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Ever heard of stelline?
Have you ever heard of pastina? How about stelline? Pastina roughly means small pasta; and stelline are very small, star-shaped pasta with a hole in the middle. Both pastina and stelline have been used in Italian kitchens since the 16th century, and both are typically found in broths. But while pastina is used in an everyday meal, stelline is something special. The star shape lends itself to celebrations like weddings.
While there’s no historical record or regional association with stelline in Italy itself, the shape for many Italians around the world still conjures feelings of home, eating with family, and slurping up soups with images of the cosmos.
One of those Italians who happens to be enamored with the shape is Stanley Tucci. Tucci teamed up with famed pasta brand Rummo, a Campania-based company that’s been making incredible pasta since 1846, and S.Pellegrino to create an at-home stelline pasta kit that’s perfect for reminiscing about Italy during the holiday winter months.
We chatted with Tucci about it to discover his love of stelline and more.
Related: Stanley Tucci Tells Us His Favorite Spots in Italy
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you learn about stelline in the first place, and what drew you to it?
Well, it’s a staple in an Italian household. I don’t know when stelline was first invented, but I’m glad it was because I grew up on it. And it’s great. It’s the kind of pasta that you’d put in a soup like a broth. It’s small, it’s delicate, but also when it’s served with just butter and cheese is incredibly delicious–delicate and comforting. The two dishes and recipes that we put in the meal kit are two dishes that, as I said, I grew up with. But they were usually served when you were unwell. So, the soup you’d have when you had cold. And the pasta with butter and cheese is something you’d have when your stomach was off. And my mom also made the soup, you know, throughout the winter, because it was just good for you.
I don’t know about the science of dairy on a sour stomach, but we’ll go with it.
White food. When they had stomach aches, they’d have just chicken, boiled chicken, or something like that, like really simple. Everything is white. And I guess butter and cheese are part of that.
So did you ever have stelline in Italy? And if so, where and for what occasion? Maybe other than being ill?
It’s not something you really serve in a restaurant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a restaurant. It’s only something I’ve ever made at home or had it at people’s houses or something.
Does it make you think about anything in Italy in particular? Or is it more like this is home in your grandmother’s kitchen?
It reminds me of home. It reminds me of my upbringing more than Italy itself.
So, you wouldn’t be able to tell anybody where to go find this when you’re traveling through Italy?
You’d be able to buy it in the shops. But I think you might be hard-pressed to find it in a restaurant.
When you were growing up, was your pastina in the shape of stars? And how did you settle on stars for this kit?
Because the stars were being discontinued [by Rummo]. Which I thought was weird. From what I can remember, as a kid, you’d have the stars or you might have just a little tiny pastina which is like a dot of pasta. But the stars, kids love them. I always gave them to my kids growing up and they just loved that it’s a star.
Tell me about this holiday recipe kit. What inspired you to do it?
I’ve been working with S.Pellegrino for a couple of years. We did a meal kit last year. And they came to me and said, “Do you want to do another meal kit?” And they said, “Do you know that this type of pasta is being discontinued? We want to help bring it back because we all love it. Do you have any recipes?” And I named these two recipes. And then we figured out how to put the kit together. But then the whole recipe is there. And if you want to make it yourself from scratch, you can do that. You can get a chicken, make the chicken stock, and do the whole thing.
I wonder if Chef Boyardee was inspired by stelline. Do you have a story behind these recipes in particular?
Oh, just, that’s what I grew up with. And a lot of Italians grew up with these two recipes. The broth was something my aunt would make on Thanksgiving. And as I said, my mom would make it all through the winter. And then the pasta with butter and cheese is really just a comfort food and a really quick easy meal to make for your kids.
Can you tell me specifically what comes in the kit in addition to the stelline?
You’re gonna get the veg, which is celery and carrots and some onion. You’re gonna get some chicken, you’re gonna get the broth. You should be getting parmigiano. That’s basically the whole thing. And then you’re just going to cook it up. With the meatball you’ll get parsley too, and some breadcrumbs because the little meatballs are really simple. You make them with Romano cheese, the breadcrumbs, and an egg and then the chicken that’s sort of minced up. And that’s it, you form them into little meatballs, put them in the broth, cook them very quickly. And that’s it.
Is the parmigiano from Italy?
Parmigiano should be from Italy.
Is the pasta made in Italy as well?
Yeah, it’s from Rummo.
I’m just always curious about the distinctions between Italian American versus regional Italian. I don’t like to use the word authentic because it’s sort of a loaded word. But how do you look at pastina through that lens?
I don’t know. I don’t really know the genesis of that particular kind of pasta. It’s obviously a pasta that was made after the machine age, because who’s gonna make little stars like that with their hands? It’s not gonna happen. So, we can assume this happened in the early part of the 20th century. But pastina and stelline seem to fit on both sides of that culinary world, Italian American and Italian. It really then depends on what you do with them. How you treat them, and that goes for any shape of pasta.
I wonder if it’s like an Emilia Romagna tradition because of the broths that they typically have in that region?
Yeah, maybe. Their stock is interesting because then you like a capon stock. And sometimes they’ll have a beef. Usually it’ll just be tortellini. And with the tortellini you can have it in many different forms.
Right, but also you have the parmigiano, and then the butter, and Emilia Romagna is like the Mason-Dixon Line of Italy where butter is on this side, oil is on that side, and parmigiano is right in the middle.
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