!

 


Where to eat for a special night:

There are many restaurants in Ragusa that offer local specialties, from pizza to formal dining with all courses (antipasto, primo of pasta, secondo of fish or meat, and dolce). When traveling, I usually choose the restaurant where I have dinner on the spur of the moment, based on the location I end up at after I finish exploring for the day (side street not main piazza), the menu (no pictures, local specialties) and the clientele (locals).

While I was not in Ragusa every evening, so I cannot give an exhaustive list of restaurant recommendations, I did dine at MareDentro twice for dinner, and loved their fresh seafood and preparation of traditional Sicilian dishes.

I also had one special dinner with my traveling companion at the Duomo restaurant of Chef Ciccio Sultano.  The webiste Great Italian Chefs  says: “One of Sicily’s best-loved chefs, Ciccio Sultano has traveled as far as New York to hone his craft. Now back home, Ciccio’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant Duomo is the standard bearer for Sicilian haute cuisine, attracting diners from far and wide to the city of Ragusa.”

My experience truly lived up to the hype. Despite the fact that we had only ordered a primo and secondo course, we were offered so many “special” treats that the chef “would be so pleased for us to try” that I was truly dazzled. Not only by the number of offerings abut also by the style of the chef. I don’t usually take photos of the food while I am out dining, so I guess we will just have to go with this description of my meal from the Great Italian Chefs website:” It only takes a cursory glance at Ciccio’s food to see that these dishes are unmistakably his. His playful, artistic flair is always on display, and his plates are a unique combination of his avant garde character and his love and respect for the food of his home.”

Then I found this description of the restaurants in Ragusa from The Thinking Traveler:

“The restaurant “Duomo”, in Via Capitano Bocchierei, 31, is double Michelin-starred and considered one of the very best restaurants in Italy, while La Locanda di Don Serafino and La Fenice both have 1 Michelin Star… Is Ragusa the gourmet capital of Sicily?”

 


Oh, and by the way… gelato:

This is an easy one. Both gelato shops on the main piazza in Ragusa were fantastic, with unusual flavors I have not seen in other parts of Italy.

Ragusa Gelato flavors
Gelato in Ragusa, Sicily

 


 

Short Historical Tour of Ragusa

Before the city of Ragusa was called Ragusa, it was founded by the indigenous people of Sicily and known in the world of ancient Greece as Hybla Heraea.  The Greeks colonized much of southeastern Sicily and flourished, especially in Agrigento along the southern coast and Siracusa along the eastern coast.  Southern Sicily in antiquity was considered a center of learning, with Archimedes (the philosopher and mathematician who discovered that 3.14… is pie), one of its most brilliant minds. Ragusa, however, remained independent from the Greeks, only to be overtaken by the Romans in the middle of the third century B.C. After this conquest, the city fell under the rule of many different peoples, but was finally given the name “Ragus” when under Arab rule. After the Norman conquest in 1060, the name was changed to Ragusa, which the city has carried to this day.  In 1860, Garibaldi added Ragusa to the newly united Kindgom of Italy.

Here is a short synopsis of how the Ragusa the visitor sees today came to be from The thinking Travaeler:

“Essentially Baroque, the Ragusa you will see today dates almost entirely from 1693. Indeed, it was in this year that Ragusa, along with its neighbours, NotoModica, Scicli and Catania, was razed to the ground by a terrible earthquake that hit most of the eastern side of Sicily.”

“Public opinion on where to rebuild the town was divided, and so a compromise was made. The wealthier, more aristocratic citizens built a new town in a different site, now Ragusa “Superiore”, while the other half of the population decided to rebuild on the original site, on a ridge at the bottom of a gorge, now Ragusa Ibla. The two towns remained separated until 1926 when they were merged to become the chief town of the province, taking the place of Modica.”

The town Ragusa Ibla is part of the Val di Noto UNESCO Heritage site and 18 of its buildings are protected by UNESCO patronage.

 


 

 Short Walking Tour of Ragusa

A visit to the Commune Ragusa website yields a list of churches and buildings for a UNESCO walking tour of Ragusa, and in particular a tour of Baroque architecture, or the Barocco tour.  There is a trolley that will take you on a tour as well, circling around the outer perimeter of the mountain to reach many of these sites.

Baroque architecture is said to have originated in Italy in Rome in the early 17th Century, and then to have spread into other parts of the Italian peninsula and Europe. By the mid-17th century, this highly decorative style was used to create churches with frescoes covering every inch of their walls and ceilings, which were held up by colorful, spiraled columns. The exteriors of government buildings and private homes were decorated with ornate, heavy balconies supported by heavy, statuesque corbels and framed by undulating ironwork to show wealth and power.

Baroque balcony in Ragusa Ibla, Sicily
Baroque balcony in Ragusa Ibla, Sicily

 

Ragusa is just one town in a group of nine towns of medieval origin located in the Val di Noto, or southeastern Sicily that were rebuilt in splendor in the new Baroque style after the earthquake of 1693 devastated this region. The other towns are: Caltagirone, Militello, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ispica and Scicli.

On the first day of our stay in Ragusa, we visited the cathedral of San Giorgio and the  Later, we decided to follow the large, brown street signs from our hotel on the border of Ragusa Ibla to Ragusa Superiore.  Below are some images from our tours of Ragusa to enjoy.

Baroque cathedral San Giorgio in Ragusa, Sicily
Baroque cathedral Basilica di San Giorgio, completed in 1775

 

Portale San Giorgio, Ragusa Sicily
The door of the original San Giorgio church in Ragusa, the only surviving portion of the church built before the earthquake of 1693.

 

Giardino Ibleo, a public garden in Ragusa Ibla
Giardino Ibleo, a public garden in Ragusa Ibla

 

Entry to the main piazza in Ragusa
Entry to the main piazza in Ragusa

 

Walking toward Ragusa Superiore
Walking toward Ragusa Superiore

 

Walking to Piazza Repubblica
Walking to Piazza Repubblica

 

Map of a walking tour of Ragusa at the info center
Map of a walking tour of Ragusa on a wall at the info center

 

Via Scale steps from Ragusa Ibla to Ragusa Superiore
Start of via Scale staircase to cross from Ragusa Ibla to Ragusa Superiore

 

Looking back on Ragusa Ibla while crossing to Ragusa Superiore
Looking back on Ragusa Ibla while crossing to Ragusa Superiore

 

Ragusa Ibla from Ragusa Superiore
Ragusa Ibla from Ragusa Superiore

 


 

Sites of Interest

in and around

Ragusa

Church of Santa Maria delle Scale: location offers spectacular views of Ragusa Ibla. and is the oldest church in Ragusa. Occasional site of filming to use Ragusa Ibla as the backdrop for scenes in the Detective Montalbano series.

Palazzo Casentini—late 1700’s Baroque style

Palazzo Bertini—late 1700’s Baroque style

Church of San Giuseppe—Baroque church that houses many Baroque works of art; San Giuseppe is the patron saint of Ragusa, while San Giorgio is the patron saint of Ragusa Iba

Hyblean Archeological Museum—along the outskirts of Ragusa. Can’t believe I missed it this time around!

Shopping in Ragusa Superiore—My favorite shop for women’s fashion, Louisa Spagnoli is in Ragusa Superiore along the main shopping boulevard.  More casual styles than the Louisa Spagnoli shop by Piazza del Popolo in Rome.

Castello di Donnafugata (means “source of health” in Arabic; when translated into Sicililan sounds similar to the Italian “donnafugata”, but does not mean “the woman who fled”)—large estate with villa with origins in the 14th century, but current style in each room preserved as a museum is from the 19th century. Occasional site of filming for Detective Montalbano series.

Marina di Ragusa—Loved walking on the boardwalk along the beach at Marina di Ragusa one evening. This is where the Italians vacation with their families and after dinner is the time to “fare una passegiatta” (take a leisurely stroll). If you like people watching, this is the place, as everyone is dressed in the latest summer styles to “fare una buona figura” (make a good appearance). There is a large boulevard along the boardwalk and across the street are many apartments for rent for a week or more, a few hotels, and many restaurants large and small catering to Italian tourists. Maybe for my next trip?

 

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Your Italian Travel Tips – It’s Ferragosto! Let’s Party Like the Romans

Ferragosto on the beach from "Take Me Home Italy" blog
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! For August I would like to share a blog from “Take Me Home Italy,” written by Marilyn Ricci, a friend who has recently moved to Italy and has been sharing her experiences with us through her writing.

About once a month, I have been re-blogging a post about lesser-known sites or places to visit in Italy under the title “Your Italian Travel Tips.”

And, what better way to explore Italy and provide travel tips than to live there?  Marilyn has been able to experience first hand the important August celebration of Ferragosto.  To Italians, Ferragosto is a very important family and religious celebration, with roots that date back to Roman times.  Over the years,  the meaning  of Ferragosto has changed, but its importance has not diminished, and to Italians, it is still a very special holiday family get-together and summer fun, which brings the same excitement as the Christmas season later in the winter months.

Marilyn writes:

Have you heard of Ferragosto? Ferragosto is officially a holiday on 15 August. Yet, for Italians, it is typically more than one day of celebration.

What IS Ferragosto? Where did it come from and why is it such a huge national holiday?

Back when Augustus was the Roman Emperor, in the year 18 B.C.E., he instituted the Feriai Augusti, a day of rest for the Emperor and his people. The day was dedicated to the Roman god of fertility and of the harvest. It was a time to celebrate and be fruitful as only the Romans could do.

Click on this link to read the full blog: It’s Ferragosto! Let’s Party Like the Romans

 

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

Italian Wine: In Memoriam: Lucio Caputo by Tom Maresca

How the Italians were able to win over the US market for high quality wine. Fascinating article.

Charles Scicolone on Wine

In Memoriam: Lucio Caputo

Earlier this month, Lucio Caputo died at the age of 84. His passing didn’t attract a lot of attention outside the wine world, but within that micro-universe it reverberated enormously.

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From 1974 to 1982, Caputo was the Italian Trade Commissioner in New York, at that time a position of incredible importance for Italian products in the United States, and most especially for Italian wine. He left the Italian civil service in 1983 (declining a fat government pension) to stay on in New York to found the Italian Wine and Food Institute, an agency he successfully headed for the next 30 years. The IWFI did a tremendous job over that period of promoting the best of Italian wines and food products. Its annual tastings and awards dinners were always highlights of the season for wine professionals.

But for those of us who remember what the situation of…

View original post 553 more words

Your Italian-American Gardening Tips (with Recipes) – Oregano (Origano) and Zucchini (Zucchina)

Italian-American Gardening tips - herb oregano
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! This week I will share about how to grow the herb oregano and it’s perfect Italian companion zucchini for one of my favorite Italian side-dishes, a simple “stew” of zucchini and tomatoes with onions and oregano.  Even children who don’t like summer squash will love this dish! 

As I’ve mentioned before, this summer I’ve had to start a new garden from scratch now that I have moved to the Chicago suburbs from Peoria. So I thought I would take a few photos and share some of what I’ve come to know about gardening with this series “Your Italian Gardening Tips.” 

For as long as I can remember, both sides of my Italian family have established summer vegetable gardens here in America.  My grandfather was a master gardener, and used knowledge he brought over from Sicily to create his perfect garden in a very small patch of land in Brooklyn, New York.

Meanwhile, my grandmother was busy in the kitchen cooking our favorite meals with the fresh fruits and vegetables that my grandfather grew. She passed down the simple but delicious method for stewing zucchini with tomatoes and oregano to our family here in America.  After reading about how to grow oregano and zucchini,  you can watch me it in action as I cook the dish by clicking the Instagram link if you want!

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

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

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

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Italian Herb Oregano – Origano

 

Italian-American Gardening tips - herb oregano
Oregano – just getting started growing in my garden

Oregano is a perennial, bush-like plant that is commonly used in tomato salads or combined with zucchini and tomatoes for a vegetable side dish (contorno). In the United States, oregano became popular after World War II, when it was brought back from Italy by American soldiers and became a common addition to tomato sauces in Italian-American households.

Oregano will come up each spring if planted directly in the garden, usually growing a bit larger each year.  Oregano likes sun, but can also grow in partial shade. Trim frequently with kitchen scissors and dry or keep the leaves fresh in the refrigerator on the stalk. Significant amounts of oregano can be harvested early in summer and the plant will regrow. Allow to flower late in the summer.  The plant is cold hardy and can survive a fall or spring frost, but will die back in the winter.  Remove any remaining dead branches in the spring and the plant will grow for another season.

To harvest oregano, cut off the stem with its leaves.  Then, use a small knife or your fingers to run down the length of the stem and remove the small leaves. Discard the stem. To dry,, bundle and hang from the stems upside down.  When dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store in an air-tight container away from heat.

 

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 Italian Summer Squash – Zucchina e Cucuzza

Zucchina is one zucchini in Italian
Two zucchini plants growing side by side in the garden.

Zucchini in English, or zucchina/zucchine in Italian is a summer squash, also known as a marrow.  The immature form of a marrow is called a courgette. The smaller courgettes, which have more flesh and less seeds than the mature summer squash, are used widely in Italian cooking. Zucchini is popular fried, stewed, and even hollowed out and stuffed, and usually served as an appetizer or a side dish.  The zucchini flowers are edible and are often stuffed and fried as an appetizer.

Zucchini can be planted after the last threat of frost is over. Zucchini like well-manured, moist soil and can even grow on a compost heap (from personal experience)! Create a mound of soil and plant 4-6 seeds around the mound so the plants will grow next to one another.  This will encourage pollination by bees, who can easily fly from one flower to the next.

Male zucchini plant
Male zucchini flower on a long stalk from my garden

Zucchini plants come in male and female varieties, although they look identical and have almost identical flowers. However, only the female plant will produce a zucchini, which grows from the base of the female flower itself.  Male flowers will grow on a long, slender stalk.  When the pollen is transferred from the male to the female flower, the zucchini at the base of the female flower will enlarge as the flower slowly becomes smaller and finally dies off.  Some gardeners transfer the pollen from the male to the female flower on the tip of a Q-tip, hoping to ensure a large crop of zucchini fruit, but usually this is not necessary if enough seeds are planted.

For the most flavorful zucchini, harvest when 5-6″ long by cutting them off at the stem. Refrigerate with the short stem intact until ready to use. Be careful to check daily, or a giant zucchini may appear unexpectedly in the garden and most of the flesh will be replaced by seeds! Frequent harvesting will also encourage more female flowers to emerge and in turn this will produce more fruit.

Zucchini leaves are susceptible to fungus, and may turn brownish, but the plant should continue to produce fruit. Slugs and other insects may bore into the stem and cause the leaves to wilt and die. Sprinkling crushed egg shells on the soil may discourage slugs, who don’t like to slide over the shells. Planting zucchini in a different location each year will help to avoid the spread of these diseases to your crop next year.

To cook zucchini, simply cut off the stem and the opposite end and then cut the entire vegetable cross-wise into rounds or lengthwise into sticks or strips.

 

Cucuzza 

Image from www.specialtyproduce.com

A famous long, thin, light green squash that is harvested in the summer from southern Italy and Sicily is known as “cucuzza.”  Cucuzza (pronounced “goo-gooz” in  Sicilian dialect) typically grows from 1 to 3 feet. Unlike a true summer squash, the skin from this squash must be peeled before cooking.  There is a well-known Sicilian proverb that states, “Cucinala come vuoi, sempre cucuzza è!” meaning, “However you cook it, it’s still just squash!” 

Cucuzza is also used as an endearing term for a young girl in a 1950’s Italian novelty song sung by Louis Prima called, “My Cucuzza.”  He sings about the vegetable, Cucuza grows in Italy down on the farm.  It’s something like zucchini flavored with Italian charm… I call my girl cucuzza because she’s as sweet as can be.”  To hear the song sung by Louis Prima in it’s entirety, click this My Cucuzza link.

 

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Zucchini with Tomatoes and Oregano

Stewed zucchini, tomatoes and oregano
Stewed zucchini and tomatoes with fresh oregano and a slice of crusty Italian bread.

Watch the method in time elapse photography as I cook this dish on my Instagram channel by clicking here:

View this post on Instagram

That’s Italian! Zucchini and with tomatoes and fresh oregano (origano) from your garden – an easy-to-make and delicious vegetable side dish for summer. Even your kids will love this! Just sauté onions (don’t let brown) and zucchini with a pinch of salt a little olive oil. Add tomatoes, garlic, oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Delizioso! Delicious! #osnap #chicagogarden #chicagogardener #chicagoland #italyinamerica #italiangardens #italiangardenstyle #oregano #oreganoplant #summersquash ##origano🍃 #origanofresco🌿 #origanofresco #zucchinirecipes #zucchinis #zucchina #zucchiniplant #summersquash #howtocook #howtocookzucchini #italianfood @italynearme #howtocookvegetables #howtocookvegetablestew

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

 

Ingredients: 

olive oil, 1 onion, 3 medium-size Zucchini, 6 plum tomatoes, fresh oregano, salt

Method: 

  1. Coarsely chop the onion, zucchini and tomatoes. (See the video for the method to chop these vegetables.)
  2. Pour olive oil into a large frying pan with high sides or a pot large enough to accommodate all the vegetables, heat briefly, and then add the onions and a pinch of salt.
  3. When the onions have softened, and turned clear, add the zucchini. Cover and let zucchini cook on medium heat to soften, stirring occasionally. Do not let zucchini or onions brown.
  4. When zucchini ha softened, add the chopped tomatoes and salt to taste with a few grinds of pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat. If needed, add a little water.
  5. When the tomatoes have softened, add the oregano and cook until the herb has softened.
  6. When all vegetables have softened, but are not mushy, they are done!  The finished vegetable dish should have a little bit of “juice” and can be served in a separate small bowl if wanted.
  7. Serve with Italian bread to “sop up” the juices.

Buon appetito!

 

 

Your Italian Travel Tips – Matera: European Capital of Culture 2019

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

Ciao a tutti! Once again, here is a blog with unique travel tips that I would like to share.

About once a month, I have been re-blogging a post about lesser-known sites or places to visit in Italy under the title “Your Italian Travel Tips.”

The post for June 2019 was written by Orna O’Reilly, in her blog “Travelling Italy.”  O’Reilly is a former interior designer from Ireland, who also worked for many years in South Africa and Mozambique. Now living in Puglia in the south of Italy, Orna is writing full time and her award winning blog covers all things Italian.  Orna regularly writes for popular Italy Magazine and for glossy Irish magazine Anthology. Word on the street is that Orna will have a new novel out soon, set in modern day Venice and Dublin… Hope to be able to share more about this novel soon!

Orna writes this about Matera:

Dating back over 7000 years, the Sassi are said to be the oldest human habitation in Italy. After the inhabitants were rehoused in the 1950s, many of the caves were restored and, since the 1980s, many of them are now used as hotels, restaurants and homes for those original Sassi dwellers who wished to return.

Having an ancient biblical appearance, in most people’s imagination, over the years Matera has been the setting for at least twenty major movies. These include the obvious candidates, Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion of the Christ’ and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s ‘The Gospel According to St. Matthew’, though other less likely movies have been filmed there, such as last year’s ‘Wonder Woman.’

In the blog to follow, Orna tells us in detail not only about the history of Matera, but what it is like to visit the city today.  After reading her blog, I felt like visiting myself, and hope to do so one day soon.  All of the highlights of the town are mentioned, with beautiful photos so that one feels they are actually waking down the city streets of Matera with a friend. And, of course, it is important to read to the end of the blog to come to the recommendations for hotels and dining!

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

Orna O'Reilly: Travelling Italy

Four hundred metres above sea level, among the rolling hills of Basilicata in southern Italy, lies the haunting city of Matera.

It is bisected by a deep ravine through which the River Gravina flows.

The sides of this deep gorge are studded by ancient cave dwellings known as Sassi, where families lived from Palaeolithic times, right up to the 1950s when the inhabitants were rehoused by the Italian government with the aid of UNESCO.

In 1993, the Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This was on the basis that it is the ‘most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region, perfectly adapted to its terrain and ecosystem.’ The UNESCO website goes on to say that the ‘first inhabited zone dates from the Palaeolithic, while later settlements illustrate a number of significant stages in human history.’

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Your Italian-American Gardening Tips (with Recipes) – Basil (Basilico) and Parsley (Prezzemolo)

Basilico, Italian sweet basil from Italy
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! Summer to the Italian-Americans I know means a garden of herbs and vegetables —of  fragrant basil, parsley and pungent tomatoes allowed to ripen in the sun—at the very least!

This summer, I’ve had to start a new garden from scratch now that I have moved to the Chicago suburbs from Peoria. So I thought I would take a few photos and share some of what I’ve come to know about gardening with this series “Your Italian Gardening Tips.” 

For as long as I can remember, both sides of my Italian family have established summer vegetable gardens here in America.  My grandfather was a master gardener, and used knowledge he brought over from Sicily to create his perfect garden in a very small patch of land in Brooklyn, New York.  As a small child, I knew that my fondest memories of summer would begin as I opened the large, decorative, black iron gate to enter what to me was a miraculous place – my grandparent’s a two story attached brick building that had my grandfather’s grape vines growing happily along the only free side.  Out back, there was a small cement landing where the family gathered amid large decorative clay pots of herbs, with a pergola for the ripened grapes to hang from and provide shade, of course!

The rest of my grandfather’s yard was dedicated to all kinds of  vegetables, perfectly staked  in neat rows so that no space was lost on his small plot of land.  I loved picking the fragrant basil, perfectly red, vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh, soft  purple figs to take home. Yes, my grandfather even managed to keep fig trees alive during the cold NYC winters by bundling the branches up a pail and covering them with blankets, just so we could enjoy baskets of fresh figs for the summer.  And enjoy them we did!

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

Below are my insights on growing Basil and Parsley.  Please leave a comment if you want. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned about growing or using these herbs!  

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

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Italian Herb Basil – Basilico

 

Basilico Basil
Ornamental basil with leaves of different sizes and colors

Basil is an annual plant whose leaves are valued for their use in flavoring Italian tomato sauces and in appetizers with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella.

Two of the most famous Italian appetizers are Capresi Salad, from the island of Capri (tomato, mozzarella, basil) and Panzanella Salad (bread, tomato, basil). Fresh basil from the region of Liguria (nearby Genoa) is ground slowly with olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese with a marble mortar and pestle to make the famous Pesto Genovese.  To read more about this basil sauce, click on my blog Pesto Genovese Meets American Aquaponic Farming in Chicago

There are many types of basil that can be found growing in Italy and other countries. Italian flat leaf “sweet” basil is most often used in Italian cooking, and the basil from Liguria is said to be the most aromatic and have the most complex flavor.

Basil must be grown from seed each year. Do not sow outdoors, as basil plants are very sensitive to frost. Sow indoors and plant outdoors only when the last threat of frost is over for your region. Basil grows well in containers, but will need bright sunshine, at least in the morning, and almost daily watering; if exposed to sunlight all day, the leaves may wilt, but additional water the plant will quickly recover.

 

Basilico, Italian sweet basil from Italy
Italian “sweet” basil with a broad leaf for cooking

When small, white flowers appears in mid to late summer, pinch back the stem, removing all the flowers, and harvest of the leaves can continue. Otherwise, the plant will go to seed and die.

If a basil stem with a few leaves is cut from the plant and placed in a glass of water on a sunny windowsill, roots will soon develop. When a good root ball has formed, the basil stem can be planted in a small pot of soil and will develop into a larger plant. This is a good way to keep fresh basil available during the winter months.

To harvest basil, pinch off several leaves or pinch off the stem from the top of the plant. Wash the leaves, pat dry, and shred by hand to add to tomato sauces or salads. Southern Italians love the cool flavor of fresh basil, and will top a plate of spaghetti and tomato sauce with freshly torn basil as summertime treat.

To dry basil, harvest the entire plant and either hand upside down from the stem or place in a paper bag. When the leaves have dried, they can be removed. Store leaves whole for best flavor, or crumble. Place in an air-tight container in a cool, dry place.

 

Caprese Salad

Check out my Instagram post if you’d like to see the method for the easy-to-make and delicious Caprese salad, which is said to originate from the island of Capri. The ingredients are the key to this “salad”:  fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes,  soft buffalo mozzarella (from the water buffalo raised in the countryside near Capri, in the Campagna region) and fresh basil leaves.  A touch of sea-salt to bring the juices out of the tomatoes that provide the acid for the “vinaigrette” and a drizzle of your favorite extra-virgin olive oil makes an exquisite summertime treat!

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Caprese Salad: Let’s use our fresh basil (basilico), heirloom tomatoes, and buffalo mozzarella with extra virgin olive oil to make this flavorful salad from the Italian island of Capri. The secret is very ripe tomatoes and a little sea salt to allow the tomato juices to escape and blend with the olive oil. Buon appetito! #osnap #chicagogardening #chicagogardener #chicagogarden #italyinamerica #italiangardenstyle #basil #basilico #basilico🌱 #basilsalad #tomatoandbasil #tomatobasil #basilandtomato #basilandtomatoes #freshbasilandtomatoes #buffalomozzarella #buffalomozzarellacheese #buffalomozzarellasalad @chicagolanditalians @niafitalianamerican @sons_of_italy #freshsummersalad #freshsummertomoatoes #italianfood #italiangardens #italianfood

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Italian Herb Parsley – Prezzemolo

 

Prezzemolo Italian parsley
Italian flat leaf parsley growing in an Italian clay pot

Parsley is a biennial plant whose leaves are valued for their use in flavoring sauces, stews, and salads. Finely chopped parsley is also used in combination with basil and lemon zest in the south of Italy, and is called “gremolata,” which is used in sauces and to top meat dishes. Italian flat leaf parsley is used for cooing; curly leaf parsley is used as a garnish.

Parsley is a hardy plant that will survive into the winter months. If planted in the spring, the plant will grow through the summer and even into the fall and winter, when the temperature falls. Since parsley is a biennial, it will bloom again the next spring, but the second year it will go to seed and die at the end of the season. Replant the third year and the cycle starts again! Parsley needs frequent watering. Pinch off flowers if the plant starts to go to seed too early in the summer.

To harvest parsley, cut the stem with kitchen scissors. Save the fresh stems to bundle with kitchen twine and put in sauces and stews for flavoring. The stems can be saved in the refrigerator for a week, frozen, or dried.

 

Prezzemolo Italian flat leaf parsley
Italian flat leaf parsley

 

Remove the leaves from the stem by running the side of a large knife along the stem. Then lay the leaves out on a chopping board and chop coarsely with a large kitchen knife. Or, for finer chopped parsley bundle together before chopping.

To dry parsley, harvest the entire plant, bundle the stems together, and hand upside down. Or place in a paper bag. When the leaves have dried, they can be removed, crumbled, and stored in an air-tight container.

 

Summer Squash with Parsley

Check out my Instagram post if you’d like to see the method for this easy-to-make side dish that combines fresh parsley with zucchini and yellow summer squash.  A quick saute in a bit of olive oil and the addition of  finely chopped fresh parsley and garlic at the end (called a persillade in French cooking) makes a colorful and delectable side dish for any summertime meal.

 

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Great summer squash dish using your garden fresh French persil, Italian prezzemolo or parsley! Make a persillade from Provence region of France and add to a vegetable saute. Your kids will love eating their vegetables! Method: Chop parsley and then garlic finely. Mix together and chop again. Saute yellow squash and zucchini in olive oil. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Add persillade mixture. Violà! #chicagogardening #chicagogardener #chicagogarden #italyinamerica #italiangardenstyle #franceinamerica #franceinamerica🇫🇷🇺🇸 #osnap @niafitalianamerican @chicagolanditalians @sons_of_italy #herbgarden #herbs #herb #parsley #parsleypants #parsleyhealth #prezzemolo #prezzemoloevitale #persil #persillade #frenchcooking #frenchcookingathome #frenchcookingclass #frenchcountrycooking #cookingfresh #frenchprovincialcooking #cookingfrench #frenchherbs #italianherbs

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Catnip and gray cat
My cat Gracie protecting her favorite herb!

Fathers Day Saying from Dante – Father of the Italian Language

Dante Alighieri Duomo in Florence

Fathers Day Saying from Dante

Il 16 di Giugno

Buona Festa della Papà!

Happy Father’s Day!

Auguri! = Best Wishes

a tutti i padri, nonni, e bisnonni del mondo!

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

Fathers Day saying from Dante? Why? Well, I have to confess that the famous Italian poet of old, so famous that we all have come to know him by just one name – Dante –  has crept unexpectedly into my life.

I have recently been reading  Dianne Hales book La Bella Lingua, a little bit each night.  The subtitle to this book is, “My love affair with Italian, the world’s most enchanting language,” and I would encourage every serious student of Italian to read this book to discover just how the Italian language we love so much came about.

In this book, we relive the “story” of the adoption of Italian by Italians as told through Dianne’s experiences in Italy; she discovers the facts of history, bit by bit, directly from scholars she interviews as well as from the  families that she meets every day during the many months of the year she spends in Italy.

The third chapter is dedicated to Dante, who was born into an educated family for Florence as Durante degli Alighieri in 1265.  At the beginning of Dante’s life, Latin was the language of scholars. Diane explains Dante’s genius as a poet in the Italian language that had been developing for hundreds of years before his time.  Dante’s three volume Commedia (The Divine Comedy) was the longest serious work written in Italian up to that point, and earned him the title  “Father of Italian.” The Renaissance developed in Florence as Dante was writing this book in the early 1300’s.  Italians still study Dante in school today; his rhyming story-line of one man’s journey from hell to paradise, and the different characters he meets along the way,  still  permeate the culture in many ways.

After I discovered Dante’s history and place in Italian life, I decided I had to learn more. So, I went to an Italian website, and found several of Dante’s most famous phrases. I’ve reprinted his verse that includes a phrase about true love for everyone to enjoy this Fathers Day.

When I first read this verse written so long ago, it made me think of the type of love that can be shared by families even today.  The type of love that parents show their children to let them know that they believe in them. The type of love that my father showered on his two daughters when he was alive, and for which I will always be grateful.

Do Dante’s words remind you of a loved one?
Leave a comment.  I’d love to hear from you!

Happy American Fathers Day!

I

L’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle:

«Alla mia grande capacità di immaginazione mancarono le forze;

ma Dio, l’amore che fa muovere il sole e le altre stelle,

faceva già girare il mio desiderio e la mia volontà,

come una ruota che gira con moto uniforme».

The love that moves the sun and other stars is verse 145 of the XXXIII canto Paradise of Dante Alighieri and the conclusion of the entire Comedy .  Paraphrase:
This verse at the conclusion of the work is dedicated to God, and today used to refer not only to the greatness of divine love, but also to the love that all of humanity is capable of.

 

If you would like to read more famous phrases by Dante, here is the link:

Frasi di Dante

Venice, Dad's favorite city
My father enjoying a gondola ride in Venice, his favorite Italian city, with me and my children in 2013.

Your Italian Travel Tips – Productive Relaxation, Italian Style in Panicale

Blogging in Italy Panicale in Umbria
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! About once a month (or so), I have been re-blogging posts that describe the lesser known places in Italy – or the more well-known viewed in a unique way – under the heading, “Your Italian Travel Tips.”

For May 2019, I am featuring Judy and Len, a retired couple who now live part time in the town of Cortona in the Umbria region of Italy, and write the blog Blogging in Italy.

I was intrigued when I read Judy and Len’s latest blog to see that they had visited a town so small it is not easily found on the map and is definitely off the radar for most tourists. The town is called Panicale, and I had never heard of it before.  I found Panicale on my map of Italy by locating Florence in Tuscany and then heading steadily southward through the towns of  Arezzo and Cortona.  Finally, I crossed into the region of Umbria, where Lago Trasimeno (Lake Trasimeno) came into view. Along the southern fringe of the mountain range that borders Lago Trasimeno, I finally found the town of Panicale, which is the topic of their blog.

The blog “Productive Relaxation Italian Style” is a charming description of how the couple Judy and Len spent a typical day in Italy enjoying the people, food and scenery, and includes many photos of Panicale –  which, as it turns out, is a hidden gem of a town that has a history dating back to the Romans.  Included in the visuals is a beautiful ancient map of the town. Oh – and you will also find the secret of how to grow a hearty crop of your own zucchini this summer, as the couple are avid gardeners.  What better way to spend a part of your day Italian style – even if for now, it is only to read about it?

Judy and Len’s philosophy can be found in this excerpt from their blog “Productive Relaxation, Italian Style”:

In Italy, there is a sight commonly found in smaller towns – men sitting on benches, or standing in small groups, discussing everything from local politics to international sports events. Meanwhile, their wives are shopping, visiting, cooking, cleaning, etc.  What they all have in common is the phrase: Siamo in pensione, or, we are retired. 

We, too, take this retirement thing seriously. Take productive relaxation for example, not an oxymoron but instead an art.

To read the full blog, click on the title: Productive Relaxation Italian Style

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

 

Your Italian Travel Tips – Weird Italy Laws by Margie for Pesce d’Aprile

Margie Miklas blog Weird Italian Laws
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! About once a month (or so), I have been re-blogging posts that describe the lesser known places in Italy – or the more well-known viewed in a unique way – under the heading, “Your Italian Travel Tips.”

For April 2019, I am featuring Margie Miklas, an author and travel blogger who writes the blog Margie in Italy.

When I first read a recent blog of Margie’s entitled “Weird Italian Laws,” I loved the insider’s perspective and touch of humor that she used to describe these unusual Italian laws.  It came to mind that many of these laws were surreal – almost too fantastic to be true!  And yet, they are all still a part of Italian law!

In short, I am posting a blog about unusual laws in Italy on April Fools Day, but this is no April Fool! By the way, Italians celebrate April Fools Day on April 1st, as we do here.  In Italy, the holiday is called, “Il Pesce d’Aprile,” which is a reference to the many jokes that people play on one another involving… fish. (Has anyone experienced this?  Leave a comment below if you have!) The origin of April Fools Day is unknown, but according to Wikipedia may have started with ancient Roman holidays called l’Hilaria or  l’Holi induista, both connected to the spring equinox.

Margie Miklas is also the author of several popular travel books that describe her experiences while traveling in Sicily and Italy.  I truly enjoyed reading her book, My Love Affair with Sicily prior to visiting Sicily for the first time myself.  If you’d like to learn more about her books, visit her Amazon author page.

In her own words, the author says about her books and her blog about Italy:

You’ll read about the good and bad in Italy but always with a special love for the Italian people. This isn’t your typical guide about what to see in Italy. It’s experiential, informative, and hopefully entertaining.

You’ll feel my  my passion and also my frustration at  times about how things are in the Bel Paese. You’ll see my photos, but they won’t be the same ones you’ve seen a hundred times on other sites or in guidebooks. I share a glimpse into the heartbeat of Italy and a sense of its people.

 

To read the full blog, click on the title: Weird Italy Laws

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

Your Italian Travel Tips – Artworks You Don’t Want to Miss in Sicily

Sicily, City of Siracusa

 

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

Ciao a tutti! About once a month (or so), I have been re-blogging posts that describe the lesser known places in Italy – or the more well-known viewed in a unique way – under the heading, “Your Italian Travel Tips.”

For February 2019, I am featuring the blogger Rochelle Del Borrello, who lives in Sicily, and who writes the blog Sicily Inside and Out.

So many Italian-Americans are of Sicilian descent, as I am.  But many of us know very little of the treasures that can be found on a visit to Sicily – the largest island in the Mediterranean with a history of art, architecture and culture that dates back to antiquity, even before the island was conquered by the Romans. In particular, Sicily is known for the beautifully preserved ancient ruins in Agrigento, the ancient historical cities of Siracusa and Palermo, the natural wonders of Mount Etna and the Aeolian Islands, and dazzling Arab-Norman and Baroque  architecture, with no less than 7 sites in Sicily designated as World Heritage Sites.

This series of two blogs “Artwork You Don’t Want to Miss in Sicily” was published on the website for Italy Magazine, an online publication that features Italian travel, language and culture. The link to the articles in Rochelle’s blog will also introduce you to this Italian gem of a magazine. Thank you, Rochelle, for providing us with a guide to some of the richness that is truly Sicilian.

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

Sicily Inside & Out

Remember to follow my advice on how to avoid Stendhal Syndrome on your next visit to Sicily:

The best way to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the beauty of art and history, especially in Sicily where art seems to grow ever more elaborate, is to space out your museum visits.
I have shared my own personal bucket list of artworks you don’t want to miss with Italy Magazine, who has published it on their webpage.

Click on the image below if you’d like to read my suggestions.
sicily art1
Part two in my series of artworks you simply must not miss on your next visit to Sicily has also been published.

Thanks to Italy Magazine for sharing my love of fine art.

Click on the image below if you’d like to read more suggestions.

sicily art 2
Sicily is a must visit place for art lovers, it is filled with priceless works…

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