Pasta is a serious matter. Reaching the perfect balance between scrumptious sauce and sublime noodle-like texture, so that every bite is a heavenly microcosm of the dish, is nothing short of an art.
However, choosing all the right ingredients can be a tough call, especially when, according to the experts at Pasta Evangelists, there are so many different types of pasta that you could quite easily try a new one every day of the year. They go on to add that “with so many shapes to choose from, it can be hard to know your penne from your paccheri, let alone which sauces to pair them with”. And if the professionals say it’s difficult, what are we to say?
Well, one man has decided to come to the rescue. Dan Pashman, host of the food podcast The Sporkful, joined up with artisan pasta makers at Sfoglini to create what they have dubbed as the ‘perfect pasta shape’ — cascatelli. Reception was so incredible that they’ve already run out of the new pasta, but it’ll be back in stock in the next couple of months. While you wait for the delivery we’re sure you have already placed, we thought we’d give you a little overview of this new sensation. Is cascatelli the answer to all our pasta-based prayers? Let’s find out.
Is pasta shape even important?
The short answer is, well, yes. Without getting into the cultural significance of pasta shapes — for example, did you know that every region in Italy has its own? — it actually makes a difference when it comes to flavour. Even though all pastas are made from the same ingredients (with slight variations when it comes to fresh versus extruded types), each pasta shape is better suited for different kinds of sauces. Ever had bolognese with pappardelle instead of spaghetti?
Extraordinary, right? It’s not just due to the masterful sauce, but also the pasta shape that carries it better, creating an overall more wholesome bite. It’s quite simple: pappardelle has a wide surface area and it’s far more porous than spaghetti, which makes it ideal for hearty sauces like bolognese. This is because the wide surface area allows the sauce to grip onto the pasta better, while the porousness sucks in the tomato element. Spaghetti, on the other hand, is more adept at sticking to lighter sauces, with its long shape also adding texture.
When deciding on the best pairing, it’s usually recommended to combine larger shapes with more robust sauces, while thinner types go better with lighter sauces. As a rule of thumb, pasta shapes can be divided into a few categories:
|Long & thin||Spaghetti, linguine, vermicelli||Light, oil or cream-based sauces.
Great match for seafood.
|Ribbons||Tagliatelle, pappardelle, fettuccine||Rich and meaty sauces, such as bolognese.|
|Shells||Conchiglie, lumache||Heavy cream or meat sauces.|
|Twist||Fusilli, gemelli, rotini||Lighter and smoother sauces, like pesto.|
|Tubes||Penne, rigatoni, macaroni||Vegetable or meaty sauces.|
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the pasta police will come a-knocking if you have your conchiglie with butter and shrimp — it simply means you’re not letting the dish live up to its full potential. For most, the divergence might be miniscule. But for true connoisseurs, the journey to match the right pasta shape with the perfect sauce is a constant one.
What’s so different about cascatelli?
Speaking of pasta connoisseurs, if there’s one person who falls into this category, it’s Dan Pashman. In his quest entitled ‘Mission ImPASTAble’, Pashman embarked on a three-year adventure to create the best pasta shape known to man — one that would utilise the benefits of every pasta category in a single, slick, yummy noodle. What started as a vendetta against the widespread use of spaghetti, which, according to Pashman, ‘sucks’, became a full-on crusade which he documented on his podcast for everyone to follow. Then, cascatelli was born. Within the first week of it being released to the public, it went viral, selling out almost immediately. At the time of writing, the waiting list to buy this newfangled pasta is 12 weeks long.
The aptly named cascatelli — which means ‘waterfall’ in Italian — can be described as a medium-length tentacle-looking shape. To use less imaginative language, it’s somewhere between mafalde and bucatini, if you cut it in half. When asked to illustrate it in an interview with Salon, Pashman characterized the shape as “a curved comma or half a heart. On one side there’s ruffles, and in the space between you’ve got a dugout, kind of a half-tube that just traps sauce in there”.
According to Sfoglini, the shape is perfect for a number of reasons, namely ‘saucability’ (which is defined by how readily sauce adheres to the shape), ‘forkability’ (or how easy it is to get the shape on your fork and keep it there), and ‘toothsinkability’ (how satisfying it is to sink your teeth into it) — three elements which Pashman believes spaghetti lacks. Cascatelli has a “longer cut than most short shapes” which improves forkability, a “bucatini half-tube and ruffles” that create a “sauce trough” with a rougher surface for saucability, and unique right angles and varying thickness that maximize toothsinkability. Truly, the best of all worlds.
Is cascatelli worth the hype?
Now, this is the million dollar question. If you’re asking whether you just absolutely have to get your hands on it, the answer is probably no. There are many incredible pasta shapes on the market, tried and tested for centuries by generations of judgemental Italian grandmothers — who would probably turn in their graves if they heard of a new pasta shape. However, if your inquiry is whether cascatelli is good, then the only response is: yes, it is brilliant.
Cascatelli does what it’s meant to do. It’s comfortable to dig into, and doesn’t fall off the fork easily. The contrasting textures on the noodle itself make it into an interesting and compelling bite. And, perhaps most importantly, the sauce sticks to it like no other pasta. One reviewer even called it “a water slide for sauce” or a “self-stuffing pasta”, due to its sauce retaining powers.
So, would you die if you don’t have it? Definitely not. But as a novelty for an avid pasta-lover, or if you’re keen on perfecting your dish, cascatelli is a great alternative to more famous shapes out there. If you’re still unsure, we can sum it up with one online review on the Sfoglini page, from a user named Ben Muller: “There are several days in my life that changed it forever: the day I was born, the day my sisters were born, the day I met my girlfriend, and the day I graduated all come to mind. The day I tried cascatelli made all of these days seem like just your average forgettable Wednesday”.