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

Print Wine doors of Florence Robbin Ghessling 2019 and 2020
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Putting Garden Beds to Rest,
Harvesting Leeks and Planting Garlic

Fall 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving Leek and Potato Soup

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

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

 

 

 

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How to Overwinter Herbs

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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The Zucchini Plot turns into a Swiss Chard Bed

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Strawberry Plants with Rhubarb

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

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

 

Asparagus and Strawberries  

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

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

 

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

 

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

An Italian-American Turkey Recipe for Thanksgiving 2020

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 


 

Italian -American Thanksgiving Turkey Roll 

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

Ingredients
(Serves 4 -8)

1 (4 lb.) whole turkey breast, deboned

For the Ragù Filling: Sausage 

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

For the Ragù Filling: Mushrooms

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

 
Procedure

For the Ragù Filling: Sausage 

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

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

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

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

Set aside while you cook the mushrooms.

For the Ragù Filling: Mushrooms

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

Remove garlic before it gets brown.

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

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

For the Ragù Filling: Finishing the Filling

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

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

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

 

Make the Turkey Log:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let rest 15 minutes, slice and serve.

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

Buon appetito e Buon Giorno del Tacchino!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Burano in Venice, Italy and Everyday Italian phrases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian

are used to talk about
TV and movies in Italian.

See below for how this works.

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

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

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

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

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

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Let’s Talk About…

TV and the Movies in Italian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Using piacere to say we like a TV show or movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some common movie genres

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

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

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

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Using common expressions to say what we prefer

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

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

Here are examples from the dialogue below:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Available on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

Our Italy — Bologna Uncovered, by Silvia Donati

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Continuing Saga of San Marzano Tomatoes

Summer 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pasta with Fresh Tomato and Basil Sauce Recipe

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

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

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

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

Bow-Tie Pasta with Fresh Tomato and Basil Sauce

Ingredients: 

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

Method: 

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

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

View this post on Instagram

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

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

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The Zucchini Harvest and Zucchini Pests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Zucchini  Recipe

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

Bow-Tie Pasta with Zucchini, Tomatoes and Basil 

Ingredients: 

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

Method: 

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

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Italian Beans

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

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

First harvest Roma beans in a collander
First harvest Roma beans

Borlotto beans still growing
Borlotto beans still growing in the garden

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Volunteer Brussels Sprouts

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

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

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Swiss Chard 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Planting a Lettuce Patch…

and Harvesting – Part 3!

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

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

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

Below are photos from the lettuce patch in late July.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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Harvesting Zucchini Flowers

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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Fried Zucchini Flower Appetizers

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

Ingredients: 

For the stuffing:   

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

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

Method: 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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Angel Hair Pasta with Fried Zucchini

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

 

Ingredients: 

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

Method: 

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

 

 

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Pulling New Potatoes

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

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

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

 

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Monday Night Pork Chops with New Potatoes

and Radish Greens

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

 

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And, Finally,  Growing and Harvesting Tomatoes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Burano in Venice, Italy and Everyday Italian phrases

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian

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

volere and desiderare.

See below for how this works.

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Say, “I want…”

with Volere and Desiderare in Italian

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

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

Volere – to want (present tense)

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

lei/lui

vuole you (polite) want

she/he wants

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

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

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

Volere – to want (conditional tense)

io vorrei I would like

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

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

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

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

Voglio andare in Italia.

Voglio andare a Roma.

 (I) want to go to Italy.

(I) want to go to Rome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Available on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com