Thursday, September 23, 2010

pastina risotto

This was another meal prepared out of necessity, thanks to my broken jaw. Pastina is the smallest type of pasta around. It comes in different shapes, but I've only ever seen it in tiny little stars, which are just adorable. My mom used to make it for me all the time when I was a baby, because it is so soft and small. Obviously, it is a logical dinner choice for one who cannot chew.

Unlike regular pasta, you don't need to salt a big pot of boiling water to make pastina. It is so delicate and small that it would probably pass straight through the strainer and down into the sink if you tried to drain it in a colander. Instead, you can make pastina like risotto, adding the water little by little and stirring it consistently. It can be just as delicious as the real deal, but it takes a fraction of the time to cook, since pastina cooks to her perfection in such a short amount of time.

I made three different versions of this pastina dish, mainly because the first time it was so incredibly delicious. My parents had their own grown up dinners, but they kept sneaking bites of mine because it was just that good. Unfortunately, I was unable to quite replicate my success on the second and third go arounds. The trick to this dish is making sure to add enough liquid to keep it creamy and delicious, rather than gummy and dry.

I started by making a quick sauce with a little garlic and oil and these golden tomatoes from the food co-op. Then I added the pastina, letting it "toast" in the oil like you would risotto, and then adding some water and letting it cook in the liquid. As the pasta began to absorb the sauce, I poured in a little half and half to make sure it wouldn't dry out. After it was mostly cooked through, I put the pastina in a bowl. I stirred in some grated romano cheese, some shredded basil leaves and finally cracked an egg in and mixed it all about. The egg cooked and it became a deliciously rich and creamy dish.

This was only a few days after I had had the rubber bands put it, so solid food was still a wonder and this pastina was the best food I had eaten in weeks. Lest you think it was only good in comparison, my mom kept exclaiming how good it was and asking for more. She was really impressed with my little improvised dinner.

The next night I did much the same thing, only with red tomatoes and a big dollop of ricotta cheese. Unfortunately, I think I cooked it too long, and didn't keep it moist enough, because this turned into a bit of a gluey paste. Not at all tasty, and it was all the more unfortunate because I knew just how good it could have been.

I also made one more slight variation, trying to mix in some extra veggies. I tossed in some zucchini and corn, but the flavors all got a bit muddled and again a bit dry and overcooked. It was better than the incredibly sticky and bland red tomato sauce edition, but it just couldn't compare to the golden tomato pastina.

You can see in the photos just how much creamier the first go around looked. It really came out perfectly.

The pastina risotto method is a bit temperamental, I guess, but it's definitely worth messing around with because the results can be spectacular. Pastina may be a popular baby food, but soft food diet or not, I certainly did enjoy it. And if delicious isn't enough for you, this has also got to be the quickest pasta dish you'll ever make. Quick and easy, but totally homemade and tasty. I'd say that's pretty awesome.

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