Everyone has that special something they turn to when they are out of sorts. It could be stress, anger, sadness, or just ‘over it.’ I get that, and at almost 60 years old, I turn to a tried-and-true remedy that saved my soul and me for decades. It isn’t traditional medicine; it is an Italian miracle. It’s pastina (PA-STEE-NUH). It will not cure you, but it may heal you.
Amelia called me last weekend and asked me how to make pastina. I think she was missing Skates (he’s in Europe) and looked for something to comfort her when mom is 3 hours and 19 minutes away. Italian mothers get special training when they are pregnant and I think I have passed the gene, and the healing secret of pastina on to Amelia.
What is pastina?
I have been asked this question for years. Pastina, or small pasta, is a tiny pasta usually cut like small stars. Non-Italians lump many small kinds of pasta such as orzo or tubettini into this category. Full disclosure, my grandmother did use Acini di Pepe in a pinch. Here are the facts:
Fact: Pastina is not couscous.
Fact: Pastina is a cure for morning sickness.
Fact: You must use real butter and freshly grated Romano when preparing pastina.
Fact: Measure carefully. Pastina expands!
Why does pastina cure what ails you?
Pastina is fed to babies just beginning their lives and learning about food. The nasty stuff of flakes in a box that makes up baby ‘mashed food’ is no match for pastina. I believe pastina has healing benefits and infants know it. I know of no baby that cried after a warm bowl of pastina. I made pastina for the kids when they were sick, after surgery, healing the wounds of a lost basketball game, or just because on a cold winter night.
Pastina is the only thing I have cooked for myself other than egg whites since Chip died. Even Pastina cannot close that wound.
How do you cook pastina?
Very carefully. A box of pastina is small for a reason. A quarter cup goes a long way. A good ratio is ¼ cup of pastina to one cup of water- this option allows for absorption, and you avoid the trick of draining it.
The other option is to add more liquid such as broth or stock, and then you have created a little bowl of soup. Add a beaten egg or egg white, and you are on your way to Stracciatella.
Chip made pastina for me regularly when I was pregnant- and I never puked. He cooked the whole box with little water the first time he made it. It looked like wallpaper paste in a bucket, and after it expanded in the small pan, I feared it would take on a life of its own. Chip mastered the process over time, and he came to know the moments in life that pastina could cure. He is not here to make me the cure I so desperately need.
Can I eat pastina for breakfast?
Over the past few months, I have been known to eat pastina in the early morning hours, or for some, the middle of the night. The simple beauty of pastina is in the preparation. While pastina looks small and simple, it takes time to cook, should be frequently stirred, and all the while calming your senses in anticipation of that first buttery and cheesy spoonful.
Make pastina whenever it calls you. Pasta on the Floor is a no-judgment zone and if you need help, reach out. I am usually awake and only an email away. Still cooking? not quite.