2023 is barely underway, but it already has its first major casualty: Ronzoni announced last week that it would be ceasing production this January of pastina, the star-shaped pasta beloved in so many Italian American households.
Ronzoni gave little information as to why it would be discontinuing pastina, besides a tweet the brand shared, claiming it was a difficult but unavoidable decision resulting from a problem with its supplier. “We searched extensively for an alternative solution but were unable to identify a viable solution,” the tweet read. The backlash to the news was immediate. Tearful farewells appeared on TikTok; Twitter users decried the decision, with one user sharing a gif of White Lotus’s Jennifer Coolidge crying and shooting a gun with the caption, “Me after finding the person at Ronzoni responsible for discontinuing pastina.” At this time, six separate petitions have formed on Change.org to try to save the pasta. Meanwhile, offline pastina lovers have already started hoarding boxes.
I get the devastation: I grew up eating the comfort food staple, which was often served with a simple but heaping combination of salt, butter, milk, or parmesan. My mother made it for me when I was sick and it was the first food I learned how to make on the stovetop. At some point in fifth grade, I made it every day as an after-school snack. After two weeks of finding tiny stars in the kitchen drain, my mother dryly informed me that it was time to “cool it with the pastina.”
Pastina literally means “little pasta” and can refer to any number of miniature pastas, but Ronzoni, founded in 1915 by an Italian immigrant, helped to mainstream the star shape found in pasta bowls across the U.S. It boils in a few minutes because of its small shape and makes a whimsical addition to soups, whether in a chicken-and-stars or a celebratory Italian wedding. It’s often cut from the leftovers of pasta. Scraps of dough, rendered celestial.
The adoration for pastina starts at an early age. YouTube hosts thousands of videos of users making pastina “just like nonna did.” The Sopranos references it multiple times; Carmela lovingly calls the dish “pasteen” when offering to make it for sick family members. “Pastina is the one thing I can count on,” one glum petitioner wrote. Another expanded on the dish’s importance to Italian Americans: “Pastina is the best! I have had it since I was a child and now make it for my family. Don’t do this! You are killing my and many Italian family traditions! Basta!”
Today, whenever I make pastina, I think about why I became so attached to the stuff. I was the only Black girl in fifth grade, getting off the bus with frizzy hair I didn’t know how to care for and a craving for the most comforting food I knew. Even though I have little contact with the white, Italian-American side of my extended family, I still crave pastina when I am sick or heartbroken. Like my mother, I always keep a box in my pantry.
One small relief: Though it appears the humble pastina is the latest victim in an increasingly tenuous supply chain, supermarket chain Barilla does seem like it will continue to make the iconic shape. So rest easy, my fellow star-eaters—pastina will live on, even if it might be harder to find than before. In the meantime, get down to your nearest pasta aisle, like I’ll be doing, and stock up.