Why does the world need a new pasta shape?
For Dan Pashman, host of the food podcast The Sporkful, there's just a lot of mediocre pasta out there. There's plenty of room for improvement.
"Spaghetti is just a tube," he tells Morning Edition. "After a few bites, it's the same." And its round shape means it's not great at holding on to sauce.
Meet his cascatelli — Italian for "little waterfalls."
To come up with his own shape, he bought, ate, studied and catalogued all kinds of existing pasta. "I brought together attributes from different shapes that I especially like that have never been brought together in this way before," he says.
Cascatelli is short, with a flat strip and ruffles that stick out at a 90-degree angle. The ruffles give the shape texture, Pashman says.
"That right-angle element is really key to what I think makes this shape different," he says. "There are very few pasta shapes that have right angles. It provides resistance to the bite at all angles. It creates kind of like an I-beam, and that makes for a very satisfying bite."
Pashman has documented his three-year effort to invent a new pasta shape, have a die-maker create a mold and then ultimately sell it. "If you were to ask me which has kept me up more in the past three years — my actual children or this pasta shape — it'd be a tough call."
Click the audio button to hear Dan Pashman describe his pasta shape on Morning Edition.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
People say that history repeats itself, but Rachel Martin has become one of the first people ever to try something brand-new.
RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: After a long day, what's the easiest thing in the kitchen to prepare for dinner that can be reasonably considered a fresh-cooked meal? If you can boil water, pretty sure you can make pasta.
(SOUNDBITE OF PASTA SPLASHING)
MARTIN: If you couldn't tell, I'm recording this in my kitchen right now. And what I'm making here is a pasta I'm pretty sure you haven't seen before. It's a totally new shape of pasta, and it is the brainchild of my very good friend Dan Pashman. He is the host of the food podcast "The Sporkful," and he joins me now. Hi, Dan.
DAN PASHMAN: Hey, Rachel.
MARTIN: You have nurtured this idea like your own child for so long.
PASHMAN: Right. Yeah. If you were to ask me, which has kept me up at night more over the past three years, my actual children or this pasta shape...
PASHMAN: ...It would be a tough call (laughter).
MARTIN: So when you first came to me with this, I had so many questions, chief among them, why does the world need a new pasta shape, Dan?
PASHMAN: Well, quite frankly, Rachel, I mean, I think there's a lot of mediocre pasta shapes out there.
MARTIN: Spaghetti, right? What we think of as as our first pasta as kids - this is how we're introduced to pasta. You find this to be just a completely inadequate pasta experience. Can you explain why?
PASHMAN: It's just a tube.
PASHMAN: And after a few bites, it's the same. It's round on the outside, which means it has a low surface area in relation to volume. That means it's not a very tactile shape. Sauce does not adhere to it well, and less of it contacts your teeth when you bite it. I have these three metrics that I've come up with by which I judge all pasta shapes. So there's forkability (ph) - like, how well does it stay on the fork?
PASHMAN: Sauceability (ph) - how well does sauce stick to it? And tooth-sink-ability (ph) - how satisfying is it to sink your teeth into it? And there is some wisdom in the pasta canon. So really, what I did is I went back through all the many shapes I could get my hands on, every kind of obscure shape. I ate a bunch, and I studied and catalogued and brought together attributes from different shapes that I especially like that have never been brought together in this way before.
MARTIN: But, I mean, three years - it took three years to make a new pasta?
PASHMAN: Well, you know, if all I had to do, Rachel, was just think up a new pasta shape...
PASHMAN: ...And draw it on a piece of paper, yeah, that would be pretty easy. But I wanted it to be real. And I wanted...
PASHMAN: ...To be able to mass-produce it and actually sell it. And so I was, you know, confined by a lot of those constraints. I had to go to the guy who, as far as I can tell, is the only pasta die designer working in America today. The die is basically like the mold for the shape. This guy's making dies for, like, Kraft Mac and Cheese. And here's little ol' (ph) me calling from my basement. He's not taking my calls.
MARTIN: But then he did.
PASHMAN: Right. Eventually, he did. I nagged him into it.
MARTIN: All right. So let's talk about this pasta. It's called cascatelli.
PASHMAN: Yes, it's Italian for little waterfalls.
MARTIN: For little waterfalls. So this is - I'm pulling it out of the box here.
PASHMAN: It's a short shape. Roughly speaking, there's a flat strip, and then there's two ruffles sticking out of the flat strip at a 90-degree angle to the flat strip. That right angle element is really key to what I think makes this shape different. There are very few pasta shapes that have right angles.
MARTIN: Not a thing I knew.
PASHMAN: Right. And what that does is that it provides resistance to the bite from all angles, creates kind of, like, an I-beam. And that makes for a very satisfying bite.
MARTIN: It's very pleasing to the eye, I must say. I mean, they look a little bit like squid or, like, octopus.
(SOUNDBITE OF ALARM RINGING)
MARTIN: Oh. OK, that's my alarm clock.
PASHMAN: All right.
MARTIN: Our pasta is done. All right, so let's turn this off. OK. I'm going to get my colander. Look; there's still pasta from this morning. You know, I make my kid pasta every day to pack in his lunch. So we eat a ton of pasta, so I really hope this is a hit, Dan.
PASHMAN: I hope so, too, although if your kids are like mine, they're not the most discerning pasta eaters.
MARTIN: Actually, no, mine are. They actually are. Like, if I change from Annie's bunny mac and cheese to the farm mac and cheese, there's, like, a freaking rebellion.
MARTIN: There's mutiny in the kitchen.
PASHMAN: Now, Rachel, can I tell you something important to taste for...
MARTIN: Yes, please.
PASHMAN: ...When you take your bite?
PASHMAN: So that right angle, the spot where the ruffles meet the flat strip, will cook a little bit less than the ruffles themselves. And so you'll have a slight variation in textures. Too much variation would be bad in a pasta shape because you don't want, like, crunchy and mushy. But a very subtle variation in textures in the same bite provides something that sensory scientists call dynamic contrast.
MARTIN: Of course they do. Mmm (ph). I mean, I think I taste whimsy, dare I say.
PASHMAN: (Laughter). Yeah, I like to think that we added a splash of that. Sure.
MARTIN: It is just a more interesting experience, you know? It's - the sauce is adhering. My tooth is sinking in in a satisfying way. Wait. I can't remember the other metric. What's the other one?
PASHMAN: (Laughter). Forkability. It's forkable (ph).
MARTIN: Forkable - oh, yeah, OK.
MARTIN: Is my fork going in? Oh, yeah, there's so many entry points for my fork.
MARTIN: Oh, I just think it's delightful, Dan.
PASHMAN: Well, thank you. I appreciate it.
MARTIN: Dan Pashman - he is the host of the podcast "The Sporkful." It has been so fun to talk to you about this. Everybody, this is not just a fun radio segment, either. You can actually buy this pasta. You, too, can experience the cascatelli. You go to Dan's website sporkful.com for details. You can also listen to every episode of Dan's journey there. Trust me. It is a delight. Dan, thanks so much.
PASHMAN: Thank you, Rachel.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SHAPE I'M IN")
THE BAND: (Singing) You don't know the shape I'm in. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.