If you’ve ever bought a box of Ronzoni pasta, you might have noticed a different number on the box for every variety. Spaghetti is number eight. Ziti is number two. Lasagna is number 81.
These days, the worldwide Italian community mourns the passing of number 155, pastina, which is just about the smallest pasta known to man. The word means “tiny dough” and the pasta is shaped like stars. Traditionally the first pasta fed to Italian babies, many simply refer to it as pasteen.
In discontinuing pastina, Ronzoni has eliminated something that is a part of every Paisan’s childhood. As any Italian will tell you, nothing beats soup with pastina when you’re sick. Hence the nickname of Italian Penicillin. (Not to be confused with Jewish Penicillin, which is simply chicken soup, but also a very tasty and effective cold and flu remedy.) Italian chicken soup always has goodies thrown in: little meatballs, bits of chicken, fresh parsley, garlic, you name it.
Growing up, kids knew Ronzoni pasta more by numbers than names. Probably because it was easy for moms to send kids to the neighborhood grocery store without a list. Instead of my mother telling me, “Go get a box of acini de pepe” she would simply say, “Number 44.”
But there was always a box of number 155 standing by in the cupboard in case anyone had a cold or the flu. You might be absolutely miserable, but a hot bowl of soup with pastina would make you feel better the moment it arrived. The steam and the accompanying flavors would rise, filling your nostrils with something wonderful. Then a spoonful of pastina, the pasta so small you didn’t even have to chew, would bring instant relief. Heck, just seeing my mother make a pot would make me feel better. The aroma would fill the kitchen, the steam better than any old-fashioned vaporizer.
But, as seems to be the trend these days, the things we loved as children are disappearing. When Ronzoni announced it was discontinuing number 155, you’d think they’d declared war on Italy. Social media blew up. Ronzoni was right up there with Mussolini.
I panicked, then checked our own pantry and was thrilled to find a one and a half boxes. They immediately went into the freezer. I then sprang into action, hitting five grocery stores. Alas, some faster Italians got there first. I found an empty space in every pasta section where pastina had resided.
So I checked to see if I could buy more online. Nothing on Amazon, but there were a few boxes on eBay.
For forty bucks.
Like I said, Italians take this seriously.
At least I have enough for about ten pots of Italian Penicillin. But I cannot help but think of those sick people out there who will have no recourse other than to go to the drug store for stuff that doesn’t work.
Meanwhile, if I run out, I’m wondering if I can put some number 44 into a coffee grinder to make the tiny pasta. Even if it works, it won’t be the same.
Maybe Ronzoni will reconsider.
Randy Tatano is the author of more than 20 novels, writing political thrillers under the pen name Nick Harlow and romantic comedies as Nic Tatano. He spent 30 years working in television news as a local affiliate reporter and network field producer.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.
Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.