Pearls, loops, stars and even hearts, Israeli toasted pasta comes in many shapes, but the original ptitim (literally little bits or flakes) were shaped like grains of rice. Indeed, in the fifties when this unique Israeli invention first came on the local market, it was dubbed “Ben-Gurion Rice” after the first prime minister of Israel. The story goes that Ben-Gurion came up with the idea to manufacture a substitute for rice, which was in very short supply during that time of rationing. A different version of the story, probably closer to the truth, is that the nickname was given by new immigrants who were not happy to eat ptitim instead of the real thing.
Over the years ptitim have maintained their image as a homey, not to say kiddy, side dish, the hit of the kindergarten lunch menu, preferably with a generous dollop of ketchup. It therefore came as a shock to many Israelis when this humble staple made its way to the trendiest restaurants in New York and London, where it was reborn as “Israeli Couscous”. Touted as the “in-grain for the new millennium” (even though it is not a grain), it is served with posh ingredients and sold in gourmet food stores.
Ptitim are versatile and easy to work with. The texture is pleasant and the baking lends them a nice nutty flavor. They can be boiled like pasta in a large amount of water, or prepared pilaf-style by first frying them, usually with onions, and then cooking them in boiling water or stock until all the liquid is absorbed. Their neutral flavor makes them a perfect partner for almost any ingredient and condimen