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   Date: 4/30/09 Bookmark and Share

Italian 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 to learning.

“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 epic proportions.

“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 eating life.”

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