Friday, October 25, 2013

Marcel Proust's Pastina

Fig.1. Pastina the way my mother made it. The pasta changed with her moods and the specials of the week but she always used a small pasta.

The longer you are disconnected from ancestry, the more you connect with a way of life that alienates oneself from the past. Food, however, is one of those marvelous vehicles that can help you reconnect with not only tradition, but with an emotional state of childhood bliss lost in the recesses of your adult mind: a Rosebud winter stew, a Proustian Madeleine, or in my case, a pastina soup made with chicken, carrots, celery, and of course, pasta.

Fig.2. The guy on your left is thinking about gnocchi. The framed guy on your right is thinking about his aunt's madeleines and tea. Ref-Portrait de Marcel Proust, Jacques-Emile Blanche 1892. Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

Marcel Proust, in his epic work, In Search of Lost Time (also published under, In Remembrance of Things Past, and originally in French as, A la Recherch√© du Tempe Perdu) addresses (among many other things) the notion of food and memories.  The narrator, in Volume one of Proust’s epic, is reminded of his past while eating a madeleine soaked in tea.  This madeleine triggered an event the narrator describes as, An Involuntary Memory, which is defined by Oxford as: a subcomponent of memory that occurs when cues encountered in everyday life evoke recollections of the past without conscious effort.
Based on this definition, an involuntary memory cannot be planned. Now here comes the conundricle (I just made this word up) paradox: If I suggest, like I often do, and by the very nature of this article, and indeed, the right existence of this blog, that you go and connect with your culinary past and cook something traditional, the experience will be voluntary, thereby evoking a Voluntary Memory; rather, what I want all of you to do is simply to be aware.  Awareness comes in the form of many guises, but the best pretext of all is the one that come unexpectedly. So the next time you’re eating something home-made, empty your mind of disconnecting thoughts and allow your attention to transcend into a netherworld of trapped memories. I don’t know how to do this, but according to Proust, it will happen on it’s own if you let it.
And another thing, if you’re a parent, pay attention to what foods you’re offering your child in moments of distress, these comforting foods are the very triggers your child will involuntarily experience 30 years from now when they themselves are assaulted by life’s grievances. Food that will reconnect your child to you long after they have lives of their own and become disconnected with you in the paternal sense.  It’s in your child’s best interest that they involuntarily recall something you made from the heart, rather than from any reactions that might derived from a Twinkie.

Pastina is soup derived from stock. The very word pastina amongst Italians connotes comfort.  It’s what our grandmothers and mothers made us when we were sick or throughout the cold winter months.  If I needed extra soothing, my mother would cut up hot dogs and add them to my pastina. Any stock will do.

Chicken bones
4 chicken thighs
6 carrots
6 celery stalks
1 large onion
5 cloves garlic, whole
4 Bay leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cooked pasta (use something small)

Put all of your ingredients in a large stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a light boil and simmer for 3 to 4 hours. Make sure you skim the fat periodically. Let the stock cool overnight in the fridge. Remove any fat that has congealed on the surface and remove all of the ingredients from the stock.  Pass the stock through a sieve to remove any floating particles. (I don’t always do this. Floating particles do not bother me nor do I weigh the want or appearance of consomm√© upon my culinary shoulders.) Cut up the chicken, carrots, celery and onion, and discard the bay leaves, garlic and chicken bones. Add the pasta to the broth and what you’ve got is an Italian Pastina alla Nonna.

Fig.3. Watch Anton Ego have an Involuntary Memory. (I always cry when I watch this.)


Liliana said...

My Nonna Rosa and my Mamma used to make this soup when we were sick. This soup represents love and caring for me. I make it for my family.

Great post. Thanks for sharing.

The Hungry Italian said...

You're Welcome Liliana. It is a wonderful soup. It's also proof that food is a powerful emotional stimulus; good for the spirit as well as the stomach.