Italian Lessons

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Three Ways to Crush It: pestare , schiacciare , frantumare

This week, Anna and Marika finish explaining how to make pesto, the delicious Ligurian pasta specialty.

 

In part 1, they talked about why pesto is called pesto.

Pesto vuol dire che è stato pestato.
"Pesto" means that it has been crushed.
Caption 68, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola -Il pesto genovese - Part 1 of 2

 

The cooks also use two other verbs that have to do with breaking something down into smaller pieces. Let's look at each of these three words to see when we use them, and what the differences are among them.

 

Let's start with the word that gives its name to the dish. Pestare is the verb: to crush, to mash, to pound. We carry out this action when tenderizing meat, or when stepping on someone's toes.

Oh, scusamit'ho pestato il piede.
Oh, sorry, I stepped on your foot.

 

Pestare is the action someone or something carries out in order to crush something. Except for when it's someone's toes, we might think of a repeated action, such as in making pesto the old-fashioned way. Just keep pounding to break the material down little by little.

 

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A relative of pestare is calpestare (to tromp on, to trample, to step on), specific to using one's feet. You might see a sign that says:

Non calpestare l'erba
Do not walk on the grass.  

 

In some cities, you really have to look where you put your feet.

E... camminando camminando, ciak! Che cosa ti vado a calpestare?
And... walking along, splat! What do I go and step on?
Un escremento canino! -Bleah! -Una cacca bella fresca fumante!
Canine excrement! -Yuck! -Nice fresh steaming poop!
Captions 21-22, Francesca e Marika: Gestualità 

 

Here we might think of the action more than the recipient of the action.

 

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Schiacciare also means to crush, to smash, or to mash, and here we can visualize the thing we are crushing being crushed.  

The classic example is lo sciaccianoce. The nutcracker. One rather violent move, and the thing is cracked or crushed.

You crush a clove of garlic. Lo schiacciIt's less rewarding when it's your finger being crushed.

Mi sono schiacciato il dito nella porta. Aia!
smashed my finger in the door. Ouch!

 

Think of something being flattened by a heavy weight.

 

We can also use schiacciare when pressing a button on a machine.

Schiaccia il bottone rosso per fermarlo (press down on the red button to stop it).

 

Schiacciare is used figuratively, too.

Allora, signora, Suo marito ha una personalità dominante che schiaccia la Sua da anni.
So, ma'am, your husband has a dominating personality which has been crushing yours for years.
Captions 4-5, Stai lontana da me: Rai Cinema - Part 4 of 17 

 

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Lastly, we have frantumare. Here, we can visualize a mirror breaking and shattering into pieces or frantumi (fragments, smithereens). 

In making olive oil, grindstones crush the olives with their pits.

L'oliva viene frantumata intera.
The olive gets crushed whole.
Caption 23, L'olio extravergine di oliva: Il frantoio

 

Anna and Marika use all three of these verbs in their videos about pesto, so check them out! As you replicate the recipe, try using them yourself!

Ora sto pestando questi pinoli (now I am pounding these pine nuts).
Devo fare attenzione a non pestare anche le dita (I have to be careful not to pound my fingers, as well).
Forse sono sufficientemente frantumati (maybe they're fragmented enough). 
Se faccio cadere il piatto per terra, si frantumerà! È di porcellana (if I drop this plate on the floor, it will break into pieces. It's porcelain).
L'aglio lo posso schiacciare con un batticarne (I can smash the garlic with a meat mallet). 
Devo stare attento a non schiacciarmi le dita (I have to be careful not to crush my fingers).

Vocabulary

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