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Chicken soup + stelline pasta = Italian comfort food at its most deliciously soothing.
As a little girl newly arrived in Los Angeles, most of the typical American foods my school friends ate were pretty exotic to me: things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or baked beans from a can seemed strange – and not entirely appealing, to be completely honest. Going over to eat at a friend's house was like walking through a minefield half the time, especially since a lot of the moms we all knew relied on convenience foods, like frozen dinners and canned ravioli, foods my mother never ever served simply because she was not familiar with them. (To be fair, I'm sure a lot of what we did eat at my house struck my classmates as just as foreign and gross back then, although they are probably happy to order things like pasta con sardo or eggplant parmigiana from a restaurant now.)
The one exception was an old familiar friend that came in an iconic red-and-white can: Campbell's Chicken and Stars soup. I doubt my buddies' parents had any idea that this childhood classic, every bit as "all-American" as tomato or cream of mushroom as far as they were concerned, was actually based on an Italian recipe that I adored and reminded me of home. Made with a tiny variety of pastina called stelline, a dish of these tiny soupy stars was every mother's and grandmother's go-to feel-good food, the thing we were served as kids when we stayed home from school sick in bed with an upset tummy. It was warm and soothing and nourishing and pleasantly bland, its chickeny goodness enhanced with just a hint of Parmesan.
To this day I consider it my ultimate comfort food, and I make it for Jade, too, when she's feeling under the weather. The trick is to cook the little pasta shapes in the broth so that as they soften and expand they soak up a lot of the broth. The final "soup" should be almost more pasta than broth, a cross between a risotto and a very thick stew. I like to cook a Parmesan rind along with the pasta and veggies to boost the flavor, and when it's time to serve it I grate a flurry of fine shavings on top. It's one of those dishes I tend to make when it's "just us girls" for dinner; sometimes we even work a little astronomy lesson into the meal!
Don't wait until you're suffering from a tummy ache to try this; like the folks at Campbell's knew way back when, it's mmm-mmm good.