By Kara Kimbrough
“After extensive efforts, we regretfully announce that Ronzoni Pastina is being discontinued.” The Jan. 3 announcement from the long-time pasta manufacturer sent shock waves through America. Headlines like, "Pastini fans are devastated!" and "Mourning continues for pastini" dominated the internet and air waves for days. Despite being a pasta lover, I’ve never tasted pastina. A little research reminded me why it's never been on my must-try list.
Pastini actually means “little pasta.” I like pasta that's thick and hearty, strong enough to hold up to the covering of sauce, melted butter or whatever's on hand. Most pastina is 1/16th of an inch; much too small for my taste. But according to many, especially legions of Italians who grew up on the comfort food and are understandably upset, pastini is delicious when cooked in chicken broth or used as a thickener for numerous soups. Despite the outcry, pastina isn’t totally disappearing from store shelves. Other brands, including gourmet pasta manufacturers, will supposedly be offering it. It just won't be Ronzoni, a brand most U.S. supermarket chains regularly stock.
The continuous discussion about pastini brought to mine other memorable pasta meals. I won’t repeat a recent column in which I listed some of my favorite pasta meals in Mississippi (email me if you’d like a refresher) but suffice to say, a state known more for fried chicken, biscuits and sweet tea actually contains a decent share of restaurants offering above-average Italian cuisine.
State loyalty aside, the best pasta meals of my life were enjoyed in New York City, a place filled with family-owned restaurants dating back decades as well as nationally-renowned eateries that serve outstanding Italian cuisine.
Dining at Carmine’s was one of the highlights of recent trips, followed closely behind pre-theater meals at Sardi’s, a NYC stalwart frequented by celebrities since 1927 and Becco, famed chef Lidia Bastianich's restaurant. Carmine's spaghetti and meatballs and chicken parmesan, Becco’s sinfonia di paste, a trio of penne alla vodka with sautéed shrimp, artichoke ravioli and tagiolini with fresh tomato sauce and Sardi’s’ cannelloni still linger in my mind.
Sadly, my schedule (and post-Christmas budget) didn't allow for another NYC trip to take advantage of the annual Winter Outing. Going on now through Feb. 13, restaurants, hotels and attractions offer promotions and special rates not found any other time of the year. If, unlike me, you can arrange a quick trip, reservations for all programs are bookable at nycgo.com/winterouting.
OK, enough daydreaming about unforgettable pasta meals up north. It is possible to create delicious Italian dinners in your own kitchen. Before you begin, however, invest in an inexpensive Microwave Pasta Boat, sold at most supermarkets and online. Using this quick method of boiling pasta has truly been life-changing for me; so much so that I invested in an extra one as backup.
And second, while most jarred sauce is more than acceptable, consider making your own if time allows. Stocking my freezer with a supply this summer when fresh tomatoes were available has proven to be one of my top accomplishments of 2022. If you’d like my easy recipe, drop me an email and I’ll send it to you.
Here is one favorite pasta dishes – it’s a favorite not just for the taste and the fact that it contains most of my favorite ingredients, but because it can be completed in less than 30 minutes. It’ll just have to suffice until I can afford an airline ticket to NYC. Until then…enjoy!
Skillet Shrimp Scampi
1 pound medium raw shrimp, peeled, cleaned and butterflied
1 stick butter, divided
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¼ cup of chicken or vegetable broth
¼ cup water
6 Roma tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
12-ounce package angel hair pasta, cooked
Parmesan cheese, grated
Tablespoon of chopped chives
Melt ½ of the stick of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute. Add shrimp and stir until they are pink, 3-4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Melt remaining half- stick of butter in the skillet and sprinkle with flour; stir until smooth. Add broth and lemon juice; stir until smooth. Add chopped tomatoes, green onions and return shrimp to the pan. Cook until heated through. Season with salt and crushed red pepper to taste and serve over pasta. Top with grated Parmesan cheese and chives (optional).
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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