Spaghetti doesn’t hold sauce. Angel hair goes from zero to mush. Wagon wheels are gimmicks. These are just a few of Dan’s many frustrations with classic pasta shapes. Three years ago he set out to do better when he embarked on a quest to invent a new pasta shape, actually get it made, and actually sell it. And things have not gone as planned. Starting today, we’re telling the story of Dan’s quest in a five-part series; part 2 is also up now! Will the world have a new pasta shape? Or will Dan’s dreams fall as flat as an overcooked rigatoni?
This episode features:
- Evan Kleiman, host of the radio show and podcast Good Food
- Francis Lam, host of the radio show and podcast The Splendid Table
- The Pasta Lab at North Dakota State University
- Maureen B. Fant, translator of the Encyclopedia of Pasta by Oretta Zanini De Vita
- Helen Zaltzman, host of The Allusionist podcast
- Bill Nye, host of the podcast Science Rules!
This episode contains explicit language.
Original theme music by Andrea Kristinsdottir. Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Midtown" by Jack Ventimiglia
- "Small Talk" by Hayley Briasco
- "On The Shores of Italy" by Albert Campbell and Henry Burr
- "Sweet Summer Love" by Stephen Sullivan
- "Birthday Party" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
- "Electro Italy" by Nicholas Rod
- "Small Talk" by Hayley Briasco
Photo courtesy of Dan Pashman.
CLIP (HOST): Hello. Hi. Welcome to Caveat....
Dan Pashman: Today, we’re kicking off something really big. We’ve been working on it for three years. And we’ll begin at the beginning. It’s June 2018 and we are at Caveat. It’s a performance space and bar on New York’s Lower East Side We organized this event there called The Bucatini Dialogues: A Debate About Pasta Shapes. After a brief intro, I get right to the point...
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): And I’m just gonna go ahead and say it. Spaghetti sucks.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Thank you. Yeah. Yeah. Oh? I said it. It's round on the outside, that means it is a low surface area in relation to the volume, that means that sauce doesn't adhere to it well. It means less of it contact your teeth when you first bite it. It's like, you know, there's all this romanticism around spaghetti, but spaghetti and meatballs isn't even Italian thing. All right, like The Lady and the Tramp did a great disservice to American culinary history by romanticizing spaghetti. You know, what we should have taken from that movie is that it's a pasta shape that's only fit for dogs. Hmm. Oh, it's gonna get real tonight. Don't you worry.
Dan Pashman: At this debate about pasta shapes, I take a stand.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): We can do better, is the point I’m trying to make. We can do better than spaghetti.
Dan Pashman: But not everyone agrees...
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Get comfortable.
CLIP (EVAN KLEIMAN): OK.
Dan Pashman: I’m joined by two friends and fellow food podcasters: Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW’s Good Food, and Francis Lam, host of The Splendid Table. Unlike me, they’re also both trained chefs. Evan owned one of LA’s top Italian restaurants for more than 25 years. And this is where I should warn you. This podcast includes some explicit language. That’s just what happens when people debate the merits of spaghetti.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): All right Evan, go on. Defend spaghetti.
CLIP (EVAN KLEIMAN): Okay, first of all, spaghetti is the ur-pasta. It is the beginning of all pasta. And it's the beginning of handmade pasta and the beginning of industrialized pasta. But more than that, it's how every child becomes indoctrinated into the beauty of eating. When they suck up that first little strand, when they're a little kid and they realize that they can do that by pursing their lips and sucking in? That's it. They're...they're like gone for the rest of their lives.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Francis?
CLIP (FRANCIS LAM): I'm with Evan on this one. I mean, saying spaghetti sucks, because it doesn't have the right surface area and the right like amount of contact with your teeth is a very foodie approach, Dan. I feel like for eaters....
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Ohh...
CLIP (FRANCIS LAM): For eaters, you say exactly what Evan said, which is what is the first pasta you ever ate? What is the thing that made you fall in love with pasta? If it's not spaghetti, I don't know where you grew up.
CLIP (EVAN KLEINMA): Yeah. And, like, spaghetti night. Spaghetti is that thing that crossed over and became American.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): I will grant you that spaghetti is significant. It is important in pasta history. And it has a lot of, you know, romanticism and it has a lot of sentimental attachments to it. But I'm just saying, right now, here and now, as we sit here as adults who have so many pasta shapes to choose from. Tell me one thing that spaghetti does better than any other pasta shape? Any top echelon pasta shape?
CLIP (EVAN KLEIMAN): Top echelon?
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Yeah.
CLIP (EVAN KLEIMAN): They have status?
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Sure. If it's gonna be in the top echelon, there must be at least one thing that it can do that no other pasta shape can do, as well.
CLIP (EVAN KLEIMAN): Well, what spaghetti can do that no other pasta shape can do as well is be affordable. Ohh. [LAUGHS]
CLIP (FRANCIS LAM): I don't know why she said that, but I like it.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Aren’t they all the same price now in the supermarket?
CLIP (EVAN KLEIMAN): And accessible.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Now we are here tonight for an event called the Bucatini Dialogues. Now, bucatini for folks who are not familiar is, essentially, spaghetti with a hole down the center of it. It looks like a drinking straw when it's one uncooked. OK?
CLIP (FRANCIS LAM): Trash pasta.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Francis once tweeted, "Literally, all pasta shapes are wonderful except bucatini. Bucatini can go get effed." All right, Francis, bring the pain.
CLIP (EVAN KLEIMAN): I know what your problem is...and it's a very effete problem.
CLIP (FRANCIS LAM): Uh, here's the problem with bucatini. It's very simple. Ready? I’ve never actually practiced this so I don’t know if it’ll work. This is the sound when you eat spaghetti, the ur-pasta. [SLURP SOUND EFFECT] Ahhh. This is the sound when you try to eat bucatini. [SIPPING AN EMPTY STRAW SOUND]
CLIP (FRANCIS LAM): What kind of pasta doesn't come into your goddamn mouth when you want it to? [SIPPING AN EMPTY STRAW SOUND]
CLIP (EVAN KLEIMAN): It's not a noodle.
CLIP (FRANCIS LAM): Have you ever tried to use a drinking straw?
CLIP (EVAN KLEIMAN): You can't...
CLIP (FRANCIS LAM): Have you ever tried to suck the drinking straw into your mouth? It is physically impossible!
CLIP (EVAN KLEIMAN): It...
CLIP (FRANCIS LAM): Because it's not solid and there's a goddamn hole in the middle, which everyone says, that's the beauty of the bucatini. You get sauce in the middle. Fuck bucatini and the sauce in the middle, you can't get the thing in your mouth. I don’t care how much sauce is in the middle.
Dan Pashman: I think Francis’ point about slurping bucatini is valid. And I want to emphasize his other point: Bucatini lovers claim it gets a lot of sauce in the middle, that it’s like a better spaghetti that holds more sauce because of the tube. But that’s a lie! The hollow center of most bucatini is too narrow to gather much sauce. I’m with Francis here, the shape doesn’t live up to the hype.
Dan Pashman: And I put a lot of thought into these kinds of issues, into what I’m eating, and how to make it better. That's why I fold my pizza inside out and eat my cheeseburgers upside down. My method for turning an omelet into a breakfast sandwich is so convoluted, we don’t have time to get into it right now.
Dan Pashman: And I love pasta. So over my many years, and likely thousands of pounds of pasta consumed, I’ve put thought a lot about what makes some pasta shapes better than others. In fact, I've actually come up with three criteria by which I believe all pasta shapes should be judged. Ready? Number 1: Forkability.
PERSON 1: Forkability!
PERSON 2: Forkability!
Dan Pashman: Yeah, that’s right we’ve got sound effects. That’s how important this part is. Forkability: How easy is it to get the pasta on your fork and keep it there? Number 2: Sauceability.
PERSON 1: Sauceability!
PERSON 2: Sauceability!
Dan Pashman: How readily does sauce adhere to the shape? Number 3: the most important of all: Toothsinkability
PERSON 1: Toothsinkability!
PERSON 2: Toothsinkability!
Dan Pashman: How satisfying is it to sink your teeth into it? Even the most iconic pasta shapes in the world have flaws in at least one of these areas. Angel hair: It turns to mush 30 seconds after you put it in the water. No toothsinkability. Fettuccine and Linguini: Too smooth on the outside. You need surface area, texture, to pick up sauce, for sauceability. Rigatoni: The ridges on the outside make it more sauceable, but the tube is often too wide so it springs off the fork. That’s a forkability issue. And you got Wagon heels and Bowties, those are gimmicks. They don’t cook evenly. They’re mushy on the perimeter and hard in the center. You see? Spaghetti isn’t the only shape that sucks. I could go on. But where am I going with all this?
Dan Pashman: Well, as I said, We can do better. That’s why I gathered everyone together at Caveat. It’s why we’re all gathered together here today on this podcast.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): And that is why I am excited to tell you here tonight for the first time that we are embarking on one of the most ambitious—you know, I'm going to retract that. We are embarking on the most ambitious project in Sporkful history. We are going to set out to invent a new pasta shape. That… [laughs] That awkward groan that you just expressed is not an unfamiliar reaction to me, I must say. I went to my boss, Chris Bannon. I said, "Chris, we're gonna invent a new pasta shape." He said, "Dan, nobody cares about pasta shapes." Do you think that's true?
CLIP (AUDIENCE): Nooo.
CLIP (AUDIENCE MEMBER): Yeah.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): I don't think that's true.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies it’s for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. Now I wanna be very clear. This is not just a theoretical exercise. We are setting out to invent a new pasta shape and actually get it made and actually sell it. I’m talking thousands of boxes of pasta, on an industrial scale, so people everywhere, people just like you, can try it.
Dan Pashman: We’re gonna tell the story of this quest over five episodes of our podcast, and hopefully, at the end, the world will have a new pasta shape. One that maximizes forkability, sauceability, and toothsinkability like no shape that’s come before. This is Mission: ImPASTAble.
Dan Pashman: Weeks after that debate about pasta shapes, I check in with my wife Janie. She was at the event, she thought it was a lot of fun. But when we get to talking about making my dream a reality, she admits she has some doubts.
Janie Pashman: I can't even think of a shape that doesn't already exist.
Dan Pashman: So what your thoughts on my idea of trying to create a new one?
Janie Pashman: I think you're like a really smart person and maybe utilize that energy to think of something else other than a pasta shape. A new flavor? Ice cream?
Dan Pashman: Janie will come around. I check back in with Evan Kleiman. You heard her at the start of the live event. I ask her for her take on my mission:
Evan Kleiman: One part of my brain thinks that it's a fool's errand because there's been like centuries of culture laying down all these shapes before you. But then there's also the other part of my brain that's insanely curious to see what you would come up with.
Dan Pashman: Curious is good, I’ll take that. But then Evan starts bombarding me with questions...
Evan Kleiman: Have you met with a pasta engineer yet? What do you like eating? Are you thinking of a long shape or a short shape?
Dan Pashman: I haven’t gotten that far.
Dan Pashman: As I tell Evan, I do not already have a shape in mind. I’ve got lots of opinions about existing shapes, but I don’t have the new shape. She is not impressed with my lack of answers. And like so many others, she has her doubts about this whole idea.
Evan Kleiman: I mean, how often do you see a new pasta shape? It's hard and those businesses, they're pumping it out. They already have—they already have all the capital investment. They have the machines. They have the engineers....Are you there?
Dan Pashman: Yeah...No, yeah.
Evan Kleiman: He's thinking.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, I'm thinking. You're just making me nervous now, I’m like, maybe I... can I say I've bitten off more than I can chew? Or is that annoying turn of phrase on a food podcast?
Evan Kleiman: It's inevitable.
Dan Pashman: Um...So, yeah. This is gonna be a lot. Um, which actually brings me to my next question, Evan, because clearly I could use some help here. So would like to ask you if you would act as my Pasta Fairy Godmother on this journey. My spiritual adviser.
Evan Kleiman: I would love that. I think this is a fascinating project and I can't wait to start tasting it. And I think it's going to be so much harder than you imagine it to be. If there’s anybody who was meant to do this, I think it’s you.
Dan Pashman: All right. Well, thank you, Evan. You're giving me a good pep talk. You're making me feel nervous, but you're also making me feel like maybe we can pull it off.
Evan Kleiman: Oh, I think you’ll pull it off. Because if you don't...I will be relentless.
Dan Pashman: Evan sends me off with some instructions. She says before I can even start to design a shape, I got to understand what materials I’m working with. I have to learn about the ingredients and how they’ll affect the final pasta. So to start, there’s one obvious place I have to go.
Evan Kleiman: The place where all of the durum wheat is grown.
Dan Pashman: Coming up, we’re going to North Dakota. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. Hey, I hope you check out the episode we did a couple weeks ago. We put the call out for single Sporkful listeners looking for love, sent two couples on Zoom blind dates, and recorded the whole thing.
CLIP (WILL): There's a thing that you share with my mom. Um, it's like a great pro tip that you should compare your date to your mom on a first date, right?
CLIP (MICKEY): Especially, as like a gay man.
CLIP (WILL): Right, right. Exactly, yeah.
Dan Pashman: So will I be officiating a wedding any time soon?
CLIP (SLOAN): Brian, this has been really fun.
CLIP (BRIAN): Yeah, you make it sound like there's a timestamp on this.
CLIP (SLOAN): I feel like eventually I'm gonna need to hang up because my computer's gonna die.
CLIP (BRIAN): Because you can't plug it in?
CLIP (SLOAN): Oh, I need to go get the charger and stuff.
CLIP (BRIAN): I can wait.
Dan Pashman: Check out that episode wherever you got this one. And please connect with The Sporkful in your podcasting app. In Spotify, hit Follow. In Apple Podcasts, Subscribe. In Stitcher, Favorite. You can do it right now while you're listening. Thanks.
Dan Pashman: All right. Let’s get back into it. Look, I can argue about pasta shapes all day. But being an expert in eating them is only get me so far. If I’m gonna invent and sell a new shape, I’ve got to start by learning what pasta is made from, and what shapes are already out there.
Dan Pashman: Now, I do know that pasta dough is a simple mixture of semolina flour and water. But I don’t know what semolina flour really is or what kind will be right for my shape.
Dan Pashman: Hi...Hi.
Sally Mann: Hi.
Dan Pashman: Sorry, I’m just sticking a microphone in your face.
Sally Mann: Yeah, I was like, I don't know what you're doing.
Dan Pashman: You’re separating the wheat from the chaff.
Sally Mann: Yeah, yeah.
Dan Pashman: I’ve heard about this!
Dan Pashman: In April 2019, I arrive at North Dakota State University in Fargo. It’s home to the Durum Wheat Quality and Pasta Processing Laboratory, better known as The Pasta Lab. I meet some of the grad students working there, including Sally Mann.
Dan Pashman: Wait, what was your title again, Sally?
Sally Mann: I am a research specialist.
Dan Pashman: Research specialist? Got it. I am setting out on a mission to invent a new pasta shape.
Sally Mann: Okay. Good luck.
Sally Mann: There's pretty much everything you could think of.
Dan Pashman: But I didn’t come all this way just so another person could tell me this is a mistake. I’m here to meet two of the world’s leading durum wheat experts: Frank Manthey, a professor of cereal science, and Elias Elias, a professor of durum wheat breeding and genetics. North Dakota grows most of the durum wheat used in pasta in the U.S. Frank and Elias have been developing new varieties of that wheat for decades. In other words, if you’ve eaten pasta in America, you’ve almost definitely eaten pasta they had a hand in.
Dan Pashman: I meet Frank first. He starts by showing me this giant store room where they keep wheat seeds from years and years of research.
Frank Manthey: So you got all the way down aisles and aisles. I don't know how high that is, 10 feet high or so?
Dan Pashman: Just rows and rows.
Frank Manthey: Rows and rows....
Dan Pashman: It feels like being in the stacks of a giant library, except instead of books, it’s metal containers, each the size of a shoebox, each filled with dozens of seed packets. Frank pulls out some grains to show me.
Frank Manthey: So durum is a lot bigger seed than bread wheat. It's got a nice amber appearance....
Dan Pashman: This seed library contains thousands of wheat varieties developed over the years at the Pasta Lab, including some in the works for the future. Now Frank takes me to meet the other half of the Pasta Lab’s buddy comedy, Dr. Elias Elias. If Frank is the laid back midwesterner, Elias, who’s originally from Syria, gets right to the point.
Elias Elias: We got some emails, we got some phone calls, and we don't know who you are so what do you want?
Dan Pashman: Well I tell them, I’m here for a little pasta 101.
Dan Pashman: So what is durum wheat as opposed to any other kind of wheat?
Elias Elias: Oh, you know, there are different types of wheat. To begin with, you have what we call the hexaploid wheat. Hexaploid wheat is composed of three genomes, A, B…
Dan Pashman: It takes Elias about three seconds to lose me. But the gist is that there’s spring wheat, which we use to make bread, and durum wheat, which we use to make pasta. Elias’s job is to keep coming up with new and better varieties of durum wheat, improving the flavor, durability, and yield. So growers can produce more wheat per acre. When Elias develops a variety that he thinks is a real winner, Frank tests it to see if it grows well, and if it’ll make pasta that looks and tastes good.
Elias Elias: Frank is my policeman. You know, he keeps me in check.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Elias Elias: He will not let me release anything, that he does not have a high quality for the industry.
Dan Pashman: That whole development process for a new variety, the growing and testing and tweaking over and over? It takes 10 to 12 years. But then there’s one more step. Elias and Frank have to present it to a board made up of farmers, grower’s associations, industry people. The board only meets once every 2 or 3 years to vote. Elias says he thinks of each wheat variety as one of his kids that he’s nurtured from infancy. If the board rejects his wheat?
Elias Elias: Then you’re sad. You send your kid all the way to college and he can’t find a job. You know?
Dan Pashman: But after doing this for more than 30 years, Elias has a pretty high success rate. If his wheat is approved, the new variety ends up among the amber waves of grain across North Dakota.
Elias Elias: When I drive on the highway, and both sides of me on the highway are planted by our varieties, that’s when we know we are successful and brings us happiness.
Dan Pashman: But in order for that durum wheat to bring the rest of us happiness in the form of pasta, it has to be milled into flour. When you mill spring wheat, it becomes fine, like the powder you see in a bag of flour. But when you mill durum wheat, it fractures into coarse particles. That’s semolina and it's got very specific qualities.
Frank Manthey: It's that whole organoleptic experience. It's it's the flavor, it's the aroma of that spaghetti…
Dan Pashman: And just to translate organoleptic, as you're saying that word, your eyes are closing. Your head is rocking back.
Frank Manthey: Right.
Dan Pashman: And your hands are wafting imaginary pasta air up into your face.
Frank Manthey: That's right.
Frank Manthey: As I say those words. I can smell....
Dan Pashman: Right, right.
Frank Manthey: I can taste. It's all nutty, kind of a soft flavor. A very characteristic flavor. If that's important to you or your customer, you know, than you're def—you're going to go with 100 percent semolina. It's what makes pasta pasta.
Dan Pashman: In other words, this isn’t really a decision. Traditionally, all pasta is made with semolina. So we’re using semolina. But we do have to decide what kind. Frank says, semolina can be ground so it’s especially coarse, or more powdery and fine. More powdery is easier to work with on a mass scale. Plus it’s cheaper, so that’s what most big companies use. But that can compromise the flavor.
Frank Manthey: The finer you you grind, the more surface area is exposed, you start getting oxidation on the surface. You start losing the volatiles.
Dan Pashman: Volatiles are the natural compounds that produce aroma. If you grind your semolina very fine, more volatiles are exposed to the air, leaving your pasta with less flavor. A coarse grind keeps more of that natural flavor in.
Frank Manthey: If I was going to make the highest quality pasta, I would use a coarser ground.
Dan Pashman: Frank also says some pasta makers, especially in Italy, claim that a coarser semolina makes the pasta hold up better when cooked. It produces a firmer, more toothsinkable pasta. But he’s never seen that backed that up with data. Still, I make a note of all this. Before we wrap up, there’s one final stop on the Pasta Lab tour.
Dan Pashman: This is a cool room. This room really reminds me like of chemistry class. Right? There's a lot of test tubes and—what's the proper name for these ? These aren't test tubes are they?
Lab Technician: Beakers.
Dan Pashman: Beakers. Thank you. Yes. And there's pasta boiling on a heater. So set the scene here, Frank, where are we? What's going on in here?
Frank Manthey: This is the pasta cooking lab. And then this room is where we do the pasta quality testing. Definitely one of the most important is how it cooks. And so they're doing a cooking test.
Dan Pashman: And what are they testing for, specific—They're just generally cooking or like something specific.
Frank Manthey: Well, it's a texture analyzer.
Dan Pashman: A texture analyzer? Oh, my God. Can I go over and look at that?
Frank Manthey: Oh definitely. Definitely.
Dan Pashman: You have a device that's called a texture analyzer? How about how much does this cost Frank? I need one of these in my house.
Frank Manthey: Not only that...
Dan Pashman: How does this cost, Frank? I need one of these in my house.
Frank Manthey: Not only that, it measures the amount of work it takes to bite through five strands of spaghetti.
Dan Pashman: Oh, my God. I've heard about this machine. It's—right! It measures bite force.
Frank Manthey: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: The required bite force. Oh, my God. I've always wanted to see one...it's doing it right now!
Frank Manthey: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: It's got this little thing that's pressing down on five strands of spaghetti very, very slowly and gently to measure... If I send you my—like a sample of my pasta shape, once I get it going, would you run it through the texture analyzer?
Frank Manthey: We would definitely roll through on the texture analyzer.
Dan Pashman: Oh, my God. This is...this is getting better and better.
Dan Pashman: If nothing else comes from this series, if not a single person buys my pasta shape, at least I can say that I have been to North Dakota and I have seen a texture analyzer. I ask Frank and Elias for parting advice. Frank, the polite midwesterner, goes first.
Frank Manthey: It's a worthy endeavor.
Dan Pashman: Oh, thank you.
Dan Pashman: Elias, who like me has a semitic directness, has this to say.
Elias Elias: I mean, you can make any any shape that you want. It is how is going to hold and how it's going to look after you cook it. What is your consumer?
Dan Pashman: So it has to look good before and what…
Elias Elias: It has to.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Frank Manthey: So when you're looking at a shape, sounds like you're thinking of a short...
Dan Pashman: I'm not sure that's what that's one...that, I have not decided yet.
Elias Elias: He hasn't decided anything buddy, but he wants to know things.
Dan Pashman: Now I know what factors to consider when I pick my semolina. Plus, Frank gonna run my samples through the texture analyzer! Overall, a success. A few months after my trip to North Dakota, in the middle of 2019, I embark on the next leg of my journey. This time, we are going to Italy, via Skype, to talk to one of the world’s leading experts on pasta shapes. If I’m gonna make my mark on the pasta canon, I’ve gotta know what’s already out there.
Dan Pashman: Maureen, how many pasta shapes are there?
Maureen Fant: Oh, nobody knows. I made the index of pasta names and I think I got up to a thousand-two hundred, something like that. Eleven, twelve hundred names for somewhere over 300 different shapes. And that's not all of them.
Dan Pashman: This is Maureen Fant, she’s an American who moved to Rome in 1979. She studied archaeology, fell in love with Italy during a semester abroad, and has been there ever since. Maureen translated a book called the Encyclopedia of Pasta, which for our purposes is basically the Bible. It’s the closest thing there is to a complete list of all the pasta shapes.
Dan Pashman: Maureen’s friend, Oretta Zanini de Vita wrote it. Oretta spent twenty years scouring every corner of Italy to find local pasta shapes and traditions. And one thing she learned is that often, different regions have different names for the same shape. That’s why there are about 300 shapes for 1200 names. One example? The long flat pastas fettuccine and tagliatelle.
Maureen Fant: Tagliatelle and Fettuccine are very close and practically interchangeable. It's just that fettuccine is a term used more in the center south and tagliatelle more in the north, where the noodles are likely to be thinner and more delicate.
Dan Pashman: But Italians get very into these small differences. In fact, they care so much about what is and is not the right width and thickness to be called tagliatelle...
Maureen Fant: At the Chamber of Commerce in Bologna, there is a golden tagliatelle where if you are really into it, you can go and measure your noodle.
Dan Pashman: In other words, if there’s a disagreement over whether your pasta fits the official definition of tagliatelle, you can bring one strand to the Chamber of Commerce and compare it to the golden tagliatelle to see. First off, that’s amazing. But my main takeaway from all this is, only 300 shapes? There’s gotta be opportunity for something new. I mean, that’s fewer than I would have guessed. And in the Encyclopedia of Pasta, they break down all those shapes into 6 basic categories.
Maureen Fant: Long shapes, short shapes, filled shapes, pastina, little shapes for broth. Teeny tinies for broth. Then gnocchi or gnocchetti, which are the dumpling-like forms. And then the sixth shape is strascinati.
Dan Pashman: Strascinati are shapes that are dragged over a textured wooden board, which imprints that texture on to the pasta.
Maureen Fant: Orecchiette are an example of strascinati.
Dan Pashman: So Maureen, I am setting out to invent a new pasta shape.
Maureen Fant: Why?
Dan Pashman: This response is becoming increasingly familiar to me. So I walk Maureen through my rationale. I explain my 3 criteria for evaluating pasta shapes. I tell her about FORKABILITY, SAUCEABILITY, and TOOTHSINKABILITY.
Dan Pashman: So there's a lot of shapes that like_they look beautiful. They have a history. They're really good at one of these things. But there are very few shapes that have the total package.
Maureen Fant: I think that spaghetti has the total package.
Dan Pashman: Oh, man. Oh, Maureen. Come on.
Maureen Fant: If you eat it right. Spaghetti is fine for the oily or liquid sauces.
Dan Pashman: For my pasta shape I’m aspiring to something a little better than fine. And I’m skeptical of anyone who thinks spaghetti is sauceable, let alone toothsinkable. Still, I want Maureen’s guidance.
Dan Pashman: What's missing? In the entire canon of pasta shapes, what do you feel like might be out there that people aren't focusing enough attention on?What shape, what concept, what does the world the pasta need?
Maureen Fant: I think pasta is just fine. I'm not going to encourage anybody to invent a new pasta shape.
Dan Pashman: Coming up when Mission ImPASTAble continues, I begin the work of inventing a new pasta shape. I’ll head into the kitchen with friends and family to sample a bunch of pastas.
CLIP (BECKY PASHMAN): This one keeps falling off the fork. It doesn’t have good forkability. Is that a real word?
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): It is now.
Dan Pashman: But eating pasta’s the easy part. How am I actually gonna make it? I gotta find a company that’s already making pasta to work with me. So we’ll embark on the search for a partner.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): And because Sfoglini is already on the shelves at Whole Foods. If you make our shape, can you just put it on the shelves at Whole Foods?
CLIP (STEVE): No.
Dan Pashman: Then I start designing my shape. And things only get harder.
CLIP (CHRIS): I’m gonna be honest because you seem like a nice guy and I don’t want to send you off into the abyss. I don’t think it would be enough to have people say, "Wow look at that different pasta."
Dan Pashman: As problems pile up, this project pushes me and my family to the brink.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): I think I’m gonna cry… Ahh, I’m not getting enough sleep.
CLIP (JANIE PASHMAN): I don’t have excess emotions to console you over the pasta project, right now.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): I’m just like feeling very discouraged. I’m feeling like maybe this is stupid.
Dan Pashman: That’s all coming up as our story continues. And you can continue right now, because part two is already up! Yes, we dropped the first two episodes of this series at once. So go get part two. And while you’re doing that please make sure you connect with our podcast in your podcasting app so you don’t miss the rest of Mission: ImPASTAble. In Spotify, hit Follow. In Apple Podcasts, Subscribe. In Stitcher, Favorite. Thanks.
Dan Pashman: And hey, you want to see photos and videos of this whole process? You want to see the texture analyzer? Follow me on Instagram. This week I’ll be posting pics from North Dakota, and from the live event with Evan and Francis. On Instagram I am @TheSporkful.
Dan Pashman: I want to give a special shoutout to the people who helped drive home the point on forkability, toothsinkability, etc. Did you recognize those voices? I'll give you one more chance...
PERSON 1: SAUCEABILITY!
PERSON 2: SAUCEABILITY!