The word "pastina" is used to describe very small pasta, not necessarily a certain shape. It's an ingredient you'll find often in Italian cookbooks. In Italy, it's a favorite pasta to serve children, so many Italians have fond childhood memories of it. It's so well-loved that it has been incorporated into Italian-American foods as well. The small size makes pastina a great filler for soups. It's also found in salads and dishes that may otherwise use rice, such as pilaf.
The Pastina Shape
Commonly called pastina in the United States, you may also find this pasta referred to as "pastini" or "pastine." There is no standard "pastina" pasta shape. Rather, it's a general term for any small, shaped pasta. Pastina can be shaped like little stars, tubes, or even tiny macaroni noodles or shells. Orzo is often classified as pastina as well. Barilla is one popular brand that sells tiny star-shaped pasta, traditionally called "stelline," under the name pastina. Though nearly any shape will do, generally, pasta smaller than about 1/4 inch qualifies as pastina.
How to Use Pastina
Any pastina shape works well in soups, including tomato soup, minestrone, or vegetable noodle soup. You can add a handful to just about any kind of soup imaginable. Pastina added to a rich flavorful broth makes an easy soup if you're recovering from an illness or have a queasy stomach.
Some people like a simple dish of buttered pastina with Parmesan cheese. Try it in recipes that typically use rice, such as a pastina pilaf, or orzo and couscous recipes. It can also be tossed with a few simple ingredients for a delicious and healthy side salad, served either hot or cold.
How to Cook With Pastina
Pastina is tiny so it tends to cook quicker than other kinds of pasta. It may cook in as few as five minutes, depending on the type of pastina you're using. Read the box for specific cooking times.
Generally, pastina makers recommend using four to six quarts of boiling water, just like when cooking larger pasta. That will require draining once the pastina is done. Use a strainer with small enough holes so your pastina doesn't fall through. Some cooks prefer less liquid, adding just enough water or broth so the pastina cooks through without scorching. This approach doesn't require draining and is often used when adding other ingredients to the pot, such as butter and cheese which will melt and add liquid.
While there are dedicated pastina recipes, any shape can be used in recipes that call for orzo. These can be more plentiful as orzo is one of the best-known types of pastina.
Where to Buy Pastina
Many major supermarkets and well-stocked grocers will carry at least one form of pastina. It will be stocked among the other kinds of pasta. You can also find a great variety online. Orzo is typically the easiest variety to find and all pastina is generally inexpensive.