Capping off a banner year for pasta — in which customers cleared the shelves of dry varieties, boxed pasta packaging materials ran out, and the mystery of a bucatini shortage gripped the nation — a new pasta shape just dropped, which apparently is a thing that can happen?? World, meet “cascatelli,” a pasta created by The Sporkful podcast host Dan Pashman and sold by American artisan pasta brand Sfoglini.
Pashman set out to create what he considered an optimal pasta shape nearly three years ago, as he documented in a fascinating five-part series “Mission: ImPASTAble” for his James Beard Award-winning food podcast. The result of many rounds of designing, engineering, and trial and error, the final product resembles an oversized comma with ruffles on either side of a curved half-tube. It’s supposed to maximize three core qualities: “sauceability” (how well sauce adheres to it), “forkability” (how easily it stays on the fork), and “toothsinkability” (how satisfying it is to sink one’s teeth into it).
There are only about 300 distinct pasta shapes, taking into account shapes that are essentially the same but go by different names, according to pasta expert and Encyclopedia of Pasta translator Maureen Fant, whom Pashman interviewed for an episode of his series. You would think that leaves the door wide open for at least a thousand more pasta shapes, but, as Pashman documented, it’s actually not that simple. Long, short, round, flat, ridged, smooth, curved, even angular — if you can picture it, a shape probably already exists. Or if it doesn’t, then there’s a reason why. Turns out that designing a shape that is both original enough to count as its own entity, practical enough to be able to be manufactured at some scale, and tasty enough to even warrant being brought into this world, is not a walk in the park. Sorry to all the would-be inventors whose late-night buzzed idea is “just combine, like, a macaroni with a mafaldine.”
Early reviews for the cascatelli, which is named after the Italian word “cascatelle” for “little waterfalls,” seem promising. “The people need this shape. It’s like maybe my top three pasta shapes,” said Sohla El-Waylly, a person whose food opinions I generally trust.
I’m probably not in the key demographic for this product. I’ve never bought a box of pasta that costs more than $1.50, let alone any “artisan” varieties. And yet even I am considering forking over $21.95 for the 5-pound bulk bag that is the only remaining cascatelli available for purchase (and not even for another eight weeks). Apparently I’m not the only consumer inspired by the tale of cascatelli, a lesson in how dreams can come true with the help of great collaborators, nearly 10 grand to sink into pasta start-up costs, a large podcast following, a tenacity that just won’t quit, and most of all, a deep and abiding love for the perfection that is pasta.
- Mission: ImPASTAble [The Sporkful]
- There’s a Brand New Pasta Shape That’s Perfect for Sauce [F&W]