Pastina with Butter and Milk

Pastina with butter and milk is an easy Italian comfort food made with star-shaped pasta and pantry staples. Soothing to kids of all ages.

Pot filled with star pasta, melting butter, and a wooden spoon all on a towel

According to the author of this pastina with butter and milk recipe, Julia della Croce, “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. 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 with butter and milk. [Editor’s note: Although truth be told, there are countless shapes of pastina, including anellini (little rings), stelline (little stars), acini de pepe (peppercorns), funghetti (little mushrooms), and alfabeti (alphabets). But we’re partial to these wee stars.] Originally published November 29, 2011.Renee Schettler Rossi

Pastina 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.
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

#leitesculinaria on Instagram If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Recipe Testers Reviews

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.

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!

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.

Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.)

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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….

    1. 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.

  13. 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. :)

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

    2. Bertoli and Ronzoni make Pastina. Ronzoni and DeCecco make Acini di pepe. Both are staples with my family. Chicken soup isn’t chicken soup without the BBs (acini di pepe). I can get the Acini di pepe locally but have to send away for the pastina now.

  14. 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.

    1. 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….

  15. This was always my mom and my ultimate comfort food we loved to share. I am so happy to find this. I literally was just eating this and felt I needed to look up to see if other people eat this as well. My fiance thinks it’s so strange! But it’s really my most favorite comfort food that I really only get to cook when I’m on my own for dinner! It’s still delicious left over microwaved with a little more milk to soften it up again. And I love stirring in a nice heaping spoonful of sour cream! Soooo good.

    1. Kaitlyn, thanks so much for taking the time to share your take on this comfort food! Especially love the trick about microwaving it with more milk. Again, thank you, and I look forward to hearing which recipes on the site you happen upon next!

  16. This brings me back to my childhood! My Nana used to make this for me all the time, adding scrambled egg and Locatelli Pecorino Romano. My favorite comfort food! 40+ years later and my 11 year old would eat it every night of the week if she could.

    1. Looooooooove! Many thanks for taking the time to share your memories, Michelle. It never ceases to amaze me that food conjures memories even after so long. So lovely that they remain so strongly with us. Glad to hear that the pastina-loving trait seems to have been passed down through the next generation!

  17. How could I have forgotten Pastina?? Like an old friend coming home this recipe took me right back to my Nonnie cooking this for all that ails! Upset stomach? Cold? Broke up with boyfriend? The Pastina with love is the cure all, Thanks so much for reminding me what I was missing! Perfect day after Christmas lunch!!

  18. My mom used to make this for us when we were little. If we were not feeling well, she would add a little beaten egg to it while melting the butter. That was a treat!

  19. I made the “Pastina” recipe for my 2-year-old granddaughter who always asks for either pasta or macaroni and cheese. I used the little alphabets because that’s what I had in the cupboard, and added some grated Parmesan; and little Evvie ate the whole plate in front of her and declared, “It’s Good Grandma!” Since I’m the VoVo here, you should know, it might be Italian, but it’s also very much a Portuguese comfort food too! I will be making this again and again and again and….

    Young girl seated at a table holding a spoon, in front is a bowl of pastina

      1. Oh, and David, in addition, let me add that I needed to make lunch for Grandpa too! So I gave him some Pastina, and to his I added some leftover grilled sliced chourico and kielbasa, because that’s what I had in the house! A delicious meal for adults too! I’m thinking about more ways to use this quick and easy to make comfort food! Thanks David ❤️

  20. Pastina is a comfort food in my family too. Only we do it a bit differently. After the pastina is cooked and drained we stir in a beaten egg and then if necessary return to the heat for a bit, continuing to stir, then take it off before the egg is entirely cooked so you get a sort of creamy scrambled egg with pasta. Salt and pepper to taste. You can add a bit of cheese too if you are inclined.

    My 88-year-old mother recently went through some health issues and didn’t have much of an appetite for anything so I made her a little bowl of pastina. It was just what she needed.

    It is really difficult to find in the stores on the west coast now so I have to order it online. Usually 6-12 boxes at a time. You’d think it would be a lifetime supply but no, every few years I have to order another dozen boxes. I do keep mine tightly sealed in Tupperware to ensure there is no contamination.

    I have read of making this recipe with butter and milk and then adding cinnamon, sugar and perhaps some other spices such as cloves, nutmeg or cardamom. I’ll bet it tastes delicious that way.

    1. mlaiuppa, many thanks for sharing this. What you describe is something similar to what my mom would make me when I wasn’t feeling well, which was scrambled eggs with macaroni. Granted, your version sounds more elegant! I think perhaps it’s hard to go wrong when tweaking this recipe to personal preference, yes? Kindly let us know what variations you try so we can share them with others…

Leave a Reply to perudelights Cancel reply

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Send it along. Covet one of those spiffy pictures of yourself to go along with your comment? Get a free Gravatar. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

Rate this recipe!

Have you tried this recipe?
Let us know what you think.