In today’s post I won’t introduce you to a recipe like I’ve done in the past weeks and like I plan to do in the coming ones (you can find everything in my menu Cooking by the Sea).
I think it is time to give each other some space for bonding and you can only bond with someone if that someone is willing to show you what he or her is made of. In Italian I would say that I would like to show you ‘di che pasta sono fatta’ (which kind of pasta I’m made of). Well, me personally I’m made of pastina.
What is pastina? If you grew up in Italy you know it, because there is no way you could have escaped it. So in this sense every Italian is made of pastina. If you are not Italian, but you happened to feel not well around Italians, pastina has probably been served to you.
For anyone else, pastina is a kind of pasta of very small size that comes in an unthinkable variety of shapes and names such us tiny stars (stelline), little butterflies (farfalline), mini squares (quadretti), little tempests (tempestine), small points (puntine) and mini scratches (grattini). It is usually served within soup, broth or simply in part of its cooking water, and it is eaten with a spoon.
However, pastina is not simply small shaped pasta. The closest definition I could find is that of comfort food, namely that food ‘which provides a nostalgic or sentimental value to the consumer, and is often characterised by its high caloric nature, high carbohydrate level, and simple preparation’ (Wikipedia).
NOSTALGIC. Pastina is strongly linked to Italian childhood. It is the basic food of any Italian child’s weaning and it is used by every parent in order to let their child gradually enjoy adult food, which in Italy translates to pasta. If you ever asked yourself how do Italians eat pasta everyday without being the most obese population of the world, the answer is to be found here: pastina from a very early aged sets up our metabolism around a daily intake of pasta. In other words, our body stops seeing pasta like carbohydrate and welcomes it like home.
HIGH CALORIC. Counting calories can be tricky. A full plate of pastina is approximately the same calories of 30 almonds or a Big Mac, that is about 500 kcal. (I consider the pastina I regularly prepare for myself which contains 80 g of pastina (290 kcal), a little spoon of olive oil (60 kcal), a big spoon of Parmigiano (75 kcal), and one egg (80 kcal)).
PURE CARBOHYDRATE. Contrary to the carbohydrate war of the recent years, I do not think pasta should be considered something to avoid in order to remain healthy and fit. Having said that, I cannot deny that pastina is a carbohydrate feast.
SIMPLE TO PREPARE. Pastina takes about 3 minutes to cook in salted boiling water. After that you can proceed in several ways. The easiest is to simply take out the majority of the cooking water and pour the rest into a plate together with a little spoon of virgin olive oil and an abundant spoon of parmigiano. That’s it. You can also put bouillon in the cooking water so to have an extra taste to it (although I personally think it is unnecessary) or let a ‘formaggino’ (cream cheese) melt in the warm pasta (this is also not necessary, but I highly recommend it).
And yet this definition of pastina is still not quite right. It must be added, indeed, that pastina is also ALL-PURPOSE REMEDY. And a few interesting vintage advertisements that I found in the Web will help me prove my point.
Pastina makes the grandfather “l’avo” as well as his niece “il nipote” healthy. On the lowest part of this first advert the importance of eating pastina is communicated in a very poetic way: “the exuberance of the tender buds as well as the long-standing plants need the juices of the fertile land – Pasta Gaby, exquisite energy source, is needed to the development of the child as to the serenity of the old.”
If your children are capricious ‘capricciosi‘, pastina makes sure that peace reigns around the table ‘a tavola tornerà il sereno‘. Moreover, if your child is ill ‘ammalato‘, or recovering ‘convalescente‘, pastina will make him/her strong again.
Children who eat pastina have more chances to win, for example, a volleyball match against the other children of the neighbourhood. (Although the child with the red shirt in this case is clearly cheating).
Even children’s education depends on pastina as “school profit depends on health” and “good health is preserved by Pastina Glutinata Buitoni.”
Finally, (and this is my personal interpretation of this cryptic advert), even ‘l’uomo nero‘ – the black bad guy of Italian lullabies who threaten to kidnap children (I know this is racist as well as educationally wrong in any possible way) – is softened by pastina enough to bring it to you at night as a sign of peace.
And you? Have you ever ate pastina? Do you have a similar comfort food in your country or a dish that represents you?