Delicious Pastina Recipe: The Italian Penicillin Soup

Indulge in the heart-warming embrace of pastina soup, known as “minestrina” in Italian! This delightful dish, a combination of broth and tiny pasta, is your go-to for cosy evenings in the cold season, a remedy for the woes of a challenging day, a magic potion for banishing colds and flus, and the perfect introduction to pasta for little ones during weaning. However, mastering the art of this comforting pastina soup requires a dash of skill and adherence to a few essential rules.

A Culinary Hug

 

By: Silvana Lanzetta

Minestrina -or pastina soup-  is my warm, tasty time machine to the good ol’ days. During those not-so-chilly Neapolitan winters, my mum used to whip up this creamy comfort, especially when I was down with a bug.  I would wolf if down, and then let the warmth fill my body. It was pure bliss. It’s now become my speedy, go-to dish for a tasty pick-me-up, instantly zapping me back to my childhood. Especially in London, where the winters are freezing! Now, my little ones have embraced the pastina love, demanding it at least twice a month. Can you blame them? Pastina isn’t just yum; it’s like a cosy hug that turns tough days into beautiful ones. It’s the secret ingredient that keeps our family story deliciously woven together, passing down the love for and through minestrina from one generation to the next. 

italian rice salad in a glass bowl overhead shot

The Story Behind Minestrina:

Let’s dive into the roots of the word “minestrina”! Minestrina is composed by the root minestr- which translates roughly as “soup or stew,” and the diminutive suffix -ina, which means “small orΒ little.”Β  Minestra comes from the verb “minestrare,” a fancy way of saying “to serve or administer” in Latin. Way back in the dark ages, one family member would get in charge and serve up minestra to everyone, turning it into the ultimate shared meal.Β 

Now, here’s a cool thought: some folks believe that minestra, along with some basic flatbreads, might have been culinary pioneers, rocking the food scene way back in prehistoric times. Journeying back 20,000 years, the search for the origins of the humble “minestra” lead us to China, specifically the Xianrendong cave. Here, fragments of burnt ceramic containers tell the tale of early culinary adventures, serving not just as vessels but as the pioneers of heating up delicious meals. Imagine simple soups with water, legumes, and meat – the OG comfort food. Cooking got a massive upgrade with the discovery of fire, even if heat-resistant pots weren’t a thing at first.

But hey, these are just speculations, and the one thing we know for sure is the unbreakable bond between the story of us humans and our love affair with food.

The many names of Italian soup

Minestra
Zuppa
Minestrone
Passato di verdure
Vellutata di verdure
Crema di verdure
Simple and humble dish. – Includes various veggies, rice, pasta, or barley. – More liquid. – Variation in Northern Italy includes eggs.
Enriched with toasted bread or croutons. – Primarily assorted veggies, no pasta or rice. – Denser, thanks to bread absorbing liquid. – Dense and enveloping texture.
Compromise between zuppa and minestra. – Denser, with various vegetables, potatoes, legumes, and pasta.
Blended minestrone version for children, sometimes with rice.
Velvety texture from blending 2 or 3 veggie varieties with a roux base. – Cream or egg yolks added for extra smoothness.
Simple blend of one veggie with potatoes. – May include milk or cream for richness. – More dense texture.
white bowl filled with homemade vegetable stock
pastina (stelline)
grated parmesan
butter close up with butter curler

Nutrition

 

As the recipe involves a soup base, it contributes to overall hydration. Pastina soup provides a balanced mix of carbohydrates from pasta, fats from butter or EVOO, and a moderate amount of protein from Parmesan cheese. This dish includes nutrient-rich ingredients such as homemade stock, vegetables (carrot and potato), and Parmesan cheese, providing essential vitamins and minerals. 

  • Proteins 15% 15%
  • Carbs 55% 55%
  • Fats 30% 30%
italian rice salad with tuna, closeup shot

5 rules for the perfect pastina soup

Broth

Create the heart-warming base for your minestrina with a classic meat broth. Choose diverse cuts like beef ribs, chicken thighs, and bones with marrow. Toss in veggies (carrot, celery, onion, and maybe a potato) and herbs (bay leaf and a sprinkle of parsley if you fancy). For a vegetarian twist, opt for a rich vegetable broth. After it’s done, give it a cool-down to skim off any extra fat before diving into the recipe. Hitting that sweet spot of perfect consistency is key – not too dry, not too soupy. Remember the golden rule: 80 grams of pastina for every 500 ml of broth.

Skip the stock cubes if you can. While they’re a time-saver, there’s a risk of ending up with a dish that’s a bit too salty and, well, a bit average. So, give them a miss for a tastier result!

 

Pasta

Angel hair, stelline, tubetti, ditalini, filini, and even tortellini for a touch of elegance – the market offers a plethora of pastina options. Choose your favourite wisely: egg pastina absorbs more broth and expands, so watch that water-pasta ratio to avoid a dry dish. Can’t find the tiny pasta? Fear not, you have our Italian blessing to snap spaghetti into roughly 2 cm pieces! And if you fancy making pastina from scratch, give this a whirl: knead a mix of 180 grams of white spelt flour and 70 grams of fine semolina with 2 large eggs and a yolk for 10-15 minutes until you get a smooth, elastic dough. Wrap it in cling film and let it rest for at least 30 minutes, preferably 1-2 hours. After that, grab a cheese grater with large holes. Grate the dough to create small, curly pasta shapes, known as grattoni. Let the pasta dry on a cotton tea towel for an hour or so, then cook it in your chosen broth. Remember, fresh pasta cooks much quicker than dry pasta – it’s ready when it starts to float. Enjoy!

 

Extras

In the classic minestrina, we’re sticking with just two extras: finely diced potato and carrot, gently simmered in the broth. Stick to the right proportions – one potato and a small carrot do the job for a litre of broth. But here’s a little twist: many Italians like to stir in some soft cheese like ricotta, robiola, or stracchino just before serving. Alternatively, a couple of beaten eggs with grated Parmesan added 1 or 2 minutes before removing the pot from heat can work wonders. My mum usually went for the cheesy touch, while my aunt Liliana was all about the eggs.

Butter or EVOO?

Choosing between butter and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) in your pastina soup is all about personal taste. Each brings a special flavour to the mix – butter gives that rich and creamy goodness, while EVOO adds a fruity and robust kick. Traditionally, a dollop of butter does the trick for minestrina, but if you’re going the vegan route, swap it out with some lovely extra virgin olive oil. Whichever you go for, toss it in at the end, right after you’ve taken the pot off the heat. Give it a good stir until the butter melts or the EVOO blends in. Happy soup seasoning!

 

Cheese

Parmesan and Grana Padano are top choices for pastina soup due to their rich, nutty flavours, smooth melting, and ability to enhance the overall taste. Their granular textures create a velvety consistency. Pecorino Romano, while a great cheese, is saltier and tangier, which might overpower the delicate flavours of the soup. Stick to Parmesan or Grana Padano for the perfect balance.

 

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Step-by-Step Cooking Instructions

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pastina soup

Pastina: Italian penicillin soup


  • Author: Silvana Lanzetta
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 4 portions 1x

Ingredients

Scale

2 litres of homemade vegetable stock or beef stock

320 grams of pastina (small pasta)

40 grams of butter (or 2 tbsps. of EVOO)

1 carrot (optional)

1 floury potato (optional)

Grated parmesan cheese, to taste


Instructions

  1. In a medium pot, bring the beef or vegetable broth to a boil.
  2. If using potato and carrot, peel and dice them. Add to the pot with the broth and let cook for 10 minutes.
  3. Add your chosen pastina shape to the pot and cook it for 2 minutes less than the recommended time on the package.
  4. Turn off the heat. Season with salt and pepper to your liking. Add a knob of butter and 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan. Mix well.
  5. Serve the soup in bowls while still hot, and sprinkle with additional grated Parmesan for an extra burst of flavour. Enjoy your comforting and flavourful pastina soup!

Notes

Minestrina, being a delicate dish, doesn’t fare well in storage and is not suitable for freezing. It’s best enjoyed freshly prepared to savour its optimal taste and texture. Prepare just the right amount to relish its comforting warmth and flavours at their best.

While the traditional base for pastina is beef broth, feel free to experiment with vegetable or chicken stock for a delightful twist. For an exceptional taste experience, consider trying freshly made capon broth.

For an explosion of flavour, consider adding a sprig of fresh rosemary a couple of minutes before the cooking concludes. Exercise caution not to let the rosemary infuse for too long, as it can shed its needles, and it might potentially impart a bitter aftertaste to the soup.

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10
  • Category: Pasta
  • Method: One pot recipe
  • Cuisine: Italian
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FAQs

Why does pastina make me feel better?

The comfort you feel when consuming pastina may be attributed to various factors. Firstly, pastina is often associated with positive memories and emotions, especially if it’s a dish that holds nostalgic value or is connected to comforting moments from your past. Additionally, warm dishes like pastina soup can have a soothing effect, providing physical warmth and a sense of well-being.

From a physiological perspective, consuming warm, easily digestible foods like pastina may activate the body’s relaxation response, contributing to a sense of comfort. Carbohydrates, which are present in pasta, can also influence serotonin levels in the brain, potentially enhancing mood and feelings of contentment.

Moreover, cultural and familial connections to certain foods, like pastina, can play a role in the emotional comfort they provide. Whether it’s the familiarity of the taste, the association with care and nurturing, or the simple pleasure derived from a well-prepared dish, pastina can contribute to an overall sense of comfort and well-being.

Why do Italians love pastina?

We Italians share a profound love for pastina, and it’s woven into the fabric of our culinary and cultural identity. For me, this love has roots in various aspects:

1. Culinary Heritage: Pasta is at the heart of Italian cuisine, and pastina, being a miniature version, echoes the time-honoured recipes passed down through our family tree.

2. Comfort and Nostalgia: Pastina is a comforting embrace, a taste that invokes nostalgia and warm memories of childhood. I remember my mother lovingly  preparing it, especially during times of sickness or to ward off the chill on colder days

3. Ease of Preparation: Pastina’s quick cooking time makes it a convenient choice, perfect for the hustle and bustle of daily life. Its simplicity allows me to create a delicious meal with minimal effort.

4. Cultural Significance: Pastina is more than just a dish; it’s a cultural symbol. Having it on my table is a nod to the rich tapestry of Italian gastronomy, a connection to our culinary roots that I take pride in.

5. Deliciousness: Let’s not forget the most crucial part – pastina is absolutely delicious. 

What pasta is good in soup?

In soups, certain pasta shapes work exceptionally well due to their ability to absorb flavours and complement the overall texture. Here are some pasta varieties that are commonly used and appreciated in soups:

1. Filini: Very thin, thread-like pasta.

2. Conchigliette: Tiny shell-shaped pasta.

3. Ditalini: Short, wider tube-shaped pasta

4. Acini di pepe: Tiny bead-like pasta.

5. Stelline: Small star-shaped pasta.

6. Stortini: Small, twisted pasta.

7. Anellini: Small ring-shaped pasta.

8. Farfalline: Miniature bow-tie or butterfly-shaped pasta.

9. Risoni (or orzo outside Italy): Small, rice-shaped pasta.

10. Tubetti: Short, narrow tube-shaped pasta

11.If none of these options are available, you can use spaghetti by snapping them into small sections roughly 2 cm long. This is the only occasion when we Italians endorse snapping spaghetti!

Ultimately, the best pasta for soup depends on the type of soup you’re preparing and your personal preference for pasta texture. The key is to choose a pasta shape that is small and can be eaten up with a spoon.

Is pastina the same as orzo?

Pastina and orzo are not the same. Orzo is pastina; but pastina is not orzo! Pastina is a generic term  that refers to various tiny pasta shapes, often used in soups, while orzo is a specific pastina shape resembling rice. It’s important to note that in Italy, the term orzo refers to grain barley, not the pasta. The pasta shape similar to orzo is called risoni in Italy.

Do you rinse pasta before adding to soup?

It’s  not a good idea to rinse pasta before adding it to soup. When pasta cooks, it releases starch, which can help thicken the soup and enhance its overall flavour. Rinsing the pasta would wash away this starch, potentially affecting the soup’s consistency. It’s best to add un-rinsed pasta directly to the simmering broth, allowing it to cook and contribute its starch to the soup for a fuller flavour and slightly thicker texture.

Can you use rice instead of pastina?

Certainly! In Italian kitchens, it’s not uncommon for us to swap pastina for rice when preparing an evening soup. If you choose to use rice as a substitute, consider the following:

  1. Type of Rice: Short-grain rice, such as Arborio or Carnaroli, is often preferred for its ability to release starch, contributing to a slightly thicker consistency.

  2. Cooking Time: Keep in mind that rice generally requires a longer cooking time than pastina. Add the rice earlier in the cooking process to ensure it becomes tender.

  3. Broth Absorption: Similar to pastina, rice absorbs the flavours of the broth. Ensure there’s ample broth in your soup to allow the rice to cook thoroughly and infuse the dish with rich taste.

Silvana Lanzetta

Silvana Lanzetta

β€œCiao, I’m Silvana, a fourth-generation pasta artisan from Napoli with a lifetime of experience! I began making pasta at the tender age of 5 under the watchful eye of my pasta-making generalissimo, my granny. Through her guidance, I’ve become a master in crafting traditional pasta dishes. Since 2014, I have been teaching pasta making classes in London, sharing my expertise with aspiring pasta enthusiasts. I’ve also had the privilege of showcasing my knowledge on BBC and in national newspapers like The Sun and iNews, and held pasta making demonstration in Harrods. Join me in exploring the world of Italian pasta and let’s create unforgettable culinary experiences together!”

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