Every so often, there’s a moment of hype so powerful that it actually makes history. Such was the case in 2021, when food podcaster Dan Pashman, host of the incredibly popular culinary podcast The Sporkful, took it upon himself to try to create a totally original pasta shape (and sell it). He documented the challenging, years-long journey—which involved wheat academics, rare pasta die manufacturers, and even a professional linguist—in a series called “Mission: ImPASTAble,” concluding with the release of his new shape, cascatelli, through artisan pasta company Sfoglini. The series landed The Sporkful on The New York Times’ list of the best podcasts of 2021; unsurprisingly, the show has also won a Webby, and has made Pashman a two-time James Beard award winner.
Pashman’s quest to create a perfect pasta shape revolved around an obsession with finding the nexus of his three most important pasta ideals: “forkability” (how well it stays on a fork), “saucability” (how well it holds sauce), and “tooth-sinkability” (how pleasurable it is to bite and chew). This is just a bunch of made up words and metrics, you might be thinking. And you’d be exactly right—that’s why Pashman is one of the most entertaining culinary figures in the game today. Instead of retiring as a modern pasta legend after the success of cascatelli—which found its way to everywhere from fine dining menus and meal kits to being bootlegged by Trader Joe’s—he set his sights on partnering with Sfoglini on two new shapes: vesuvio and quattrotini.
Unlike cascatelli, these new pastas were based on already existing Italian shapes, but ones that are difficult (and in some cases impossible) to procure in the U.S., making this Sfoglini drop a pretty exclusive and landmark event for pasta-heads around the country. Quattrotini—based on Sicily’s cinque buchi shape—is a Sicilian shape involving four tubes connected by a rectangle (it makes sense when you see it), and is manufactured and served only in Italy for one week a year. Vesuvio is the pasta incarnation of a coiled bike tire tube that has become a hat (or a volcano, hence the name). As of January 24, both are now available at Sfoglini.
VICE caught up with Pashman and Sfoglini co-founder and CEO Scott Ketchum to discuss the new shapes and how to prepare them, the legacy of cascatelli, and their favorite Sfoglini pastas to keep on deck.
VICE: Scott, when you started Sfoglini, how did you decide which pasta shapes and flavors you were going to produce? Did you envision creating original shapes, or bringing ones that were virtually unknown in the U.S. into the market?
Scott Ketchum: When we first started Sfoglini in 2012, there were not many unique pasta options available in the U.S. You would commonly find standards like penne, rigatoni, and spaghetti, but if you wanted something different, you would likely have to visit a specialty market. We wanted to bring more interesting and exciting shapes to the pasta aisle to capture the interest of pasta lovers and help us stand out. We worked directly with a die maker in Brooklyn, Maldari & Sons, to supply us with the bronze dies for these interesting shapes, and we also spoke to them about new shapes we could develop, but the idea of creating something new kept getting pushed back as we continued to grow the business.
How did the public and the food world respond to cascatelli?
Dan Pashman: It’s been crazy. It occurred to me a few weeks after it launched that this is going to be the headline of my obituary. This is the thing I'm going to be known for the rest of my life. It’s a little weird to be in your mid-40s and think, Oh I may be peaking right now. I may never accomplish anything in my career quite so memorable and special as this. On the other hand, if that’s what you’re going to be known for, that’s pretty good.
Scott: Cascatelli had a great impact on Sfoglini. Besides being an incredible and inspiring project to work on, it helped get Sfoglini pasta the exposure we needed to continue to expand our audience and distribution around the country.
Can you tell me about quattrotini and vesuvio? What attracted you to these two shapes?
Dan: Basically, I wanted to try to find shapes that checked all my classic boxes, those same boxes I used with developing my original shape, cascatelli: forkability, saucability, tooth-sinkability—how well does it stand the fork, how well does it hold sauce, and how satisfying is it to bite into it? I wanted something that would achieve those things in different ways. You look at these three shapes together and they’re kind of all beautiful, but they’re also different from each other.
Are there many other producers or vendors in the U.S. that make or sell either of these shapes?
Dan: So, vesuvio—I don’t know if it’s being produced in the U.S. You can get it—there certainly are specialty stores that import vesuvio, but you’d have to really hunt to find it. I'd say it’s safe to call it rare in the U.S.
In terms of quattrotini, that one’s even more rare. That one’s modeled after a shape called cinque buchi—it means “five tubes.” That shape is almost impossible to find, even in Italy; it’s only made in Sicily, and only during Carnival. It’s almost impossible to find outside of that time and place. I saw a picture of it and I was trying to get my hands on it to try it, but there’s only one company in Italy that makes and ships it, and it was going to be like $100 to get it shipped to my house from Italy, which seems crazy. I asked Sfoglini to add ridges to the outside and cut it a little longer than the original shape, and we renamed it quattrotini—cinque buchi means “five tubes,” but to me, when you look at it you think four, you don’t think five.
As a big fan of your cascatelli journey, I’m curious whether this one was as challenging. Obviously you didn’t have to create these shapes, but I’d think getting set up to produce them the right way would still be pretty demanding.
Scott: It was definitely an easier challenge to take on, but every shape has its own unique problems that it presents. The more intricate or ornate the shape is, the more it can cause issues with drying or packaging (which is why many companies do not attempt to make them). If shapes are too long or have too many ruffles or twists, then it can get caught up in machinery and be very frustrating to produce. Yields can be smaller as well if the shape is thicker and needs more time and space to dry. So far, we've only had some small issues with packaging the quattrotini, but we should be able to work those out as we continue producing more.
Dan: These shapes already exist, so we know that they can be produced. That was a big hurdle. The other thing is that because we’ve done it once—Sfoglini and I have rolled out a pasta product—so we know how to do that. Any big creative project, the second time around is going to be smoother. That being said, it was still plenty stressful. There were a lot of delays, supply chain stuff, waiting for new equipment and the equipment crashed, the dies took longer to get to us than we wanted it to. And the most stressful thing was that i committed to quattrotini without having tasted it! As a self-admitted control freak who puts a lot of thought and careful study into these kinds of decisions, the idea of committing to something so important without ever sampling it made me very nervous.
If you were cooking a meal with vesuvio or quattrotini pasta, what would you make? Are there any favorite sauces, dishes, or recipes that you’ve tried?
Dan: I did share on Instagram that I did a shrimp and andouille mac and cheese that I'm testing for a cookbook that I'm working on, and that was great. In general, I think the idea that there’s one perfect shape for every sauce and vice versa is a little bit overdone. I think all three of these shapes will work well with anything that’s thick, creamy, has a lot of small bits or has a lot of chunks.
Scott: The Sporkful collection shapes were selected for their great sauceability, so my first recommendations are for thicker sauces like a Bolognese or sausage- or meat-based ragu. But we also like to develop recipes that focus more on vegetables for a healthier meal. These shapes also work well with eggplant or pestos. We're developing recipes now and will have them added to sfoglini.com soon.
What are your favorite Sfoglini pastas in the overall lineup?
Scott: Our top seller, year after year, is our trumpets. The ruffled edges and flower-shaped design appeals to a lot of our customers. My personal favorite has always been our reginetti. It's basically a small lasagna noodle that can work well in so many different recipes. But what I like most of all is that we have so many unique shapes that I seem to rediscover one every now and then. Lately I've been obsessed with our radiators.
Dan: I like their reginetti. That one’s similar to one called sagne a pezzi by a company called Rusticella in Abruzzo. It’s, like, just the ruffles. I don’t know if you remember when Captain Crunch did [a cereal] called, “Oops! All Berries”; I feel like with the reginetti and the sagne a pezzi, it's like, “Oops! All ruffles.”
Cascatelli, vesuvio, quattrotini, and more incredible pastas are available on Sfoglini’s website.
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