Pastina might literally be the carbohydrate-laden glue that holds my family together. As an Italian American who was born and raised in New Jersey, the tiny star-shaped pasta has been a staple of my diet since before I could talk. While every family makes pastina a bit differently — my grandmother, who I call Mimi, makes the best, of course – it's a comfort food that spans generations.
With so many possessing a cradle-to-grave love for and loyalty to pastina, it's easy to understand why social media exploded last week as pasta brand Ronzoni, widely known as the original company to offer the miniature pasta shapes, announced on Instagram that they'd be discontinuing the beloved variety from their lineup.
A spokesperson for the brand shares with Yahoo Life that the decision was not made lightly. "This wasn't a decision that we wanted to make," the representative shares. "Unfortunately, our long-term supplier informed us that they would no longer be making Ronzoni pastina as of January 2023."
Ronzoni explains it was issues locating a new supplier that ultimately led to the demise of its pastina. "We searched extensively for an alternative solution but were unable to identify a viable option to make pastina in the same beloved small shape, size and standards [customers] have come to expect from Ronzoni," says the spokesperson. "As a result, we had to make the difficult decision to discontinue this product."
But all hope is not lost. "We haven't given up," the spokesperson adds.
When I was growing up, pastina, which means "tiny dough" or "small pasta" in Italian, was a dish made for every occasion. If I was sick, I was getting a bowl of pastina. If my stomach hurt but I still needed something to eat — pastina came to the rescue. Whether I was feeling sad or happy, this quick pasta dish always seemed to be the answer.
Even today, as an adult who writes and makes content about food, there are days when this simple recipe is all I crave to get me through the day.
In my family, the matriarch (and my Mimi) Suzanne Maida, has been eating pastina since the late ’50s, when she was 5. Now 68, she's spent the better portion of her life making creamy and comforting bowls of tiny pasta stars, and her recipe always begins with that small blue and yellow Ronzoni box.
"My mom always made it for us and it was always such a comfort for us," says my Mimi. "When my son started eating his first solid foods, I started making pastina myself for him — that was about fifty years ago. Back then, they even sold carrot pastina and spinach pastina in addition to the plain. They were green and orange."
Pastina has always signified a moment of comfort and togetherness for my family, and after Ronzoni's announcement, I know I'm not alone. Pastina fans around the world poured out big love for the pasta variety on social media after Ronzoni's Instagram post, sharing moments and memories all their own.
Dante Deiana is a Chicago, Ill.-based restaurant and bar owner who works for Barstool Sports. He recently shared his passion for pastina on Twitter, saying the star-shaped marvel must be saved for future generations. Deiana even encouraged his good friend, New York Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo, to get involved with the movement to keep the pasta on store shelves.
— Dante (@DanteTheDon) December 30, 2022
Like myself and my Mimi, Deiana says pastina has been a part of his life from the very start. "My mom was making it for me basically from the day I was out of the womb," he shares. "Even in high school, if I came down with a cold, I'd come home from school and there'd be a pot of pastina and chicken broth on the stove waiting for me."
In a now-viral Facebook post about pastina, The Italian American Podcast called it "the Italian Penicillin."
"Perhaps we neglected you as we were tempted by fancy imports over the years," the post continues. "Perhaps ... you lost your sense of belonging to the Italian American community."
John Viola, the New York-based host of the Italian American Podcast explains that the discontinuation of Ronzoni pastina means a lot to his community, but not in a good way.
"The sad news is that a company that has meant a lot to Italian American history no longer feels connected enough to us to care about how we feed our children and our sick," he says. "The good news is, there are many other wonderful brands of pasta in both Italy and the United States that are going to make sure that pastina is available for people of all backgrounds to enjoy and to turn to when needed for many years to come."
For many, including myself, pastina is so much more than a pantry staple. It's intrinsically linked to wonderful family moments, and it's remained on our tables as we grew up in an ever-changing world. Although that world sometimes pulls us away from the people and places we loved in our childhood, this simple and affordable pasta provides us a little moment of home, no matter where we are or how we're feeling.
Reflecting on a lifetime of memories with her family — four generations of pastina lovers — my Mimi is still in disbelief that the product will no longer be on shelves. "It says on the box they started making it in 1915," she says. "That's over 100 years old. They should have never discontinued it."
While so many will be sad to say goodbye to what we've always known and loved, other pasta brands like Barilla and Colavita, still carry pastina, ready and waiting to be transformed into more cherished family memories.
So once you've located a replacement brand (or found some leftover Ronzoni on your grocery store shelves), what's the best way to make pastina? It took years of begging to convince my Mimi to share her secret recipe with me. To this day I just cannot make it as wonderfully as she can, but after some coaxing, she agreed to share our family recipe with Yahoo Life for new generations of pastina fans to enjoy.
While this recipe may not be indicative of how all people eat pastina, the simple dish is easy on the stomach, super creamy, delicious to enjoy and reminds me of the texture of risotto. The tiny stars are whimsical and add the perfect bite when cooked al dente.
If you've never tried pastina before, please know it's best enjoyed with the people who mean the most to you — that's where the true magic of these bite-sized stars lies.
Mimi's Pastina Recipe
Courtesy of Suzanne Maida
½ tablespoon of butter
Salt to taste
Shredded low-moisture mozzarella cheese, optional
1. Start by boiling unsalted water in a small pot.
Note: It's important that, unlike other pasta water, the water is unsalted. Since the pasta will soak the cooking water in, if the water is salted at the start, the product turns out far too salty.
2. Once the water is boiling, add pastina and stir consistently. The pastina should soak up the water as it cooks, no water should need to be strained out.
3. Once the water is gone, add in a pat of butter, a splash of milk and a beaten egg.
4. Stir until the butter, egg and milk are combined into the pasta: It should look like a risotto or a bowl of oatmeal.
5. Add salt to taste and stir. If you would like to add cheese, add that in now and stir until combined.
6. Pour into a bowl and enjoy.
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