On the happy days, we don't think about the foods that comfort us.

We need them less then, I suppose.

We all know how powerful food can be.

It entertains and absorbs us; it can even be transcendental and has the power to heal.

We all have memories of emotional boo-boos that were made better with a dish our moms made.

They're called comfort foods for a reason -- they soothe and reassure both palates and souls.

Restaurants are so called because they originally were roadside stops where weary travelers could restore themselves.

And think about the variety of concoctions and potions our grandmothers and mothers whipped up for us the day the school bully took your new Frisbee or your pet hamster died. There are thousands.

Comfort foods are found all over the world, largely divided by region and ethnicity.

Here in the U.S., it's apple pie, macaroni and cheese or roast chicken. Those with Jewish heritage turn to matzo-ball soup and latkes. The French love their jambon buerre -- a ham sandwich with butter, served on a crisp baguette.

In Vietnam, it's pho, a rich soup with rice noodles; in India it's dal, a smooth and spicy lentil stew; in Greece, it's souvlaki, skewers of grilled meat or vegetables wrapped in a warm pita.

In my house, comfort food was a soup called pastina.

Pastina is a word that means tiny pasta, and was also the name of a magical tonic that could practically heal the sick and make the blind see.

It was the kind of thing my mom used to have at the ready on the stove most days. I even remember the pan she used -- it was a little, 2-quart stainless-steel Farberware saucepan, with a black Bakelite handle that curled like the top of a violin at the end.

There was a hook through the handle for hanging, and it probably cost no more that $3. (It's still in her pantry closet at home where I grew up.)

For some reason, she always used the same pot. She never made more than its capacity, as if pastina was too special to make in bigger batches -- almost as if it had to be carefully rationed out to only the most needy.

"Mom, I am tired" -- "I'll make you a cup of pastina." "I fell on my skateboard," "I got suspended from school today for pulling Katie's hair again," "Mom, my gloves soaked through from the snow and my hands are cold" -- her reply was always, "I'll make you some pastina."

To view Rocco DiSpirito's video take of today's Good Life segment, click here.

To this day, the word "pastina" is not just a word that describes a dish.

To me it's a term of endearment; it was used in my house so often to make me feel loved and comforted that I barely think of it as food. It's more a powerful antidepressant -- a culinary Prozac.

As for soup itself, foodtimeline.org points out that the root of this word derives from "soak," from "an unrecorded post-classical Latin verb suppare, to soak." Very technical, but I have a Pavlovian reaction to the word "soup" -- it warms me when I hear it. I instantly see my mom shuffling to the stove and doing her little magic act in that little saucepan.

Unfortunately, I never really paid attention to how it was done, so I didn't learn how to make it from her.

I just knew there was a blue box of tiny pasta that looked like yellow BBs, that water was involved, and that there was always a healthy sprinkling of grated Parmigiano on top.

In Italy, the scraps from making fresh pasta would be finely chopped up, dried and boiled in stock or water when there was nothing else to eat.

I always say the good life is not a thing, it's a belief system, and while this is truly a delicious dish, it's so simple that it would never be served in a restaurant.

It's home cooking at its best, comfort food that my mother imbued with love that made it so special.

Here is my recipe for it. I hope you won't need it too often.

Pastina
Serves 2

2 cups chicken stock
1 cup pastina
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

1. Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a medium pot. Pour in the pastina, stirring. Add salt to taste.

2. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes at a rapid simmer. Taste for doneness; the pastina should be slightly firm, as it will continue to cook in the hot soup.

3. Ladle the soup into bowls, top with the cheese, parsley, black pepper and red pepper flakes, if desired. Give your children a kiss on the forehead and watch lovingly as they eat it.

For more info on Rocco DiSpirito, please visit roccodispirito.com or click here to find his cookbooks.

Note: Rocco is shooting his new TV show, and he's looking for people with a dramatic situation in their lives involving food. Worried about that engagement dinner with your picky future mother-in-law? Trying to win back that ex-girlfriend who's still mad at you for cheating on her? Trying to bury the hatchet with that outcast uncle at your family reunion cookout? Rocco wants to help you! Please email with your problem and you will be contacted!



Enjoy the Good Life? Let us know what you'd like to see in future articles.

Rocco DiSpirito was born and raised in Jamaica, Queens. His culinary experience and love of "the good life" through cooking and dining began at age 11 in his mother Nicolina's kitchen. By the age of 16, DiSpirito entered the Culinary Institute of America, graduating with honors in 1986. DiSpirito's career highlights include opening Union Pacific in New York City's Gramercy Park as chef and owner in 1997, being awarded three stars from the New York Times in a 1998 review, and three more in 2002 from the New York Observer. DiSpirito was also named Food & Wine's Best New Chef in 1999, and "America's Most Exciting Young Chef" by Gourmet magazine in 2000; his show "The Restaurant" first aired on NBC in 2003. DiSpirito is the author of three cookbooks: Flavor, Rocco's Italian American, and Rocco's 5 Minute Flavor.

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