Wavy, spiral noodles

NEW NOODLE: Cascatelli pasta was released in March 2021.

SCOTT GORDON BLEICHER/COURTESY OF SFOGLINI

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NGSS: Core Idea: ETS1.A

CCSS: Speaking and Listening: 1

TEKS: 6.3A, 7.3A, 8.3A, PT.3B

Designing the Perfect Pasta

How a food podcaster spent nearly three years creating a brand-new noodle shape

AS YOU READ, THINK ABOUT how the shape of pasta can affect the experience of eating it.

You've probably slurped up saucy strands of spaghetti, bitten into stuffed squares of ravioli, and twirled flat ribbons of fettuccine. These are just a few of the estimated 350 different types of pasta. Each has its own unique shape, from spirals to bow ties to tubes, that make it suited to different recipes. While all are delicious, Dan Pashman felt that no one pasta was perfect.

You’ve probably eaten saucy strings of spaghetti, stuffed squares of ravioli, and flat ribbons of fettuccine. These are just a few types of pasta. But around 350 different ones exist. Each has its own unique shape, from spirals to bow ties to tubes. And each shape is good for different recipes. All are tasty, but Dan Pashman felt that no one pasta was perfect.

Pashman, who lives on Long Island, New York, is the host of an award-winning food podcast called The Sporkful. In 2018, he began thinking about the role pasta shapes play in how people enjoy different dishes. Some pastas are good at holding sauces, for example, while others have hearty bites or are easy to scoop up with a fork. “I felt like these pasta shapes were one-note songs,” says Pashman. “They do one thing well.” But he wanted a pasta that could do it all.

That idea started Pashman on a nearly three-year-long quest to design the ideal noodle. He dubbed his search for a superior pasta shape “Mission: ImPASTAble.” Pashman began his journey by chowing down on as many types of pasta as possible to figure out which features made each shape delicious.

Pashman hosts an award-winning food podcast called The Sporkful. He lives on Long Island, in New York. In 2018, he began thinking about the role of pasta shapes. They affect how people enjoy different dishes. For example, some pastas are good at holding sauces. Some have hearty bites. And others are easy to scoop up with a fork. “I felt like these pasta shapes were one-note songs,” says Pashman. “They do one thing well.” But he wanted a pasta that could do it all.

That idea started Pashman on a quest to design the ideal noodle. It took nearly three years. He called his search for a better pasta shape “Mission: ImPASTAble.” Pashman began the hunt by eating as many types of pasta as possible. That way, he could figure out which features made each shape tasty.

MANUWE/GETTY IMAGES

TASTY TRAITS: Pashman tried dozens of pastas and realized he preferred those with tube shapes and ruffles.

FOOD FEATURES

Before Pashman started his taste testing, he needed a set of criteria so he could fairly judge each pasta shape. No one had ever made standards for reviewing pasta shapes before. So Pashman came up with his own: “Sauceability,” or how readily sauce sticks to a pasta shape; “toothsinkability,” or how satisfying it is to sink your teeth into the pasta; and “forkability,” or how easy it is to get a noodle on your fork and keep it there.

“I went about it with a very scientific approach,” says Pashman. He determined which variables—things that change or can be changed during an experiment—affected his three pasta criteria. “I broke down pasta shapes into their components to figure out which attributes—tubes, round shapes, ruffles, long, short, wavy, curly, flat—I liked the best,” he says.

After trying dozens of pastas, Pashman determined that he liked ruffles, like you’d find on the edge of lasagna. He also enjoyed tube shapes, like penne rigate. Both of these features help capture sauce and provide a chewy bite, so he decided to create a shape that combined the two.

Pashman wanted to be able to fairly judge each pasta shape. Before he started his taste testing, he needed a set of criteria. No one had ever made standards for reviewing pasta shapes before. So Pashman came up with his own. He called one “sauceability.” That’s how readily sauce sticks to a pasta shape. “Toothsinkability” is how satisfying it is to sink your teeth into the pasta. And “forkability” is how easily you can get a noodle on your fork and keep it there.

“I went about it with a very scientific approach,” says Pashman. Variables are things that change or can be changed during an experiment. He determined which variables affected his three pasta criteria. “I broke down pasta shapes into their components to figure out which attributes—tubes, round shapes, ruffles, long, short, wavy, curly, flat—I liked the best,” he says.

Pashman tried dozens of pastas. He determined that he liked ruffles, like those on the edge of lasagna. He also enjoyed tube shapes, like penne rigate. These features help capture sauce and provide a chewy bite. So he decided to create a shape that combined both.

SCOTT GORDON BLEICHER/ COURTESY OF SFOGLINI

PASTA LOVER: Dan Pashman holds cascatelli, the pasta he created.

AN IDEA TAKES SHAPE

Pashman spent weeks sketching dozens of pasta designs. Then he spoke with De Mari Pasta Dies, in Massachusetts. The company manufactures pasta dies, or molds, made of bronze metal. Pasta dough is squeezed through these molds to produce different shapes (see Pasta-Making Process).

De Mari agreed to help Pashman, but its designers informed him that his initial ideas for pasta shapes were too complicated to make using a die. “I tried all different variations—moving the ruffles and tubes around to see what was physically possible,” says Pashman.

After working for several more months with designers at De Mari, Pashman finally had a shape they said might work: a long half-tube with two ruffled edges.

For weeks, Pashman drew dozens of pasta designs. Then he spoke with De Mari Pasta Dies, in Massachusetts. The company manufactures pasta dies, or molds. The dies are made of bronze metal. Pasta dough is squeezed through them to produce different shapes (see Pasta-Making Process).

De Mari agreed to help Pashman. But its designers said that his first ideas for pasta shapes were too tricky. They couldn’t be made with a die. “I tried all different variations—moving the ruffles and tubes around to see what was physically possible,” says Pashman.

Pashman worked for several more months with designers at De Mari. He finally had a shape they said might work. It was a long half-tube with two ruffled edges.

NOODLING OVER THE DESIGN

It would take a few months to create the pasta die. Next, Pashman needed to find a pasta producer willing to invest in his idea. One constraint, or limitation, on making his pasta was the cost: about $23,000 just to produce the die and use it to make one complete batch of noodles that could be sold to the public.

Creating the pasta die took a few months. Next, Pashman had to find a pasta producer to invest in his idea. The cost was a constraint, or limitation. It would cost about $23,000 to produce the die and use it to make one complete batch of noodles. Then that batch could be sold to the public.

SCOTT KETCHUM/COURTESY OF SFOGLINI

PASTA PODCAST: Pashman chronicled the creation of cascatelli over six episodes of his podcast The Sporkful.

Pashman eventually partnered with Sfoglini (sfo-LEE-nee), a small gourmet pasta maker located in upstate New York. Once the die was ready, Sfoglini produced prototype pasta samples for Pashman to test. But when he boiled the noodles, he was disappointed. The pieces fell apart. The long noodles were also difficult to pick up with a fork. Pashman realized the pasta needed to be shorter and thicker to prevent breakage while cooking and to make it easier to go from fork to mouth.

Shortening the pasta just meant cutting the pieces shorter as dough passed through the die. But to increase the pasta’s thickness by just half the thickness of a credit card, the bronze die needed to be redrilled and its shapetweaked. When the new die was tested, though, the ruffles didn’t form. So the metal die was altered again. Finally, everything looked right. But there was only one way to know for sure.

Pashman finally partnered with Sfoglini (sfo-LEE-nee). It’s a small gourmet pasta maker in upstate New York. When the die was ready, Sfoglini produced prototype pasta samples. Pashman tested them. But when he boiled the noodles, he was disappointed. The pieces fell apart. And the long noodles were hard to pick up with a fork. Pashman realized the pasta needed to be shorter and thicker. That would stop it from breaking during cooking, and make it easier to eat.

Shortening the pasta was easy. They just cut the pieces shorter as dough passed through the die. Pashman also wanted to increase the pasta’s thickness by half the thickness of a credit card. For that, the bronze die needed to be redrilled and its shape adjusted. When the new die was tested, the ruffles didn’t form. So the metal die was changed again. Finally, everything looked right. But there was only one way to know for sure.

THE MOMENT OF TRUTH

In December 2020, samples of the latest version of the pasta arrived at Pashman’s home. He prepared it in his kitchen and tried a bite. It was just as he had hoped—saucy, chewy, and easy to eat! Pashman named his creation cascatelli—a play on the Italian word for “waterfall.”

A few months later, cascatelli went on sale on Sfoglini’s website for $4.99 per box. All 3,700 boxes sold out in less than two hours! And based on positive reviews, Pashman believes his unusual pasta will become a pantry staple. “There are a lot of food fads on social media done just to look cool, but that wasn’t my goal,” he says. “I wanted to make something that was actually good to eat.” Mission accomplished!

In December 2020, Pashman received samples of the latest version of the pasta. He prepared it in his kitchen and tried a bite. It was just as he had hoped. The pasta was saucy, chewy, and easy to eat! Pashman named his creation cascatelli. It’s a play on the Italian word for “waterfall.”

A few months later, cascatelli went on sale on Sfoglini’s website for $4.99 per box. All 3,700 boxes sold out in less than two hours! People gave it positive reviews, so Pashman believes his unusual pasta will become popular. “There are a lot of food fads on social media done just to look cool, but that wasn’t my goal,” he says. “I wanted to make something that was actually good to eat.” Mission accomplished!

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