Pastina Stars with Butter and Milk

Nothing is more emblematic of an Italian childhood than pastina (literally, “little pasta”) with butter and milk. It’s baby’s first solid food, remembered in adulthood with great nostalgia. There are many different varieties of pastina, including anellini (“little rings”), stelline (“little stars”), acini de pepe (“peppercorns”), funghetti (“little mushrooms”), alfabeti (“alphabets”), and orzo (“barley”), to name a few of the most common.–Julia della Croce

LC Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star Note

Soooo cute, right? But not so cute that adults can’t sit down to pastina for dinner once in a while alongside the kids–especially after one of those days, when these little stars makes everything better in the twinkling of an eye. So when you wish upon a star, wish hard for Pastina Stars with Butter and Milk. You’ll thank us.

Pastina Stars with Butter and Milk Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 10 M
  • 20 M
  • Serves 4 children or 2 adults

Ingredients

  • 1 cup “little stars” pastina, or other tiny pastina shapes
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup warm milk, plus more if desired

Directions

  • 1. Bring 3 quarts (12 cups) water to a boil. Stir in the pastina and salt. Cook according to the package directions. Drain, reserving the cooking water, and transfer to a bowl.
  • 2. While the pasta is still piping hot, add the butter, burying it in the pasta to melt it. Stir in the warm milk. If a looser texture is desired, add a little more warm milk. Serve at once to prevent the pastina from drying out and clumping. For best results, stir in a little of the reserved cooking water as needed to keep the pasta moist.
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Comments
Comments
  1. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Helen Doberstein] This brings back fond memories for me. This is the first thing I did when my kids were very little and being fussy or under the weather. If nothing else, I could count on this to keep their strength up. I would sprinkle a little cheese onto the pasta, because for them cheese made everything better. This is nothing short of good, simple comfort food, something every cook should have in their back pocket. I also like this with a cup of frozen veggies tossed in when it’s just me and my sweetie for dinner.

  2. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Jo Ann Brown] Being Italian-American, this dish has taken me through many stages of living. From my first food, to an economical meal instead of ramen noodles during those college days, to a quick dinner after a long, late day at work, pastina is easy to prepare, simple, and neutral. This recipe for “stelline” (little stars) is the pastina in its purest form. My tips: the serving yield for this recipe is pretty big. I would halve the recipe to serve two adults or four bambinos. If you are feeling like being a little more decadent and grown-up, spoon in a tablespoon or two of mascarpone or fromage blanc. Heaven!

  3. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Bette Fraser] While I couldn’t find pastina or any of the smaller shapes suggested, I went with what was available at my gourmet grocery store (I do live in a small town). I could have used orzo, but I decided upon a high-end brand of dried pasta from Italy. I was was rewarded with a delicious tasting pasta! While I make pasta all the time, I had never thought to add a bit of warmed milk. It added a surprising deliciousness that children and adults could certainly enjoy.

  4. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Terri Delia] I made the pastina with butter and milk as written, but ended up using less milk than the recipe called for. This dish is definitely considered comfort food in our house. Pastina has been a staple for us since my kids were born and was one of the first foods we (my Italian mother-in-law) introduced them to. Needless to say, we loved this recipe for its simplicity and comforting memories it evoked. Not to mention the argument it also evoked between my 15-year-old and 20-year-old over the bit left in the pan — so I made more.

  5. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Tamiko L.] This is the perfect recipe for a rainy day, or to curl up by a fire with. Warm, creamy, comforting, and so simple. Being gluten-free, the only little pastas I could find were alphabets, and I felt like a kid again. This was a fun, quick and easy meal that took me right back to childhood — minus the florescent orangey/yellow tinge. I couldn’t resist adding a bit of Parmesan cheese, though…after all, what is a creamy pasta without the Parm?

  6. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Susan B.] At first glance, I thought this pasta sounded awful. Like macaroni and cheese without the cheese. But after having kind of a rough day at work, I wanted nothing more than a bowl full of simply dressed pasta. Enter Pastina “stars” with Butter and Milk. It was just what I needed — simple, creamy and a little salty. I saved some pasta water, like the recipe suggests, but I really didn’t need it. The bit of cooking water left clinging to the orzo mingled nicely with the warm milk and butter. I can see why this is baby’s first food and something adults remember with fond memories. I’m sure I’ll turn to it often when I need a little pick me up.

  7. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Melinda Hamby] This made both a wonderful side dish, as well as a main dish when I added chipped chicken and mushrooms.

  8. perudelights says:

    I would love to add some cheese. This is comfort food at its best. Thanks for the memories.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Let there be cheese, perudelights. And you’re welcome. Thanks for taking the time to swing by…let us know how you like it.

  9. Martha in KS says:

    I have a box of the stars and one of the alphabets, bought because they were cute years ago. Thanks for the recipe! It reminds me of the Cream of Wheat we ate as children. Dried cranberries or raisins will make it even better!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      These cutesy shapes bring back memories, don’t they, Martha in KS?!

  10. Alice G says:

    This is such a homey comfort food. The post is warming me up on this cold dreary day.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      It’s the perfect weather for pastina, isn’t it, Alice G? At least this weather is perfect for something…

  11. Cara says:

    My gram always made this for us when we were sick. She cooked the pastina in some chicken broth and added a scrambled egg to it.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Oooh that rendition sounds terrific, Cara. Many thanks. I’m going to give that a whirl, though I may not wait until I’m sick…

  12. Linda says:

    Ahh, my grandma used to make this but called it macaroni and milk. :). We have it often.

  13. astheroshe says:

    I have three boxes in my pantry. My Mom always made this for me as a kid. It is one of my fondest memories, and most delicious!

  14. Meghan says:

    I didn’t think I’d find a recipe for my baby on one of my favorite gourmet websites, but I’m so glad I did! I can’t wait to introduce this to my 7-month old.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      We’re glad you did, too, Meghan. Let us know how it goes! And from what we’re hearing, you may wish to sneak a spoonful, too…

  15. Anita says:

    I learned about pastina from my first stepmother, who didn’t like most traditional breakfast foods. She made it with chicken broth and butter, and so did I. I used milk to cook all other breakfast hot cereals, but broth for pastina.

  16. Penny Wolf says:

    Anytime our parents were to be out for a date night or party, this was the request for dinner by my brothers and I. It was almost always elbows and more butter than milk with plenty of salt and pepper. A big bowl of that in my jammies is dining at it’s finest! (Brothers allowed with minimal teasing, please.)

  17. jen says:

    I had no idea this was a dish that anyone else in the world made – aside from me and my mom. It’s my ultimate comfort food and it really made my day to see it here. The key is getting the perfect butter-salt-milk balance – just keep adjusting till maximum yumminess is achieved.

    I make it in a pyrex in the microwave! I pour off most of the water toward the end of cooking, cook it some more so it absorbs a bit, then go in with the butter, milk and salt. I even eat it out of the pyrex since the warmth of the big bowl is totally part of the comfort. Or maybe that’s just me.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Jen, we so appreciate you sharing your tricks and tactics. As for the comfort derived from the warmth of the big bowl, um, we can understand that. Boy, can we…

  18. Elissa says:

    This brings back memories from my childhood, its my FAVORITE comfort food, and my son enjoys it as well, with cheese, without, any way and manner, pastina is the best!

  19. Janet S. says:

    This takes me back! My Jamaican mom would make this for breakfast… add a little pure vanilla extract and dried currants with nutmeg or cinnamon. This is the perfect breakfast for a cold winter school day …any day really.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Our gratitude not just to you for sharing, Janet, but to your Jamaican mom. Stellar idea…

  20. Katie says:

    Wow. Seeing this recipe brings tears to my eyes! Great, great memories eating this as a child with my brother. A little bit of butter, salt and pepper, and lots of milk and Parmesan!

    • Rachel Kaufman says:

      Katie, love how the simplest recipes can be the ones that stick with you! Thanks for commenting!

  21. Lori says:

    This reminds me of when I was a child. My mother was a single parent and after school, while she was at work, we went straight to Mrs. Chiccheti (the one who would take care of us until mom came to get us after work). Pastina with butter is one of the things she would make for us. Wonderful comfort food.

    • Beth Price, LC Director of Recipe Testing says:

      Hi Lori, isn’t it lovely that food can evoke such memories?

  22. Sara says:

    This is so simple and yet so satisfying! I had some for dinner and then more for dessert with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. This is definitely going to be one of my quick and easy go-to recipes. Now to find a cheaper source of pastina….

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Perhaps you ought to consider traveling to Italy and stocking up on pastina, Sara….

    • Lindsay Myers says:

      I had a pastina success story last night as well, Sara! It saved the day when my risotto-bound rice turned up full of weevils (sigh). I’d never considered dessert pasta, but you’ve inspired me to try it out–it sounds a little bit like rice pudding.

  23. nik says:

    Add me to the list of “pastina as comfort food from childhood” fans. Still to this day it’s my favorite, especially when I’m feeling under the weather. As kids Mom would make Acini Di Pepe (tiny peppercorn shapes) with heaps of butter and salt and Stelline (tiny stars) the same way or in soup. You can usually find both by De Cecco, DaVinci or Ronzoni/Prince. I make it the same way, with butter or garlic evoo. A big heavy bowl of steamy warm pastina melts me with pleasure every single time. :)

    • Beth Price, LC Director of Recipe Testing says:

      Oh, Nik, I feel the same way. Pasta, butter and salt. Nothing else is needed.

  24. Cherie DeAndrea says:

    I am a planning a special dinner party and Googled “Leites Culinaria Italian” and discovered this post. I don’t recall seeing this recipe for pastina—my personal “go-to” pasta for comfort food—before. From a tummyache to a heartache, there was nothing like my Italian born grandmother and my father’s soothing words delivered with a bowl of pastina. I made pastina for my baby who is now my 20-year-old son. I am delighted to see this recipe—it’s a reminder of very special memories with the most beloved members of my family. I will have to make this in honor of those wonderful meals with my late grandmother and father—and be thankful for my good health, my true love, and the family I now share my life with.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Cherie, many, many thanks for sharing this sentiment with us. You’ve reminded us of many lovely things we’re thankful for, including pastina, too. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this recipe as well as other recipes….

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