Pastina + big news!

{Two Ingredient Tuesday}

 photo P1030729 2_zpsiyvjbgku.jpg

Today we’re going to make pastina, or as my bolognese host mother Adele called it, stelline (“tiny stars”). Modern Italians don’t always have time for the languid multi-course dinners of the old days, but Adele always made sure that the evening meal was separated into the distinct courses of primo (pasta or starch), secondo (meat), contorni (sides), and a little sweet treat or an end of cheese for the dolce, always with a clean plate in between courses, despite her dishwasher that was about the size of an American toaster. Stelline was one of her go-to dishes for the starch course: quick and easy, warm, comforting, familiar.

Some traditions bear repeating.

Pastina stars photo P1030744_zpsappw7058.jpg       Broth and pasta photo P1030728_zpsj50v74rm.jpg

          There are a million micro-pasta shapes, but stars are my favourite.

When I moved into my new apartment last week (new apartment!!!), this was the first dish I cooked. Two ingredients, simple simple simple. It’s a good dish to coax you through an early spring cold, or to thaw the chill off a cold evening.

But first, it’s been unforgivably long since you’ve had a proper post from me; here are some reasons excuses:

  • I moved into a BEAUTIFUL new apartment. Did I mention that already? How many more times can I get away with repeating it in this and future posts? It has granite counter-tops. It has an open-plan layout with a view over the mountainside. It’s minutes from a ton of gorgeous markets–Fairway, Whole Foods, an Asian market, and a well-stocked Shop-Rite that does home delivery. My roommate never cooks and has left the entire kitchen to me and my schemes. And those are just the benefits on the cooking side of things. I have a sewing room and have nestled in very happily.

Paterson sunset photo P1030723_zpskdijcg0h.jpg

My view from the mountain at sunset.

  •  I got a new job. I left the insurance industry behind for good and now work in the tremendously un-soul-crushing recruiting industry with people who smile and say things like, “You didn’t finish this? No problem, sounds like we need to amend the deadline.” Bonus: Although our office is in New Jersey, I often get to zip into Manhattan for glamourous client meetings.
  • I hibernate during the winter. This is a pattern I’ve only recently become aware of. It’s not the cold so much as the lack of light. I gather momentum all summer with a whirlwind of events and commitments, which reach a fever pitch during the autumn and culminate in an explosion of culinary ambition at Thanksgiving. Post-holiday, I muster what energy I can for Christmas, but usually I just want to curl up and not see anyone, or leave the house, or do anything besides laze about wrapped burrito-style in a fuzzy blanket and pick at the leftover ham in the fridge.

So there you have it. A nigh-insurmountable set of obstacles. Now, onto the pastina.

Pastina bowl photo P1030740_zpsr8bvzw6h.jpg

The pastina in its natural habitat: the late-night dinner-snack.

My stock of choice is chicken stock, since I find it’s light enough not to smother the small pasta, but substantial enough to be a meal. Your stock preferences are your own — vegetable, beef, fish, or a mixture. I take the middle ground and use boxed stock, since the vast majority of powdered stocks are oversalted and underflavoured for my taste. Homemade stock would be excellent if you have it on hand; I didn’t.

Cooking the pasta is very straightforward, but I recommend decreasing both the cooking time and the amount of liquid. You’re serving the pastina in its own broth, so you want to keep a high pasta to liquid ratio, and less pasta will mean a slightly thicker broth. And because the little star shapes are so small, there’s not much danger of them sticking to the pot or to each other unless your liquid boils down to almost nothing.

I like mine plain, but you can stir in some herbs (thyme, oregano, maybe break out the marjoram?), add a dash of hot sauce and scallions, or beef it up with some vegetables and sliced chicken. Just cook whatever needs cooking in the broth beforehand, and stir in the pastina in the last few minutes to avoid overcooking them. Err on the side of al dente, because they’ll keep cooking as they sit in the broth.

Spoon photo P1030734_zpsnrtsk3kf.jpg

Kitchen photo P1030735_zpsa1izjsdd.jpg

And now, to spring!

Variations: I’d say you could add nearly anything to this dish that you’d add to a broth-based soup, as long as it’s fully cooked by the time the pastina are finished cooking. If your stock is too salty for your taste, cut it with some water. I like mine topped with a slug of fruity olive oil.

Two-Ingredient Tuesday Rules: The entire dish from start to finish must contain two ingredients only. However, there are four freebies that don’t count as ingredients: water, oil, salt, and pepper. I don’t count these because they form part of integral seasonings and common cooking methods rather than acting as ingredients. And besides, everyone has them in their kitchen.

Pastina in brodo

Makes 2 servings

3/4 cup pastina, stelline, or other micro-pasta
2 1/2 cups stock, or to taste

  1. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring stock to the boil.
  2. When boiling heartily, stir in the pastina. Cook 3 minutes or until al dente, spoon it into bowls or mugs, and sip. Adjust seasoning if necessary.



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