Italian Cooking & Language Blog

Fare La Scarpetta means to wipe your plate clean with a piece of bread.

What else could you ask for?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Learning Italian: Resources & Tips


I receive many emails from travelers who are interested in learning Italian before a trip. Here are some suggestions about how to make that happen. Remember, always have fun while you're studying. (Yes, I promise that's possible.)

You’re welcome to set up Italian language learning sessions with me in person in the Washington, D.C., area or via Skype. 

If you are interested in working on your own or supplementing a course’s materials, I recommend some books in my Amazon store. I’ve assigned the Living Language series’ books and cds, as well as the Schuam’s Grammar and Vocabulary books. Many people like the Rosetta Stone series, but it is quite expensive and, from what I’ve seen of it, it doesn’t offer culturally specific lessons. In New York City, Rizzoli bookstore has an amazing collection of Italian language and Italian language learning books. 

In the New York City area, I strongly recommend New York University’s continuing education courses. I’ve taught for the Means Language Center and really appreciated Tom Means’ approach to language acquisition. 

Try to find folks with whom you can practice your language skills. You can do an exchange (perhaps by posting an announcement at schools or on craigslist) or attend Italian language events. In New York City, you can attend events through NYU’s Casa Italiana, Columbia University’s Italian Academy and CUNY Queens College’s Calandra Institute. also has language groups where folks practice language skills, watch movies, go to soccer games and more. As you advance, you might decide to do things like renting the Italian audio guide at museums. You’ll have good luck continuing to study and practice if you do things you already like to do … but in Italian. That is to say, limit your boredom as you learn the grammar and vocabulary.

It is also helpful to listen to as much Italian as possible. You can link through many stations, most of which have some streaming or recorded videos through this Wikipedia page. Through RCN cable in D.C., we have access to RAI stations and can watch the news, movies and other programs. Netflix and your local public library, or university library, should have Italian movies you can rent with subtitles (try watching the movie in Italian with Italian subtitles to better practice listening and reading at once.)

Listening to Italian radio stations, while a little harder without the visuals, is also helpful. Pandora oddly doesn’t have very much Italian music (many contemporary, popular Italian musicians also sing in Spanish and they have those versions.)

If you get stuck, Google translate is very helpful and Garzanti Linguistica offers a great online dictionary, offers regular emails with tips and great online resources, as does Fodors. There are free foreign language online classes linked through this page.

For more resources, scroll through the links on the right side of this blog. Do you have additional resources to recommend? I hope you'll share with me in the comments section below.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Guest Blog: Jenny Klion & Judy Cosper on Pizza in Brooklyn

Jenny Klion writes and cooks, cooks and writes. It was a pleasure to meet her and taste some of her baked goods last October at the Martha's Vineyard Writers Residency. I'm excited to share her and her daughter's thoughts on pizza in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. They were good sports to dedicate themselves to such a rough job: Pizza tasting. 

Jenny Klion created the underground Bakery 44 several years ago, and is also a columnist and playwright living in Brooklyn, NY. “Judy” is a 9th grader at NYC LAB School, dances with American Tap Dance Orchestra, NYC, and works front of house for her mother’s baking operations.

Pizza Party in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
By Jenny Klion and Judy Cosper

When I moved to Brooklyn this past summer with my teen daughter Judy, one of the first things on our agenda was to try every single pizza parlor in the neighborhood, or at least seven of them…

Allora, a quick review online reminds the reader that the universal pizza pie consists of four different components: crust, sauce, cheese, and toppings. To keep variables at a minimum, Judy and I are ignoring the toppings this time around (save for the Parigina four-slice mini pizza we had at Luna Rossa, with mozzarella, tomato sauce, and ham—yes, thank you!—and the porcini mushrooms we ordered atop our pie at Lucali, just ’cause). Instead, we’re sticking here with a comparison of the basic “Slice of cheese, please.”

Starting at the bottom and working up—and I say this with the greatest of reverence—is Grandma’s Boy’s Pizzeria. Even the name is a tad confusing grammatically, and while service was prompt and pleasant, the faded looking slice disappointed. Further, it was here where I was reminded that it’s all about the crust, because at Grandma’s Boy’s, a few bites in, and I could taste the unattractive white bread quality of it…

Next up: World Pie Pizza. “Party pizza,” declared Judy. Meaning we’ve seen it before, in large quantities, at many a kid’s bowling or skating party, where sauce and cheese are not quite distinguishable from one another. But crust was not terrible, so will probably return at some point. Sal’s Pizzeria up the street always has a crowd, and Judy and I tried this place twice, just to be sure that it really wasn’t as good as it looked. It wasn’t. Loaded too heavily, with a somewhat soggy dough, this pizza slice could not hold its own weight, and was definitely not better the next day heated up for lunch.

South Brooklyn Pizza, which we visited on Super Bowl Sunday, was our most expensive slice, topping the charts at four dollars, making two slices eight dollars, so thank God they literally refused us a third to take home. “There isn’t anymore.” What?! That said, I wanted to like it; it looked clean and fresh and upscale and more, but our slices were barely warm, and though the crust was good—“Eh,” Judy said—it was not worth the hype, the cash, or the dis!

Not to be undone by South Brooklyn, Judy and I ambled the half block to our old standby Vinny’s Pizzeria. There, despite the ten-minute wait for our one slice of pizza (?), we couldn’t believe how good it tasted. Judy: “No comparison.” Yes, maybe the crust was a bit heavy, and the cheese a tad oily—there’s possibly no way around that—but it was steaming hot, in a friendly environment, and seemed like the prototype of a perfectly balanced piece of pizza.

Next: Luna Rossa, though Judy and I disagree on this. Here was the beautiful looking four-slice artisan pie, with the fabulous raw pizza sauce (not cooked in its preparation), which is why I’m pulling rank to rank it this high! But the admittedly soggy crust, and possibly flavorless mozzarella didn’t live up to the restaurant’s growing buzz. “Trying too hard,” Judy remarked.

Rumored to be the best in the neighborhood—and where Jay-Z and Beyonce dined instead of attending the Grammys! (according to the local Carroll Gardens Patch)—is Lucali and this pizza press agrees! No reservations, no slices, no credit cards, no website, no restaurant sign either! It’s BYO, pizza and calzone only, and more than worth the thirty-minute wait, even the next day, both cold and reheated! Once inside, the pizza came fast and dramatic, with its exuberant almost flaky crust laying atop just the right, light amount of cornmeal. Sauce and cheese bubbled together, maintaining integrity, hiding delights of oil and garlic and basil (okay, maybe overkill there), creating a delectable surprise in every bite. It was the lightest, most beautiful pizza I’ve had since we moved to Brooklyn.

“Mission accomplished,” Judy declared. At least in this neighborhood…

Grandma’s Boy’s Pizzeria, 512 Court Street
World Pie Pizza, 404 Court Street
Sal’s Pizzeria, 305 Court Street
South Brooklyn Pizza, 451 Court Street
Vinny’s Pizzeria, 445 Court Street
Luna Rossa, 552 Court Street
Lucali, 575 Henry Street

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Buon San Valentino!: A salute to love

Bridge in Florence where my husband-to-be proposed, 
in Italian, in 2008

Today is a day for love, romance, friendship and kindness. While the Italian holiday focuses primarily on romantic couples, in the U.S., we open up the meaning of the word “love” to include a greater variety of relationships. Sure, it can be quite the commercial holiday, but we can still have fun regardless of our relationship status (For some chocolate-centered-commercial-ness for today’s holiday, you might enjoy this year’s Baci Perugina ad).

What will you be doing today? You might want to give someone a bacio (kiss) and tell them ti amo (I love you). If you love a non-romantic friend or family member, tell them you love them like this: Ti voglio bene. (It is best never to confuse these two phrases…)

Read more about the history of Valentine’s Day that started in ancient Rome.

And on a more serious note, I support Newark, New Jersey, mayor Cory Booker’s take on marriage for all. Booker said during a recent news conference: "Dear God, we should not be putting civil rights issues to a popular vote, to be subject to the sentiments, the passions of the day. No minority should have their rights subject to the passions and the sentiments of the majority. This is the fundamental bedrock of what our nation stands for." 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Oregon: Oregon Olive Mill at Red Ridge

Roasted eggplant brushed with spices and, of course, olive oil

Thanks to my in-laws, my husband and I were recently introduced to Red Ridge Oregon Olive Mill from Dayton, Oregon. I’m pretty obsessed with olive oil - or rather, obsessed with olive oil that tastes like olive oil should - and was thrilled to see the beautiful bottles with the rich green oil.

We tried three different kinds of oil from the Red Ridge Olive Mill: Tuscan new oil, Arbequina new oil and Arbequina extra virgin olive oil. Each one had a slightly different flavor, color and fullness. My favorite was the Tuscan new oil, but that's because it tasted most like my favorite olive oils from my time in Florence. 

To help give the olive oil the platform it deserved, I crafted a few dishes that would highlight it: Homemade Italian bread to dip in the oil (with some salt and maybe spices and garlic, too), light vegetable pasta sauces that benefit from an additional splash of oil before serving, and, perhaps our favorite, roasted eggplant slices brushed with spices and, of course, olive oil.

You can learn a little more about olive oil here. In addition, “Slippery Business” is an older article from the New Yorker about more origins of olive oil, but the basic issues still hold true. Why not avoid any possible mystery and buy your oil from a small farm?

How much olive oil do you cook with? Frankly, there’s rarely a meal in our house without some. Between us, I even put it on my hot breakfast cereal instead of butter.