Dept. Gives Students a Grand Taste of Italy
By Rachel Miller ’09
Five courses. Eleven different dishes. Nearly two hundred
guests. Attentive servers for every table, your glass never
empty, games, singing, and general merrymaking in a lavishly
decorated setting with a breathtaking view.
This was the final feast--on
April 23 at the College Club--for the Italian department’s
delectably successful class Savoring Italy (ITL 205), taught
by professors of Italian language and literature Giovanna
Bellesia and Anna Botta, and lecturer in Italian Bruno Grazioli.
The dinner was one of several ways the class and the Italian
department have encouraged and promoted a real-world, “real-kitchen” approach
“In order to know a land, you must eat it,” once
said Italian author Italo Calvino. With that understanding,
and to satiate students’ semester-long appetite for
Italian food, the professors teamed up with Smith’s
dining services to provide a meal of incredible variety and
“I did stomach-expanding exercises all week in preparation,” admits
Grace Kim ’11, who attended and consumed.
The antipasti was toasty bruschetta with tomato,
basil, capers and olive oil. Primi piatti included
penne with rapini, risotto, and fresh-baked focaccia. For secondi
piatti, rich meatballs in tomato sauce and lemon rosemary
grilled chicken with white beans in olive oil and herbs for
the vegetarians. Contorni brought grilled zucchini
and peppers. And finally, the decadent dolci was
tiramisu and fresh raspberries.
There were food-themed
crossword puzzle competitions and Italian word games “to promote slow-eating and conversation,” explained
Bellesia, who announced the winners and at all points encouraged
participants to “speak some Italian!”
Not surprisingly, Savoring Italy has the largest enrollment
of any class in the history of the Italian department. Every
Thursday nearly 200 students have filled Stoddard Auditorium
to take in lectures, watch films and discuss readings about
what food means in Italian culture.
Topics cover a wide range, from cooking with sugar in early
medieval times to the modern Slow Food movement, complex
immigration issues (the autobiography of an Italian-sausage
eating Muslim) to Federico Fellini, and cheese-making in
the northern mountains of Piedmont.
Guest lecturers have included
Smith Professor of Italian Alfonso Procaccini, who teaches
a course called Consuming Passions: Eating and Reading;
and UMass Italian Professor Roberto Ludovico, who explained
the intricate history of sugar in Italian history and the
development of what we now call “dessert.”
Though the final dinner on April 23 was the culmination
of the course, the feast was just one way students were encouraged
to really taste their learning experience.
Each Thursday before the
Savoring Italy lecture, groups of students got together
to test the recipes provided during class. Emily Freeman ’09
and her friends sipped wine, sampled cheese and tried their
hand at making focaccia. Seniors Marissa Drossos, Catherine
Hatch and Margaret Bresnahan enjoyed hand-made pizza and
freshly ground pesto.
And in March, three lucky students took an all-expenses-paid
trip to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx as a reward, suggested
by Botta, for the best midterm essays in the class. Arthur
Avenue is considered the real Little Italy of New York for
its amazing Italian bakeries, delis and restaurants.
Laura Itzkowitz ‘09, Olivia Goldschlager ‘11
and Rachel Ravina ‘12 enjoyed vongole verace (a
type of raw clam) fresh-shucked on the street, quaresmali (the
biscotti-style ‘jaw-breaker’), and a sampling
of Italian cheeses that included the smooth, rich tallegio
and spicy pepper-encrusted provolone.
“It actually felt Italian,” reported
Ravina, who took home a box of hand-made ravioli and some
chewy amaretti cookies
for her family’s Easter celebration.
At least one student will remember Savoring Italy long after
she claims her diploma.
“Thursdays are heavenly,” proclaimed Drossos,
who will soon graduate. “This class has changed my