April is National Garlic Month, and the timing couldn’t be better.
With the Village “sheltering in place” and the nation freaking out, it’d be hard to imagine a more appropriate time to eat more garlic.
Garlic has been shown to have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Although there’s currently no evidence that garlic is effective against COVID-19, it does seem to promote general health and immunity, which is helpful when facing down any kind of cold or flu.
You probably cannot find a food that so powerfully encourages social distancing as well as garlic. I like garlicky soup, but its effects can, shall we say, linger, and consuming it does not encourage proximity with other humans.
When I was in single digits, whenever I had a cold or flu, my Italian granny would make pastina, a simple soup of tiny pasta, chicken broth, olive oil and garlic. Pastina’s warm broth soothes the throat and hydrates the fevered body; the garlic is believed to support immunity.
But Granny did not use a lot of garlic.
The stereotypical Italian eats massive quantities of garlic. European Italians, however, are very restrained in their use of most seasonings, including garlic. Italian Americans use lots of garlic, just as we use lots of tomato sauce on our spaghetti and lots of cheese on our pizza. In this land of abundance, we tend to eat more of everything.
Pastina is one of those dishes that’s traditionally made at home. It’s a little like Sloppy Joes: so simple that restaurants might not consider it “fancy” enough to serve. Pasta is humble food, the foundation of the great Italian tradition of cucina povera, or “poor kitchen” cooking, upon which many classic Italian dishes have been based. Pastina is ridiculously inexpensive and simple to make:
- Cook and drain pastina noodles.
- Get a pot of chicken broth — you should make your own by slow heating water, chicken bones, basil leaf, and carrots/celery/onion; or you could buy a carton of chicken broth, but hey, you’re home, you’ve got the time, and homemade is much better than store-bought.
- Chop garlic – I’m an Italian American, so I tend to go overboard; whatever quantity you use, it’s very important to sauté the garlic in olive oil until golden to release all its goodness and mellow it out.
Warm all these ingredients together, and as we used to say in our family, enjoy your pastina “with a side of Kleenex.” The nose will do some serious running as you’re eating this hot, garlicky soup.
Local Italian restaurants — La Notte, Cucina Paradiso, La Bella, and others – please consider including a small cup of pastina with curbside carry-out and delivery orders. Your businesses are suffering terribly right now, but for a low price, you could be pastina to support the health of our community and build good feelings that’ll return benefits during the better times to come.