As It Happens

Podcaster invents new pasta shape because 'the world is ready for something different'

The beloved food that is pasta has been around for ages. And while there are 350 different types of pasta to choose from, a New Yorker decided to create a new shape that stands out from the rest. Dan Pashman is a podcaster with no professional training as a chef, but he dreamt up "cascatelli" and made it a reality.

It's called 'cascatelli' and creator Dan Pashman says it can hold 'a tremendous amount of sauce'

Podcaster Dan Pashman created a new pasta shape called cascatelli. It has a flat strip with a bump on one side, while two parallel ruffles stick out from the other side. (Scott Gordon Bleicher/Sporkful)

The beloved food that is pasta has been around for ages. And while there are at least 350 different types of pasta to choose from, one New Yorker decided to create a new shape that stands out from the rest.

Dan Pashman is a podcaster with no professional training as a chef, but he dreamt up "cascatelli" and made it a reality.

"It took me three years to invent it. A lot of study, a lot of testing and experimentation and failure and obstacles along the way," he said.

"But what I was trying to do with it was to bring together the elements of some of my favourite pasta shapes in a way they've never been brought together before."

He shared the whole story on his food podcast The Sporkful. And now, cascatelli is ready for pasta lovers to order.

Pashman spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about his invention. Here is part of their conversation.

Dan, do we really need a new pasta shape? What's wrong with the ones we've got?

Well, Carol, "need" is a subjective term. I mean, what do we really need? 

But, yeah, I think that the world is ready for something different.... I'm not trying to destroy the classics. I love a good plate of pasta like anybody. I think there's room, though, in the canon for some new ideas.

Okay, so what's cascatelli?

Cascatelli is a pasta shape that I invented.

It's a short shape. Roughly speaking, it has a flat strip with a bump on one side and two parallel ruffles sticking out of the other side.

Cascatelli is inspired by the Italian word 'cascatelle' for waterfalls. The ruffles along the edge of cascatelli remind Pashman of water waves. (Scott Gordon Bleicher/Sporkful)

All pastas — their names mean something in Italian.... Farfalle, butterflies. Linguini, little tongues. The shape is the name. So what does cascatelli mean?

Cascatelli means waterfalls.

What does that shape do as far as improving on whatever dish that you're serving it with?

The two parallel ruffles combined with the bump create this kind of a canyon between the two ruffles that I call the soft trough. So a tremendous amount of sauce can fit up in there, and stays in there. 

A wide range of sauces are going to go really well with this. But the big thing is that it has a variety of different textures in each bite. Most pasta shapes, even ones that are really alike, are kind of the same texture ... and after a few bites, they lose their lustre. Sure, they're fine. I wanted a pasta shape, though, that three, four or five bites into the plate, you're still discovering new things about it. 

There are some parts of the shape that are especially firm and some that are a little softer. Some bites will have more ruffles. Some bites will be more flat. And that is something that sensory scientists call dynamic contrast — a variety of textures in each bite, which is something I really wanted to try to achieve with this.

[That's] what you call "toothsinkability."

That's right. It's not an actual scientific term, even though I know it sounds very impressive. But yeah, toothsinkability is one of my main metrics for pasta shapes. That is, how satisfying is it to sink your teeth into it?

I also judge pasta shapes on "forkability" — how well can you get it on your fork and keep it there? 

And "sauceability." I think that a legitimately great pasta shape should go with most of the sauces out there. Maybe not all, but most. And I think this does that.

I love it with Andrea Nyugen's Mapo Tofu Spaghetti recipe she did for The New York Times while back. Absolutely fantastic recipe. But even better than with spaghetti is with cascatelli, because spaghetti is kind of boring, I'm sorry to say it.

Pashman explains in his Sporkful podcast that Sfoglini was the best partner for him to work with. Sfoglini is big enough to do the manufacturing and small enough to put in the time and effort to work with Pashman to create cascatelli. (Scott Gordon Bleicher/Sporkful)

How do you actually make your own cascatelli? Do you have to get a special knife or a special press? How are you doing it?

This is part of why it took me three years.

The short answer is that the first thing you need is a die. That's basically like the mould for the shape. But it turns out there's only one person in America, at least today, who makes pasta dies, and getting his attention and getting him to spend some time working with me was a challenge because he's getting orders from Kraft and Campbell's. He doesn't need me.

And then getting an actual shape that works — that's physically possible, that can be extruded through a die — took a tremendous amount of trial and error.

Then I needed to find a company to partner with; also very difficult, much harder than I expected.

And then COVID hit and we couldn't even get some of the raw materials we needed to make the pasta. So it's been quite a journey. A lot of sleepless nights.

So are you saying that I'll actually be able to go into a store and find cascatelli?

That's the dream, someday. 

Right now it is being sold exclusively through Sfoglini. That's the pasta company that I partner with to make it to their website.

The shipping charges to Canada ... [are] a little high, but we did set up a page specifically for our Canadian listeners to go and find each other in the comments so they can pool together, place orders for cascatelli and save on shipping.

I saw some years ago a new pasta shape called radiatori shaped like little radiators. That was brilliant. It held so much sauce, but then it just disappeared. Do you think cascatelli will just come and go?

I don't know what the future holds. It's hard to keep anyone's attention for a week these days, let alone years.

Maybe when they write my obituary, they'll say, "Dan Pashman, the guy who invented cascatelli."

And there's worse things. So, you know, hopefully people will like it. I'm trying not to think or stress too much about the long-term future and just hoping that people try it now and enjoy it, and it gives them a different experience than any pasta they've had before.

Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview produced by John McGill. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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