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Cooking for Hugo: Pastina for Dinner

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Let me tell you a little bit about pastina, my secret weapon, my loyal friend. It is quick, it is nourishing, it is guaranteed to delight even the pickiest eater and, most importantly, really, it is delicious.

Well, of course it is. It's just pasta, in adorable little shapes (alphabet letters! grains of rice! melon seeds! little squares!), cooked in a little bit of barely-salted water, then served in a puddle of cooking water, with a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of grated Parmesan cheese on top.

I started feeding Hugo this base recipe for pastina when he was 6 or 7 months old and oh, how he'd open his mouth wide, tilting his head back, blinking desperately at me for more and more! It was something else.

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Now that he's a little older, I add a few quartered cherry tomatoes to the water along with the pasta and then pull the skins off with my fingers before serving the dish to Hugo for dinner and he gobbles up those cooked, sweet tomatoes with gusto.

When we were in Italy, our friend Maria (or was it Franca?) gave us a few freshly laid eggs from her chickens. Back home, at dinnertime, my aunt Laura told me to stir one of the eggs into Hugo's pot of pastina, just after the pasta finished cooking and the flame was already turned off.

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What resulted was a stewier, creamier version of egg drop soup. Not only did Hugo practically inhale it, but I even found myself sneaking a bite or three when he wasn't looking.

The heat of the boiling water cooks the egg almost instantly as you stir it into the pot. Since the eggs were so fresh and impeccable, I didn't have any concerns with salmonella, but if you are in any way worried, you can just stir the egg into the pot before taking it off the flame. But either way, work quickly - you don't need to cook the egg for very long.

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Egg or no egg, I love giving Hugo a bowl of pastina for dinner. It's wonderful to know that I can have his dinner hot on the table in the blink of an eye and that it's the same dinner that I ate as a kid and that my mother ate before me. I don't need anything special in the house to make it and Hugo will clean his plate every time.

Best of all: I like to think I'm giving Hugo a dinnertime tradition of his own. A bowl of pastina will hopefully always be a bowl of simple comfort for him.

Pastina
Serves 1 baby

2-3 tablespoons small soup pasta (my favorite brand is DeCecco)
4 grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered
Olive oil
Grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a small saucepan, bring an inch of water to the boil with a small pinch of salt. When the water is boiling, add the soup pasta and the quartered tomatoes and cook until the pasta is done.

2. Spoon the pasta, tomatoes and a little bit of the cooking liquid into a serving bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil and top with a little grated cheese. Serve.

Variation with 1 very fresh egg:

When the pasta is finished cooking, turn off the heat under the pot and crack the egg into the pasta. Stir the egg until it is cooked and transformed into custardy shreds. Pour the contents of the pot into a serving bowl, top with olive oil and cheese and serve.
Nota bene: Make sure to really only use the amount of water that you want to serve, if using the egg. Once the egg is stirred into the pot, you can't reduce the amount of liquid in the pot.

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