Pastina is Italian comfort food. I think everyone who was raised in an Italian household would agree. Pastina, tossed with butter, was baby's first solid. Pastina chicken soup was served as a hearty lunch, a quick and easy dinner on a Saturday night (after confession), and medicine to chase away a Winter cold. Each family recipe is a little different but the constant ingredient is the pastina, or little pasta. There are many varieties. For my recipe here, I used stelline, or little stars. Here's a chart with different shapes of pastina.
A simple, easy way to prepare pastina is to cook the pasta al dente, according to box directions, and drain. But leave enough pasta water so the pastina isn't too dry. Toss with some butter, some salt and pepper, and sprinkle with parmesan. This is a favorite with young children.
My favorite dish is this chicken soup. Growing up we simply called this Pastina. Actually we pronounced it "pasteen". It meant chicken soup with tiny pasta. It starts, like many dishes do, with a "battuto", which is finely chopped onion, celery and carrots. In French cooking this mixture is called mirepoix. It's usually 50% onion, 25% carrots, and 25% celery. It is the flavorful base for many soups and stews. And so it is with this one. You can add chopped spinach or other leafy green, like kale, to this recipe if you'd like. I have read that some recipes call for egg which is incorporated much like egg drop soup. This wasn't used in our family's recipe so I didn't include it.
Pastina Chicken Soup
- 2TBS olive oil
- 2TBS butter
- 1 onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 carrots, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 2 celery stalks, with leaves, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 3 garlic cloves finely minced
- 2 quarts chicken broth (home made or store bought)
- about 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
- 1 cup dry pastina
- grated parmesan cheese
Heat a large stock pot over medium heat then add the olive oil and butter. When the oil is hot and the butter is melted, add the chopped onion. Stir and cook a few minutes until the onion begins to soften. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Then add the carrots and celery and cook for a few more minutes. (The onion is cooked first so that the sharp, raw onion flavor doesn't permeate the flavor of the other vegetables.)
To the cooked vegetables add the chicken broth and bring to a low boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Each pasta shape requires a different time. The stelline that I used took seven minutes. When the pasta is cooked, add the shredded chicken and heat thoroughly. Salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and top with grated parmesan. Serve with garlic bread.
I like to serve soup with garlic bread "dip sticks". I slice a coarse, rustic baquette lengthwise, and then lengthwise again so that the slices are long spears. Perfect for broth dunking.
1 stick butter at room temperature
4-5 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (adjust to taste)
Mash it all together with a fork. Spread on cut side of crusty bread and broil under watchful eye until golden brown with crispy edges.