G Daniela Galarza
THE WASHINGTON POST – There are between 300 and 400 unique shapes of Italian pasta, mimicking everyday objects such as belly buttons and sea shells and clouds, but until this spring, there was not one called cascatelli.
Adapted from the Italian cascatelle, for “waterfalls”, the new shape is the brainchild of Dan Pashman, the creator and host of The Sporkful, an award-winning podcast that celebrated its 10th year in 2020. Fans of the show know Pashman as an especially opinionated journalist who is prone to bouts of laughter, usually at his own expense, and the occasional dad joke.
As he tells it in a five-part series on the podcast, Pashman first started thinking about creating a pasta shape three years ago. Especially at first, pretty much everyone thought he was nuts, including his kids, who, though excited to be test tasters, pointed out that he seemed to be living in a dreamland.
“How are you actually going to get supermarkets to sell it?” was how his nine-year-old daughter Becky put it. “What if the supermarket people haven’t even heard of you?”
After talking to friends, chefs, historians, at least one architect, pasta manufacturers and his team, Pashman’s pasta project eventually went from hare-brained hobby to its current status as an actual product anyone in the United States (US) can purchase and eat.
When his manufacturing partner, Sfoglini, put the shape up for sale on its website, at USD4.99 for a one-pound box – it’s not available in stores – it sold out within two hours. Pashman recouped his initial investment of around USD9,000, and is now trying to help troubleshoot packaging delays while figuring out how to best meet international demand.
Here’s the thing: There’s no wrong sauce for this pasta. Every kind clings like Velcro.
“It’s like a Venus fly trap,” Pashman said, with a chuckle. “Anything that goes in there can’t get out.”
The pasta’s marketing materials refer to that grippy-ness as “sauceability”. Alongside “forkability” and “toothsinkability”, these goofy, made-up terms form Pashman’s trifecta of ideal pasta characteristics.
Echoing Shelley’s words on the lineage of invention, Pashman, whom I’d describe as an enthusiastic eater, dogged to a fault and a persistent journalist, points out that he’s really more of a tinkerer.
“The other day, I was reading an article about Thomas Edison,” he said in the second episode of the pasta series.
“You know, he didn’t actually invent the lightbulb. He just made it better. In fact, he didn’t think of his work as inventing. He called it perfecting. That’s what I want to do. I want to bring the best features of pasta together in a way that’s never been done before. In a way that’s just better. So really, I’m not inventing a new pasta shape. I’m perfecting one.”
The thing I marvel at when I look at cascatelli is not that Pashman came up with a new, interesting pasta shape. It’s not even that he’s a clever marketer or entertaining storyteller. It’s that he didn’t give up. He stuck with it, weighing risk and reward, convincing dozens of skeptics along the way, until he came out the other side.
Perseverance is a hallmark of waterfalls, too, I think. They flow with a force that can be hard to stop. There’s no wrong sauce for cascatelli, but when thinking about the shape’s characteristics and namesake, I imagined something of the sea.
CASCATELLI WITH GREEN OLIVES, CALABRIAN CHILES AND LEMONY TUNA
Active time: 20 minutes | Total time: 30 minutes
Two to three servings
Fine sea salt
Eight ounces dried pasta, preferably a ruffled shape such as cascatelli, fusilli or radiatori
One (five-ounce) can or jar tuna packed in oil
Half cup (One ounce) chopped fresh parsley leaves and tender stems, divided
One third cup (two-and-a-half ounces) pitted green olives, roughly chopped
Three cloves garlic, minced or finely grated, divided
Four tablespoons olive oil, divided
Finely grated zest and juice of one large lemon
Finely grated zest and juice of one small orange
Quarter teaspoon crushed Calabrian chiles in oil, or to taste (optional)
Freshly cracked black pepper
One third cup dried unseasoned breadcrumbs
Three tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add two large pinches of salt and the pasta. Cook it according to package instructions, stirring occasionally, until al dente.
In a large bowl, combine the tuna and its oil, one third cup of parsley, the olives, two cloves of garlic, two tablespoons of olive oil, the zest and juice of both the lemon and the orange, and the Calabrian chiles, if using.
Using a spatula or tongs, stir to combine, breaking up the tuna into smaller bits as you mix.
Taste, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
In a small skillet over medium heat, add the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil, the remaining garlic and the breadcrumbs. Using a wooden spoon, stir to ensure the crumbs are evenly coated in oil, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the crumbs turn golden brown, about three minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the remaining parsley, and let cool before stirring in the Parmesan, if using.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain well and toss with the sauce, allowing the sauce to get stuck in the pasta’s ridges or ruffles. Divide the pasta among plates or shallow bowls and serve warm or at room temperature, topped with the garlicky breadcrumbs.
Per serving (about 1 3/4 cups of cooked pasta), based on 3: Calories: 568; Total Fat: 24g; Saturated Fat: 3g; Cholesterol: 21mg; Sodium: 484mg; Carbohydrates: 69g; Dietary Fibre: 5g; Sugars: 6g; Protein: 20g.