During the past 18 months or so, people have been off their game, and understandably so. Yes, a global pandemic will do that to folks. Some of you found new hobbies. Others caught up on their reading or cataloged thousands of family photos that had been sitting in boxes for years. One person decided that a fantastic pandemic activity would be to invent a new pasta shape. Meet James Beard award winning podcaster, Dan Pashman. He’s that person.
On the surface, this sounds like a wild idea. More like a challenge, born out of an all-nighter with friends and a large amount of alcohol fueled talk, than a panel discussion with food-centric, seemingly sober people. But how hard could this really be? The answer, surprisingly, is very hard.
The website, sharethepasta.org, says that there are currently at least 600 pasta shapes. That’s a lot of shapes. It would seem that with 600 or so shapes to choose from, there would be one for every possible pasta occasion. At least that’s my thinking. Dan’s, not so much.
Dan’s podcast, The Sporkful, has been around for ten plus years now. Its tagline, “It’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters”, pretty much sums up the attitude of these weekly thirty minute shows. It’s mostly light and breezy, but he also touches on some pretty heavy and serious “food as a societal component” issues. One thing all the episodes have in common is that they’re highly entertaining and very well produced.
Dan’s quest for a new pasta shape came about as a result of a 2018 panel debate about the subject. The live panel discussion was entitled The Bucatini Dialogues. Don’t worry. As usual, we’re going to include links to everything we mention at the end of this piece.
As you have figured out by now, Dan takes on this shape inventing challenge. It’s all detailed in a five-part series documenting Dan’s unlikely adventures in the world of commercial pasta making. It’s aptly titled, Mission: ImPASTAble. Dan has a lot of drive, I’ll say that. Inventing a new pasta shape is definitely not for the weak-willed.
From idea genesis to final product, these episodes take us step by step through the trials and tribulations of a would-be pasta visionary. Visionary may be a bit of a reach, but there are a whole lot of unexpected details involved in this. You definitely have to be committed to the project.
Let’s fast forward to the end. YES, Dan invents his new pasta shape. Cascatelli is born! I was skeptical whether this new shape was just a gimmick or a pasta that actually had some utility. I needed to know.
Along his journey, Dan had forged a partnership with Sfoglini Pasta in New York to manufacture and distribute his new creation. I, of course, had to order some. Not only did I want to sample this new pasta for myself, but I wanted to have it used in one of our Sarasota Italian restaurants. Enter Chef Paolo Di Costanzo and Café Gabbiano on Siesta Key.
After my boxes of pasta arrived (I bought a four-pack thinking restaurant consumption), I arranged a meeting. Chef Paolo comes from Ischia; a small island off of Naples, Italy. Let's just say he knows a thing or two about Italian cuisine. It was obvious from the start that Paolo was more than a little skeptical about my culinary project. It was more of a “you want me to do what, with what??” situation. After a little more explanation of my pasta experiment, Chef Paolo was on board. Tuesday, October 26th would be Cascatelli Pasta Night at Café Gabbiano!
After a little bit of back and forth, Chef Paolo decided to use the new pasta to create Cascatelli Mare e Monte. It’s a dish with pasta, asparagus, sea scallops, sun-dried tomatoes, and of course a little white wine. Here’s a video of Chef Paolo doing what he does best, creating delicious Italian cuisine.
Whipping up a pasta creation that had never before been served in a Sarasota restaurant was fun, but that wasn’t my end goal. Next up, dinner service…
Dan had three criteria that he wanted his pasta to be judged by. These may seem as crazy as the project itself, but they actually make a lot of sense. Here they are.
Sauceability: How readily sauce adheres to the shape
Forkability: How easy it is to get the shape on your fork and keep it there
Toothsinkability: How satisfying it is to sink your teeth into it
I decided to “interview” the guests that ordered the Cascatelli special after they had finished their meal. I wanted to not only to get their overall reaction, but to also assess just how well the pasta met the criteria.
The response was unanimous; people loved the Cascatelli! I was a little bit surprised by how universal the reaction was. As for the three measures, it met all three. Now that is success! Here are some of the comments:
You get the gist. Cascatelli was a hit at Café Gabbiano that evening.
And to answer the burning question we asked at the beginning of our journey, “Does the world really need a new pasta shape?”, the answer is YES WE DO!
If you would like to try Chef Paolo’s Cascatelli Mare e Monti at home. here’s the recipe:
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp shallots, minced
1 tbsp garlic, minced
4-5 sun-dried tomatoes
4-5 asparagus spears, trimmed
3 large sea scallops
¼ cup sherry wine
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup parmesan cheese
Balsamic reduction for plating
Heat two medium skillets over medium-high heat.
Add olive oil to each skillet. To the first skillet add shallots and garlic. Sauté until tender. Add sun-dried tomatoes and asparagus. Continue to sauté, tossing occasionally to combine. Add sherry wine, sauté. Add white wine, continue cooking. Add parmesan cheese.
While this is cooking, add the sea scallops to the second skillet. Pan sear until browned on each side and cooked through, approximately 3-4 minutes for large scallops.
Plate pasta. Add seared scallops on top of pasta. Finish with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar reduction. Enjoy!
A special nod to Kris Pierce, Chef Paolo, and the staff at Cafe Gabbiano for helping to make this piece possible, Thank You!
Post Notes: If you'd like to buy some Cascatelli for yourself there are a few ways to do that. Sfoglini sells Cascatelli online - HERE. They also have a special holiday gift pack - HERE. If you'd like to buy it in stores there are options too. The Fresh Market (5251 University Pkwy.). And, sometime in early 2022 Cascatelli will be available at Trader Joe's (4101 S Tamiami Trail). And, just prior to posting this piece, Cascatelli was named one of Time Magazines Top 100 Inventions of 2021 - READ IT HERE.
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