I tried cascatelli, the new pasta shape that has taken the culinary world by storm.
It took podcast host Dan Pashman three years and $10,000 to develop the shape.
I thought the unique noodle was perfect for my thick and meaty ragu, and I'd definitely buy it again.
Of all the food I get to write about every day, nothing gets me more excited than pasta.
What I love about pasta is its incredible versatility. You can keep things light and simple, or go for a comforting bowl of mac and cheese. There's a pasta dish for every mood, every season, and occasion.
So when I heard there was a new pasta shape out in the world, I jumped at the chance to learn its origin story and, of course, try it for myself.
Cascatelli was created by podcast host Dan Pashman, who originally was just looking to tell a great story.
Pashman decided he would create a product and try to sell it, detailing the entire experience on his James Beard Award-winning podcast "The Sporkful."
"I picked pasta because I wanted the food that I ended up with to be something easily accessible for listeners all around the country," he told me. "Not too expensive, and shelf-stable so it could be shipped easily. And, as I thought about it more, I realized I believe very strongly that there's a lot of mediocre pasta shapes out there."
His ultimate goal was to create a pasta shape with his three core qualities:
"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 took Pashman three years and $10,000 to turn cascatelli into a reality.
Pashman — who details his full journey in the five-part series "Mission: ImPASTAble" — told me that inventing a pasta shape was far harder than he expected.
"I had assumed the reason there's not more innovation in pasta shapes is the world of Italian food and pasta is too beholden to tradition, and I do think that's partly the explanation," he said. "But it turns out that the machinery involved also has limitations."
And it wasn't exactly easy to sell people on his pasta dream. Pashman first had to sway the only pasta dye maker left in America — who was already busy working for Kraft and Campbell's. Then he had to find a pasta company to join forces with, and many said no before he lucked out with Sfoglini, a New York-based artisan pasta company, in January 2020.
As they went through 16 months of testing different shapes, plus numerous COVID delays, Pashman sometimes wondered if he had dreamed too big.
"There were certain points when I said to my producer, 'Look, we set out to tell a great story. If I can't make a good pasta shape, then the whole thing will crash and burn, but that could still be a good story,'" he recalled.
But cascatelli — named after the Italian word for "little waterfalls" — was finally ready for its introduction to the world in March 2021. And, to Pashman's surprise, everyone wanted a piece of the new pasta.
Cascatelli sold out in two hours the day it was released, becoming an instant culinary sensation.
And cascatelli continues to prove it wasn't just a brief foodie trend. The pasta was named one of the best inventions of 2021 by Time, is currently available at national grocery chain The Fresh Market, and now even Trader Joe's has its own version. Pashman also recently partnered with Banza to create a gluten-free version made of chickpeas — available at Whole Foods and Amazon — and you can continue to buy the original cascatelli on Sfoglini (a box of four will cost you $19.96).
Pashman told me he'll never forget when cascatelli was added to the Wikipedia page of pasta shapes.
"That's like getting added to the Bible," he said. "I was like, 'Wow, this pasta shape might be here to stay. This might be the thing people know me for.'"
But how does cascatelli actually taste? I decided to find out with the help of Sfoglini's double pork ragu, which was specially designed for the shape.
To make Sfoglini's ragu recipe for 4-6, you'll need:
1 16-ounce box of cascatelli pasta
1 pound ground pork
1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
4 ounces of pancetta (diced)
1 celery stalk (diced)
1 carrot (peeled, diced)
½ medium onion (diced)
½ cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cloves garlic (roughly chopped)
Fresh parsley (chopped, for serving)
Pecorino Romano cheese (grated, for serving)
Red pepper flakes
Before I began making the ragu, I prepped my vegetables.
Like a traditional ragu or bolognese, Sfoglini's recipe includes carrot, celery, and onion. I diced all three of my veggies and chopped my garlic to get started.
Then I threw my diced pancetta into a pan over medium heat.
I cooked my pancetta until it turned crisp and most of the fat had rendered out, which took about six minutes.
Then, using a slotted spoon, I placed the pancetta on a plate I lined with some paper towels.
I turned the heat down to medium-low and added my vegetables.
I threw my onion, celery, and carrots into the pan, seasoning them with some salt and red pepper flakes. Sfoglini also recommends adding a little extra-virgin olive oil if necessary, so I drizzled some on top.
I cooked the veggies until they softened, which took around eight minutes. Then I added the garlic and cooked everything together for an additional minute.
I moved my veggies to the edges of the pan, then added the ground pork.
I seasoned my ground pork with salt and pepper and placed it in the middle of the pan, turning the heat up slightly.
I let the pork cook until the meat had browned.
I used a wooden spoon to break the pork into smaller pieces, moving it around the pan. It took about 10 minutes total for the meat to cook all the way through.
Then I added my tomato paste.
I stirred everything around with my spoon until the pork was evenly coated.
After two minutes passed, I added the crushed tomatoes and cooked pancetta.
I then turned the heat to low, letting my ragu simmer for 20 minutes so the sauce could thicken.
After the ragu had simmered for 10 minutes, I began cooking my cascatelli.
I brought four quarts of water to a boil with two tablespoons of salt and threw in my pasta.
Every cascatelli recipe recommends cooking the pasta for 11 minutes, then letting it cook with the sauce for another few minutes. Pashman believes the perfect al dente bite with cascatelli is achieved at 13 minutes.
Once my timer hit 15 minutes, I added frozen peas to my ragu.
Sfoglini recommends adding the frozen peas about five minutes before you finish cooking the sauce. Per the recipe, I also seasoned everything with some salt and pepper.
Then I drained my pasta and threw those thick and curvy noodles into the sauce.
There was something so cool about seeing the cascatelli sitting on top of my pan. I've probably made thousands of bowls of pasta in my lifetime, and I'd never seen anything quite like this one.
It's this pure excitement at trying something new that Pashman believes has helped turn cascatelli into such a success.
"I don't think people realize how bored they were with the existing pasta shapes," he told me. "It never occurred to people that you might invent a newer, better one. It's not just the quality of the shape itself, it's the delight of the discovery of this new possibility. It unlocked something in people's imaginations."
I stirred my cascatelli into the ragu, making sure to coat everything evenly. My pasta was ready, and it looked beautiful.
The whole pan looked so comforting as the deep-red pasta sauce mixed with the thick cascatelli noodles. It was exactly what I needed for the particularly cold winter night.
I sprinkled some fresh chopped parsley and Pecorino Romano on top. It was time to dig in!
As I took my first bites of cascatelli, I remembered Pashman's three core qualities: sauceability, forkability, and toothsinkability.
Cascatelli pasta really does achieve all three. The canal that runs down the comma-shaped noodle perfectly captured the ragu, while the ruffles helped pick up all the delicious veggies in the recipe. These noodles are thick and easily hold onto their shape and chewy texture, so they never got lost in the hearty meat sauce. And with all those little nooks and crannies, every bite is a surprise — far more so than your usual bowl of spaghetti.
One thing to note: If you're not a huge fan of pork, then this ragu recipe might not be for you — the flavor is pretty prominent throughout the dish. I think cascatelli pasta would also pair really well with the sauce in Gorgon Ramsay's 15-minute sausage bolognese or Ina Garten's easy weeknight bolognese, two of my favorite easy and meaty pasta sauces. But if you're searching for a comforting and traditional ragu that feels like something a sweet Italian grandmother would make, then Sfoglini has you covered.
I can't wait to try my cascatelli with all kinds of different recipes and sauces.
Pashman said his goal was to create a pasta that could work with 75% of possible sauces, and I think he truly achieves that with cascatelli. The pasta shape is perfect for a thick and meaty sauce, but it can also stand on its own thanks to the delicious flavor found within the noodles. I've even had cascatelli with just some marinara sauce out of a jar, and the unique pasta shape really elevated what's usually a quick and unexciting dinner.
However you like your sauce, I can guarantee that cascatelli will bring some joy, fun, and wonder to the dinner table.
Read the original article on Insider