Object of the Week

The Hottest New Pasta Shape Was Born From a Podcast

Bucatini is so 2020

Object of the Week is a column exploring the objects a culture obsesses over and what that reveals about us.

The 21st century has been a time of constant technical innovation — and a time for ridiculously overthinking food. These seemingly unrelated meta-trends have now coalesced in cascatelli, a brand new and meticulously engineered pasta devised over a period of three years by the host of the popular food podcast, The Sporkful.

Naturally, it’s a hit. In the first week of its formal unveiling to the public, the novel noodle has been hyped everywhere from Today to Eater to NPR to the design blog Core77. You can order some here — a pack of four one-pound boxes goes for $17.99 — but thanks to boiling demand you’ll have to wait at least eight to 10 weeks.

Like many contemporary innovations, cascatelli was created as a result of dissatisfaction with something that was actually perfectly fine: in this case, all extant pasta. Dismissing spaghetti, for instance, Sporkful host and creator Dan Pashman informed one interviewer that: “It’s just a tube.” To fight back against this supposed problem, he envisioned a pasta influenced by his favorite pasta elements, notably the “ruffles” of mafalde noodles, and the hollow center of bucatini (a noodle with its own fanatic following).

Crucially, Pashman made clear from the outset that he did not want to create a mere gimmick, but rather something that could plausibly join the pasta canon.

Crucially, Pashman had a specific set of criteria for judging pasta shapes in general, and thus his dream shape in particular. These are sauceability (how sauce adheres to the shape), forkability (ease of getting and keeping the pasta on a fork), and toothsinkability (how good the pasta feels to bite into). Everybody loves a set of comprehensible guidelines that they can debate. Surely one of the things that has made cascatelli an online hit is the endlessly reproduced schematics treating the pasta like the technically engineered object that it is — illustrating how its “trough” element boosts sauceability and its rare-in-pasta right angles “maximize toothsinkability.” It all feels so empirical. So deliberately engineered.

And everybody really loves an inventor who not only dreamed up such guidelines, but seems truly passionate about them. So also crucially, Pashman made clear from the outset that he did not want to create a mere gimmick, but rather something that could plausibly join the pasta canon — which, if you think about it, is an audacious goal. Particularly because he didn’t just want to dream up a concept (captured in a viral rendering and then forgotten), he wanted it to be produced. That meant devising a shape that not only lived up to his invented standards, but could actually work with a die-based manufacturing process and get distributed in the real world.

Perhaps most crucially, he documented this quest — its ups and downs, its challenges and risks, its many encounters with brick walls — in a multipart series on his podcast. The shape he ended up with is basically a flat noodle twisted into a curve with raised ruffles on either edge. From one angle it resembles cascading water, so he used the Italian word for waterfall as the name. (Actually, the proper Italian word would be cascatelle; he tweaked it because ending the word with an “I” just sounds more like a classic pasta variety.) The first batch, announced on the podcast, sold out in two hours. And demand has only accelerated as cascatelli has attracted more attention: People are consuming not just the pasta, but its remarkable story.

And the more that story spreads, the more people want to be a part of it, talk about it, and perhaps in some way add to it. I will admit, I started out a skeptic on the pursuit of a new pasta shape as a thing worth thinking about in our troubled and chaotic times. But midway through a Slate Culture Gabfest segment, right in the middle of just the sort of twee intellectualizing that makes a certain class of aspiring food snob so insufferable, one of the hosts of that podcast mentioned trying cascatelli with what I know from experience is a positively dynamite caramelized shallot sauce. Okay, yes, sure, a new pasta shape is a complete waste of human creativity. But now I can’t wait to try it.

Author The Art of Noticing. Related newsletter at https://robwalker.substack.com

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