(This is part 5 of Mission: ImPASTAble, the final episode in our series. If you haven't listened to the previous episodes yet, start with Part 1!)
After months of revisions, Dan thinks he’s got his shape. But he’s been working on this for so long, he’s not sure he knows what’s good anymore. So he brings in an all-star panel of taste testers, including Sohla El-Waylly, Francis Lam, Dorie Greenspan, Christopher Kimball, Claire Saffitz, Jet Tila, and Bill Nye the Science Guy. Then J. Kenji López-Alt, Justin Warner, and Samin Nosrat help Dan pick a name for his shape before, finally, it’s production day!
The shape is on sale right now through Sfoglini!
Want to see photos and videos from Dan’s journey? Follow @thesporkful on Instagram!
Here's Dan and his die, united at last at Sfoglini!
This episode features:
Evan Kleiman, host of the radio show and podcast Good Food
Sfoglini pasta company
Chris Maldari of the pasta die manufacturer D. Maldari & Sons
Laurel Sutton, senior strategist and linguist at Catchword
Andrea Nguyen's recipe for Mapo Tofu Spaghetti (NYT)
This episode contains explicit language.
Original theme music by Andrea Kristinsdottir. Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
"Lucky Strike" by Erick Anderson
"The Cantina" by Erick Anderson
"The Big Swank" by Ken Brahmstedt
"Loud" by Bira
"De Splat" by Paul Fonfara
"Marimba Feels Good" by Stephen Sullivan
"The Cosmos" by Jack Ventimiglia
"Clean" by J.T. Bates
"Small Talk" by Hayley Briasco
Photo courtesy of Dan Pashman.
Dan Pashman: This episode contains explicit language.
Becky Pashman: What if they get like on back order, like everyone wants to buy them, and then you don't have enough, and then you don't have enough paper, and then all the boxes....and the whole thing turns into this big disaster?...And then a tornado happens and the building pass the factory gets destroyed...and I'm trying to come up with the worst possible case scenario, but you know, you got to be prepared.
Dan Pashman: What if the tornado blows the pasta factory up into the sky and then it starts raining pasta?
Becky Pashman: Whoo-hoo!
Emily Pashman: If that happens, then keep your mouth open.
Evan Kleiman: Previously, on The Sporkful's Mission: ImPASTAble…
CLIP (JANIE PASHMAN): See, this is the rollercoaster that I can’t handle...This is not the emotional journey I need in my life right now.
CLIP (STEVE GONZALEZ): A new shape is born.
CLIP (EVAN KLEIMAN): It's like...it's like a centipede carrying a little house.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Oh, my God. You might have just named the shape, Evan.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): As far as I’m concerned, this is it. We got it. We nailed the shape.
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. Welcome to the fifth and final part of Mission: ImPASTAble, my quest to invent a new pasta shape, actually get it made, and actually sell it. If you haven’t heard the first four parts, please listen in order. OK, let’s get into it...
Dan Pashman: Have you ever worked on a really big project for a really long time? It could be something for work, planning a wedding, raising a kid, whatever. There are points where you think, “Hey, this is actually going well!” And other points where you feel like you’re so buried in it, you have no idea what’s good anymore.
Dan Pashman: When I tried the latest version of my pasta, I thought, we got it. But now, as the calendar turns to 2021, doubts are creeping in. I’m approaching the three year mark of my quest. Three years of restless nights worrying about a hunk of bronze. Three years testing and eating dozens of pastas, from fancy Italian ones, to all the versions of my shape, to the leftover bits of mac and cheese at the bottom of the pot. Now it’s all dissolving in my mind into a monotextural pasta slurry. This project feels like the test of every food opinion I’ve ever had. So, did I actually get it right? Is my pasta shape actually done?
Dan Pashman: To answer these questions for sure, I got to hear what other people think of it. So of course, I start with Evan Kleiman, my pasta fairy godmother and spiritual advisor.
Evan Kleiman: There are a couple types of pastas that you see sold in Italy, where it’s two shapes sold together in the same bag. And I kind of felt like that’s what I was eating. Because I would chew on the really meaty, curved, belty part, and then my teeth would hit the ruffle, which is half as thick. And it would instead of feeling meaty, it would feel slithery, which is a good thing in a noodle.
Dan Pashman: And Evan, that combination of different textures coming together in the same bite is the textural phenomenon that we’ve discussed, which sensory scientists call dynamic contrast. And I could only have dreamed of getting that in my shape.
Evan Kleiman: I think the last time you said that to me I sort of laughed at that idea of dynamic contrast, but I could really see that as a great descriptor of this pasta.
Dan Pashman: Haha, yes!
Dan Pashman: That’s a good start, but before I’m gonna believe we’re done, I need a lot more feedback. Sfoglini is still cranking out test batches of my shape, sending me samples, we’re still making small adjustments. So I pack some of those samples in ziploc bags, and ship them out to some of the greatest chefs, recipe writers, and scientists in the world today, all past guests on The Sporkful!
Dan Pashman: They are: Sohla El-Waylly...
Sohla El-Waylly: Hello.
Dan Pashman: Dorie Greenspan...
Dorie Greenspan: Wow.
Dan Pashman: Christopher Kimball...
Christopher Kimball: Of course.
Dan Pashman: Francis Lam...
Francis Lam: I think we're rolling.
Dan Pashman: Claire Saffitz...
Claire Safftiz: Hey, Dan. How are you?
Dan Pashman: Jet Tila.
Jet Tila: Yo, this is really fun.
Dan Pashman: And Bill Nye the Science Guy.
Bill Nye: Greetings everyone!
Dan Pashman: I’ve been looking at this shape forever, but it’s new to them. What are their first impressions?
Christopher Kimball: It was like no other shape. It just stopped me in my tracks.
Claire Saffitz: I mean, I've never seen anything like it.
Jet Tila: It almost looks like a dried living thing, if that makes any sense.
Bill Nye: Reminds me of fiddlehead ferns. It reminds me of the traditional scroll shape that wood carvers put in the end of, violas, and fiddles.
Sohla El-Waylly: Even a little bit of like a seashell vibe.
Francis Lam: Probably would most want to eat them with some kind of exotic mollusk?
Dan Pashman: OK, OK… Next, I ask each tester to give me their quick take on our three metrics . Once more, with feeling! FORKABILITY :
Dorie Greenspan: It's very forkable. It really holds on your fork.
Sohla El-Waylly: I think forkability. I'm going to give it a 10.
Dan Pashman: Sauceability!
Claire Saffitz: So I was—I'm boiling the pasta and that I have the sauce that I'm making in a skillet right next to it. And I thought that—I was like, I have too much sauce in this pan for this amount of pasta. And actually, I was surprised because I did not have too much sauce in a skillet. It picked up the sauce so well.
Bill Nye: More ruffles gives it, I think, a better sauceability.
Dorie Greenspan: I just love the way it captured the sauce and snuggled it.
Jet Tila: It holds a phenomenal amount of sauce.
Dan Pashman: And the big one: Toothsinkability
Francis Lam: The pasta was so thick. You know, like thicck with 2 Cs?
Sohla El-Waylly: I really like how the middle part is a little thicker and it's a little heartier, and then you get the delicate ruffle like, it gives you more of like a linguine vibe.
Jet Tila: You get multiple experiences in one pasta.
Dorie Greenspan: It's a pleasure to chew it. One bite makes you want the next.
Sohla El-Waylly: I think it’s perfect.
Dan Pashman: This is incredible. I did not expect people to be so overwhelmingly positive. And what’s so exciting to me is that, while no one’s using the term dynamic contrast, that’s exactly what they’re describing. Like when you bite into a candy bar, first, you pierce the hard chocolate shell. Then you sink into something chewy or gooey. Then you land on something crunchy. That’s dynamic contrast, and you don’t typically get it in pasta.
Dan Pashman: I didn’t tell the testers to look for that difference in textures, and yet they’re all picking up on it. This feedback is so good that I’m getting skeptical. I say to them: “Don’t just be nice. What’s wrong with it? There must be something that needs improvement.” And some of them do comment on the length…
Claire Saffitz: It’s like not quite long enough to twirl. I mean, you can’t twirl it. And like, there’s just also no natural point at which to stab it.
Chris Kimball: It may be a little on the short side, I could have had a little bit more length. Make it a little bit longer.
Dan Pashman: I take Claire and Chris’s point about adjusting the length a little. It’s never going to be twirlable, it’s a short shape, but I decide I’ll push Steve to cut it as long as possible. Next, I send samples of the pasta to my parents. I want to get feedback from some non food professionals.
Dad: The first one we made, mom just put butter and cheese on it.
Mom: Reggiano Parmigiano. I didn't want to mess up the..
Dad: That the pasta might hold.
Mom: The tasting.
Dad: And then just to try something different, Mom opened a jar of jarred...
Mom: Don’t say that on the air.
Dad: He can edit this.
Mom: Don't say I opened a jar of tomato sauce, for God's sakes.
Dad: Mom whipped up this…. very quickly.
Dan Pashman: She made some homemade sauce. Got it, got it. OK.
Mom: I like the aesthetics of the ruffle. It makes it a very interesting looking shape. There's a variety of texture. The ruffle might be a little softer and the center is more dense.
Dan Pashman: Based on all these conversations, it seems like we’ve got toothsinkability at the max. Still, these are just opinions. To really believe it, I need data. If only there were a way to measure toothsinkability...
[FLASHBACK SOUND EFFECT]
CLIP (FRANK MANTHEY): There's a texture analyzer.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): A texture analyzer?
CLIP (FRANK MANTHEY): That measures amount of work it takes to bite through five strands of spaghetti.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Oh, my God. I've heard about this machine!
Dan Pashman: You didn’t think I’d forget the texture analyzer, did you?! I send my pasta to Professor Frank Manthey, from the Pasta Lab in North Dakota. And I send him my version one, the flimsy one, so we have some basis for comparison. Frank also tests a supermarket bow tie as a control.
Dan Pashman: The texture analyzer’s unit of measurement is gram-centimeters, which involves something in math called integrals, which I don’t understand. So we’ll just call the result the Toothsinkability Score. For our purposes, the higher the score, the more toothsinkable it is, which is what I want. Frank’s supermarket bowtie gets a 164. Next, he shares the score for version 1 of my pasta, the flimsy stuff.
Frank Manthey: Your version one was 115.
Dan Pashman: OK, so lower than a supermarket bow tie, which I consider a great insult. But I mean, deserving because that shape had issues.
Dan Pashman: Now, the Toothsinkability Score for my final shape...
Frank Manthey: 194.
Dan Pashman: Yes, that's right! Crushing the bow tie. Yes. That's where we want to be.
Dan Pashman: Again, version one of my shape? 115. Bowtie...164. My final shape? 194.
Dan Pashman: I’m beginning to suspect the shape might actually be good. Sohla has this to say:
Sohla El-Waylly: I think you crushed it. I think you're overthinking it now. Just enjoy the—lay back and enjoy the glory.
Dan Pashman: All right. All right. That is very good advice, Sohla. You know, I really appreciate you saying that to me because I am the type who would overthink it. And I would just keep thinking, it's not done. It's not done. We must keep trying. We must keep perfecting. I think that you're right. I think that it might be time to let it go.
Sohla El-Waylly: I think it's ready for the people. The people need this shape. It's like maybe my top three pasta shapes.
Dan Pashman: Really?
Sohla El-Waylly: And for my husband, he's like sold. He thinks this is the greatest pasta shape of all time.
Dan Pashman: Are you serious?
Sohla El-Waylly: Yeah, I'm not even kidding. His exact words were, "These are fucking awesome."
Dan Pashman: I’m nearly ready to take Sohla’s advice and accept that I’m done. But in order for me to truly believe that the shape is great, I need to hear it from someone who has proven time and again that he’s not afraid to crush my dreams. The same guy who told me my initial concept wasn’t anything special, that my next concept was impossible, and that I’d never find a pasta company to work with me…
Chris Maldari: Hello?
Dan Pashman: Of course, I’m talking about the die maker Chris Maldari.
Chris Maldari: Now, what exactly are you asking me?
Dan Pashman: So...well, so, first off, I just would love to hear your impressions on the pasta shape. What’d you think?
Chris Maldari: Yeah, first of all, I was totally confused when you sent me the sample. I didn’t realize you were making it short, I thought you were making it long.
Dan Pashman: We were. We switched to short, basically, because the long became impractical.
Chris Maldari: You know, it’s an interesting shape, that’s for sure. It sucked in the sauce incredibly well. At first I thought you were going to have some trouble with the ripples falling off. Because the ripples would cook first and to get the rest of it to be not crunchy, I thought there would be a difference. But I really didn’t see much breakage in that, you know, anything falling off. When you bite into these, not only are you getting toothsinkability but there’s a juicy factor to it.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Chris Maldari: Which is, you know, very satisfying.
Dan Pashman: So Chris, I’m gonna tick through my three metrics for shapes. First up: forkability.
Chris Maldari: Uhhhh, I used a spoon.
Dan Pashman: OK....[LAUGHING] Spoonability then! Call it...
Chris Maldari: You got a 10 for spoonability.
Dan Pashman: All right, next, sauceability.
Chris Maldari: Sauceability is a 10.
Dan Pashman: And finally, toothsinkability.
Chris Maldari: It's also a 10.
Dan Pashman: Wow! Yeah!
Chris Maldari: With this pasta, you hit every mark.
Dan Pashman: Wow, I think I’m gonna cry again.
Chris Maldari: Although...Although, I would suggest a spoon.
Dan Pashman: Chris, I gotta say, you know, at times I feel like you have been the one to give me news I didn’t really want to hear.
Chris Maldari: Tough love.
Dan Pashman: Right. And so to have your approval and to have you say it’s so good, it means a lot, because I know you wouldn't say it if you didn’t believe it.
Chris Maldari: No, no. I wouldn’t. I’d take you offline and tell you the truth. But no. I’m sorry I had to go rough on you there for a while, but it made you stronger.
Dan Pashman: All right, thanks Chris. Take care.
Chris Maldari: Take care, bye bye.
Dan Pashman: All right, I’m gonna say it -- now, we really ,really, really have a shape! Coming up, we give our new shape a name. Then I return to Sfoglini to watch my creation roll off the presses. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. If you're liking this series, I hope you’ll share it on social media, encourage your friends to check it out. And if you’re new to our show, I hope you’ll keep listening in the future. To make sure that happens, please connect with us in your podcasting app. You can do it right now while you’re listening. In Apple Podcasts, subscribe. In Spotify, Follow. In Stitcher, Favorite. Thanks!
Dan Pashman: Also, while you’re fiddling with your phone, follow me on Instagram, @thesporkful. I’ve got photos of the shape up there now, which might help you follow along with what you’re about to hear. OK, let’s get back to it.
Dan Pashman: We have a shape! But what should we call it?
Dan Pashman: My favorite pasta names are the Italian words that describe what the shape looks like. So radiatore: radiators. Orecchiette: little ears. Cavatappi: corkscrews. I want to follow in that tradition. I’m not gonna call it the Pashmini or the Sporktini, as some of my friends have suggested. I want it to sound like a classic pasta shape. But I also want it to be easy to pronounce and spell for the average non-Italian speaking American.
Dan Pashman: When Evan first saw the shape she said it looked like a centipede, or a millipede. The Italian word for millipede is millepiedi, and that name’s been stuck in my head ever since. It feels whimsical, quirky. But I need to see what other people think. Remember, roughly speaking, we have a main strip, which is curved like a comma, with two ruffles sticking out one side. I send photos of the shape to friends to see what it looks like to them. In response, Kenji Lopez-Alt, chef and friend of the show, sends me this voice memo:
Kenji Lopez-Alt: To me, it looks like the head of some kind of ridged dinosaur. Like a pachycephalosaurus or maybe an ankylosaurus. One of those dinosaurs. Or maybe, it’s like Godzilla, you know? But some sort of dinosaur with ridges on it.
Dan Pashman: I'm pretty sure those first two options fail the “easy to spell” test. And if I call it Godzilla, I’m gonna get sued. I send a photo to Justin Warner, a chef and judge on Food Network.
Justin Warner: There’s something a little reptilian about this. Especially, when you’re looking at it with the frills on top. But then I look at it with the frills on the bottom, there’s something oceanic about it. It looks like a wave or an undercurrent.
Dan Pashman: Justin brings up a good point. The shape looks very different depending on how you hold it. To me, I see the ruffles and it reminds me of one of those 70s tuxedo shirts with the frills down the front. But the Italian word for tuxedo is ‘’smoking” -- like a smoking jacket. Pretty sure I’m gonna have trouble selling a pasta called smoking.
Dan Pashman: I realize there’s one person I need to talk to, Samin Nosrat. Past guest on The Sporkful, chef, star of Salt Fat Acid Heat, and author of the cookbook by the same name. Samin knows Italian food inside and out. She speaks Italian, and I just know she’s the kind of person who will totally nerd out on this with me...
Samin Nosrat: I mean, I honestly am jealous that you’re the one who’s inventing a pasta shape and not me.
Dan Pashman: I start off by showing Samin the shape so she knows what we’re working with...
Samin Nosrat: Oooh, I love it!
Dan Pashman: And she tells me it reminds her of a tire tread. In Italian that’s battistradaI. It doesn’t really sound like a pasta shape. I tell Samin about Evan’s comment that they look like millipedes.
Samin Nosrat: Interesting.
Dan Pashman: I’m gonna show you a video. That's millipede walking.
Samin Nosrat: Ew ew ew ew!!!
Samin Nosrat: Although, millipede in Italian is such a beautiful word, like millepiedi…
Dan Pashman: Hmm.
Samin Nosrat: But let’s think about—I would like to think about this in the context of other Italian pasta shape names. I’m trying to think if there's any named after insects because like....or anything someone might think of as unappetizing.
Dan Pashman: There is vermicelli, which means little worms. But it’s no accident that when vermicelli crossed the Atlantic, it was rebranded as angel hair. Now, I know there are a lot of folks around the world who eat insects. I’ve snacked on some crickets myself, but let’s face it. Most Americans aren’t into that. I throw out another idea.
Dan Pashman: When you put the shape on its side, and when you put it like a backwards C, it looks like a music clef.
Samin Nosrat: Yes.
Dan Pashman: So I looked up the word for clef, chiave.
Samin Nosrat: Yes, chiave.
Dan Pashman: Which is a nice word, but it’s not four syllables. It's only three syllables and it feels short.
Samin Nosrat: But what like fact of like adding the -ini on the end? Chiaverini. Chiaverini is little clefs.
Dan Pashman: Well, that’s interesting.
Dan Pashman: Samin and I decide we need input from another Italian speaker.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: I’m glad I could put my nerdery to good use!
Samin Nosrat: Oh yeah.
Dan Pashman: This is Ngofeen Mputubwele, who’s now a former producer on The Sporkful. You heard him calling Garofalo, the Italian pasta company, earlier in this series. But he left our show about a year ago, so he hasn’t even seen the shape yet. I show it to him…
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Wow, you actually did it.
Dan Pashman: And we get to talking about names. We tell Ngofeen about the clef idea, chiave, or chiaverini. But instead of any of those, he suggests…
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Chiave di basso.
Dan Pashman: That means bass clef. That’s the clef my shape most resembles. But chiave di basso doesn’t have an -ini or an -elli type ending. And it dawns on me: chiave starts with a ch. If I go with that, is everyone just gonna call it CHiaverini?
Samin Nosrat: Yeah, that’s the—if you put a ch everyone’s gonna say ch.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Except for my Jewish brothers and sisters who will call it cchhhiaverini.
Samin Nosrat: Wait, now tell him about Evan’s idea.
Dan Pashman: Oh, OK. So Evan, she suggested imagine these are two creatures that are facing away from us.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Ok...oh oh oh I see, yeah. They’re kinda like little centipedes or something.
Samin Nosrat: Ohhh! We got it! He got it!
Dan Pashman: That’s exactly what Evan said, and then we looked up that word, which is as you know…
Samin Nosrat: Centopiede.
Dan Pashman: Right. Then we were like, what about millepiedi?
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Uh huh.
Dan Pashman: Which Samin and I agree has a beautiful sound to it.
Samin Nosrat: I love the sound.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Uh huh.
Dan Pashman: But do people want a pasta shape named after millipedes?
Ngofeen Mputubwele: You might think of it as like, people just know it as millepiedi. Right? Like farfalle, I don't feel like most people don’t know that that's butterfly.
Samin Nosrat: I mean, I guess you're right. LIke, millepiedi is maybe just different enough that like people won’t connect the dots.
Dan Pashman: I like it because it’s simple, people can say it, they can remember it. It sounds good in Italian, and it sounds good even when pronounced poorly.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Yeah.
Samin Nosrat: I think you have to make it millepiedi!
Dan Pashman: But...
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Millepiedi.
Samin Nosrat: Who cares if it’s a bug.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Yeah.
Samin Nosrat: I’m sold.
Dan Pashman: Millepiedi. Millepiedi. Millepiedi. I’m warming up to it. But I have to make a final decision ASAP because Sfoglini has to order boxes for the shape. I decide to talk to some non food folks, non Italian speakers, to get more feedback. Five days later, I’ve completed that process. I get back on Zoom with Samin and Ngofeen to share my findings.
Dan Pashman: So my first focus group was my family at the dinner table. So here’s what happened with that.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): I’m gonna show you and tell you one proposed name for the pasta shape, and I want you to tell me your first reaction. Millepiedi.
CLIP (JANIE PASMAN): I think it’s… I mean I wouldn't really know how to pronounce it and it sounds a little bit like an insect with many legs.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): And how do you feel about that?
CLIP (JANIE PASMAN): Not what I want my pasta to be called.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: What did the kids say?
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Emily?
CLIP (EMILY PASHMAN): Um, well I don’t really like millepiedi, I kind of feel like it’s hard to pronounce and it’s just not a good pasta name.
Samin Nosrat: Wow! Tough crowd.
Dan Pashman: All right. Yeah, so, so...
Samin Nosrat: Phew. But this is still a small focus group.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Yeah. Tied to you!
Samin Nosrat: Tied to you.
Dan Pashman: That's right. That's right. So I did a poll on instagram.
Samin Nosrat: OK. OK.
Dan Pashman: Where I just asked people, tell me your reactions to millipedes in general. 76% of people said “Ew gross.”
Ngofeen Mputubwele: What was the sample size??
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: OK. OK.
Dan Pashman: So, uh, yeah.
Samin Nosrat: Uh-oh.
Dan Pashman: Then I went ahead also and reached out to my attorney, James Grigorio, who, I should say, is Italian-American, who makes his own pasta from scratch. And I said, James, you know, millipiede? Is it taken? You know, like what's the deal? And he left me this voicemail.
CLIP (JAMES GRIGORIO): Hey Dan, it’s James. I got your email about a pasta name and trademarking it. Let me make sure I understand. So after years of thoughtful study and research, you’ve decided to name your pasta after some disgusting little vermin pest that instills fear, loathing, in pretty much everyone. That’s brilliant. I'm just wondering whether or not you considered scarafaggio pasta. Because that way you could do like a commercial, “Hey, now that’s a spicy cockroach!” I don’t know, listen. You’re the creative guy, I’m just the attorney. So just a thought. Anyway, give me a call back, or don’t!
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Or don’t! Or don’t. Or don't.
Samin Nostrat: Touche.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Yeah, not good.
Samin Nosrat: So I guess we’re not doing millepiedi!
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: So producer Emma and I went to back to the drawing board. We called up the National Pasta Association for help. We went very far down a rabbit hole of Italian words for different types of ruffled sleeves. Then Emma had an idea that I think could work.
Samin Nosrat: Okay, okay, whatcha got? Whatcha got? Whatcha got?
Dan Pashman: You ready for this?
Samin Nosrat: Yeah.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Ready.
Dan Pashman: Cascatella! Or...cascatelli.
Samin Nosrat: OK. OK. OK.
Dan Pashman: It means waterfall.
Samin Nosrat: Ooh! I’m into this. I love it. Because if you flip it over from the shape that it's like the thing,… It’s a waterfall. I love it. For me it hits, it’s good.
Dan Pashman: Now, technically, the correct plural for waterfall is cascatelle, with an e at the end, but I think we can take some poetic license. If we end it with an i, cascatelli, it sounds more like a pasta name. And it’ll increase the chance that I end up in the Twitter feed @ItaliansMadAtFood, which is one of my lowkey goals with all this.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: I’m into it. Cascatelli. I like that I immediately understand why that’s the name.
Dan Pashman: I’m glad to hear you both say that but I should tell you that I still wanted to hear from one more person.
Samin Nosrat: OK. So I reached out to someone who names things for a living. Her name is Laurel Sutton. She's a linguist by trade. And she co-founder a company called Catchword. They'd been around for 20 years and they name things. So I sent Laurel our shorlist.
CLIP (LAUREL SUTTON): Out of all of them I like the last one the best. Cascatelli. It’s easy to spell. It’s easy to say. It flows really well. It’s just a beautiful word. If you know that it’s a waterfall? It’s also a wonderful visual image. There’s a lot built into it, and it’s cognate with words like cascade in English. So you do get what it means. Even if you don't really know, you can recognize the root of word that's in it.
Samin Nosrat: I mean, I really...I think it’s a great name. I think it’s a great name.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Cascatelli, my reaction when you finished it and when you said what it was, what I felt was, awww. You made a real pasta!
PEOPLE: Cascatelli… Cascatelli… Cascatelli…
Dan Pashman: Cascatelli. My lawyer, James, agrees this is a big improvement. He does a trademark search and says I should be clear to use cascatelli. I file the paperwork to trademark the name, and to patent the shape itself. Which means I can now say something I always wanted to say—patent pending!
Dan Pashman: So we have a name. The boxes are ordered. Sfoglini officially puts the first ever run of cascatelli on their production calendar, February 18th, 2021. That day is fast approaching. And while the shape is basically done, I told you we were still tinkering, right?
Dan Pashman: The last thing about the shape that we have to nail is the exact length. Steve tells me that in his tests, the dough is flowing faster through some parts of the die than others, so some pieces are coming out way too short, like tiny.
Dan Pashman: The die was already sent back to Giovanni Cannata, our die designer in Massachusetts, for alterations. But a week before the big production day, I get a call from Steve at Sfoglini. He tells me he’s still having issues getting the dough to flow evenly.
Steve Gonzalez: Yeah, I think the die needs another adjustment.
Dan Pashman: Please tell me you’re joking?
Steve Gonzalez: I’m not joking. It’s too close to deadline to be joking.
Dan Pashman: Steve offers to drive the couple hours to Massachusetts with the die, wait for Giovanni to fix it, and then drive it back to New York. But in the end, Giovanni decides he can mail some parts to Steve that should fix the problem. On February 16, two days before production, Steve calls with an update:
Steve Gonzalez: We’re in a good spot.
Dan Pashman: You think it’s gonna be okay?
Steve Gonzalez: Yeeeeaah. Yeah yeah...yeah.
Dan Pashman: That was the least confident yes, I think I’ve ever gotten.
Steve Gonzalez: I’m gonna hone it out a little bit tomorrow myself. And we should be there.
Dan Pashman: So I take a COVID test, pack my bags, and make the three-hour drive up to Sfoglini. It’s been 13 months since my first visit. I put on a hairnet, sanitize my shoes, and enter the factory. And as I walk in, I realize that all of the different threads of my journey, all of the people and the components that I needed, we’ve all come together in this place today…
Dan Pashman: Is that Steve?
Steve Gonzalez: Sup, Dan
Dan Pashman: Hey, Steve!
Steve Gonzalez: How you doing?
Dan Pashman: Good to see you.
Steve Gonzalez: Are you ready?
Dan Pashman: I'm ready. Let's do it.. Ah, here it is, a giant pallet of semolina. Durokota #1 Semolina, manufactured by North Dakota Mill, Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Dan Pashman: And finally, I get to see, in person for the first time, the object that has been keeping me up at night for a year...
Dan Pashman: Is this...is this the die?
Scott Ketchum: Yep.
Dan Pashman: This is my die? Oh, my God. I got to say, I'm feeling the kinds of emotions that you feel like when you look at your kid, when your kid's been really, really irritating and it's like you still love them. But at that exact moment, you're like, do you know what you're putting me through?
Dan Pashman: First, they have to give the die a warm water bath, to heat it up, so the dough flows through it better. Then it’s hooked on a crane and raised up into the machine
Dan Pashman: Go little die you can do it.
Dan Pashman: The die is in place. The semolina is loaded in.
Steve Gonzalez: You want to start it?
Dan Pashman: Can I press the button?
Steve Gonzalez: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Oh, my gosh. I'm feeling excited. I feel like a little giddy.
Steve Gonzalez: Well, let's start it.
Dan Pashman: You don’t want to keep talking about it.
Steve Gonzalez: I mean, we can. I'd rather make the pastas.
Dan Pashman: All right. Pressing the button. Here we go. You ready? Here I go. Three, two, one.
Steve Gonzalez: Are you sad today?
Dan Pashman: Suddenly...I didn't feel sad until just the moment where I pressed the button, it's like, you know, when you have something in your life that is like so all consuming, it's like when it's over, you don't know what to do with yourself.
Dan Pashman: Pretty soon the machine is making pasta.
Dan Pashman: It’s coming off the conveyor belt and initial little… this is still the warm up. These pieces don’t really appear to have ruffles but I’m sure we’re gonna figure that out.
Dan Pashman: After some adjustments, and a few minutes in which Steve seems a little stressed...
Dan Pashman: Oh! It's getting longer and I'm seeing ruffles now. Oh, yeah, that's the one, Steve! That looks beautiful. Oh!
Dan Pashman: Steve tells me, it’s time for the final decision—the length. I brought along pieces from other sample batches that were the length I like, for comparison. We grab a few new pieces as they roll off the conveyor belt…
Dan Pashman: I like them long. I think we should—If you think the choice is between 10 and 11, Steve? I say we go 10.
Dan Pashman: 10 actually means longer pasta than 11. That number is the speed of the blade that cuts the pieces. The slower the blade spins, the more time the dough has to come out of the die before it gets cut. I go with the lower speed to make a longer pasta.
Dan Pashman: This is it...[LAUGHS] This is it. It's coming off the conveyor belt. This is the moment. I think I want to facetime with my family. I need Janie and the kids to see this. So that the flour goes up to here, then it comes down through here and then and then the pasta comes out here and here's the pasta shape.
Dan Pashman: It should take about 6 hours to churn out the whole batch of cascatelli. While the machine is running, I meet with Scott in the office to discuss financials. We’ve agreed that when the pasta goes on sale and money starts coming in, we’ll each be paid back in relation to our initial investments. The die and all the revisions on it cost me a total of $9,900.
Dan Pashman: What's your total?
Scott Kethcum: Right now, I'm at $4,338. But then the actual run today is another eight thousand.
Dan Pashman: OK.
Scott Kethcum: So that's about $12,300.
Dan Pashman: OK. OK, so Chris Maldari was right.
Scott Ketchum: Mm-hmm.
Dan Pashman: He said 20 to 25,000 and he was exactly right.
Scott Kethcum: Mm-hmm. He's been in the business quite a while. He knows what he's talking about.
Dan Pashman: Yeah. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Our total combined cost: $22,000 and change.
Dan Pashman: Now, we don’t know exactly how much we have to sell to break even, because we don’t know how many people will use the coupon code, or what our shipping costs will be. But Scott estimates that to make our money back, we got to sell about 5,500 boxes.
Dan Pashman: Initially, we wanted to make about that many. But the thing is, we ended up with fewer. Because of COVID, there are major paper shortages. We were only able to get enough paper for 37 hundred boxes. Can you believe it? After all that stress about finding a company that would do a small enough run, we ended up with an even smaller run!
Dan Pashman: If this batch sells out, we’ll still be down about 5,000 bucks. My share of that debt will be about 2,000. That’s not ideal, but I’m not gonna let it bring me down. The fact that we have a smaller first run makes it more likely we’ll sell out quickly and decide to make more. And if we do make more, we should hit the break even point pretty fast. But before we can sell anything, we got to pack the cascatelli into boxes. The pasta dries overnight, and the next day, I come back to Sfoglini to watch the packing process. And to observe one final test...
Steve Gonzalez: The Steve Gonzalez stress test, as I like to call it.
Dan Pashman: Steve leads me into the Sfoglini kitchen, where he’s cooked up a batch of cascatelli...
Steve Gonzalez: So pretty much my stress test is to stir it more than you would stir regular pasta. So put it in. And then I stir it like once a minute, and then I take it out. Stir the shit out of it. So you could see, like, there's probably like one percent, two percent that's like fraying. It's like holding up pretty well, I think.
Dan Pashman: Yeah. So as we stand here in this Sfoglini test kitchen, Chef Steve, are you hereby telling me that the cascatelli has passed its final test?
Steve Gonzalez: I think the cascatelli’s good to go.
Dan Pashman: Is this as excited you get Steve?
Steve Gonzalez: Unfortunately, I think so.
Dan Pashman: When I set out on this quest, I talked about how I’ve built my career on my opinions about food. And yet I’ve never made anything. I wondered, do I actually know what I’m talking about?
Dan Pashman:Now, I’ve invented a pasta shape. Cascatelli. I guess the obvious test of whether it’s any good is whether people buy it, whether they come back for seconds. If they don’t, that will be disappointing. But either way, I've already decided that I love this shape. Honestly, I’m really proud of it.
Dan Pashman: When I get back from Sfoglini, I sit with Janie on the couch—the same couch where we had that conversation so long ago about the prospect of paying 20 grand to make my pasta shape. I tell Janie that it ended up being 10 grand, which is still a lot of money. And we’ll be a couple thousand dollars in the hole even if this first batch sells out. But Janie’s perspective on the money part of this—really on all of it—has changed...
Janie Pashman: You know it doesn’t seem so crazy now that we have a finished product… we… I’ll take credit for it now! I believed in you the whole time, I mean obviously… [LAUGHTER]... And then if you create a new batch, then you’ll start making a profit.
Dan Pashman: Correct.
Janie Pashman: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s really great. You really had this dream and I’m really proud you worked really hard and you saw it till the end. I’m glad that you did it and you tried hard and you didn't have any regrets.
Dan Pashman: Just like Juan Guzman.
Janie Pashman: Who?
Dan Pashman: Never mind, I’ll tell you later. If it’s not a huge hit and we end up with 1,000 boxes of this pasta in our basement, the thing that would make me most sad is not that nobody bought it. It would be more that like eventually we would run out and we wouldn’t be able to eat it anymore.
Janie Pashman: That would be sad because it is a really great shape and it would be sad to think that there’s just this limited supply of it. I think it’ll do well. I hope so.
Dan Pashman: Well, I couldn’t have done it without you, babe.
Janie Pashman: Thanks. I’m really glad that you did it.
Dan Pashman: I appreciate it. Me too.
Dan Pashman: So, will my pasta shape sell? Or will I end up with a thousand pounds of it in my basement? We’re about to find out, because I’m pleased to announce that CASCATELLI IS ON SALE NOW! It’s only available at Sfoglini.com. That’s S-F-O-G-L-I-N-I dot com. The G is silent, it looks like Sfoglini but it’s Sfoglini.com. We’ll also put the link to the pasta on my social media and on Sporkful.com. It’s $4.99 a box. You can get a 4 pack for $17.99, that’s a two dollar discount. And listen, these Sfoglini guys put a ton of work into this project. They make a lot of fantastic pastas. So get some of their other shapes while you’re there. If you spend more than 50 bucks, shipping is free. And use coupon code SPORKFUL to get 15% off your entire order. That coupon code will be valid until May 18th. So go get your pasta!
Dan Pashman: A few final items to cover…
Dan Pashman: We had to commit to a cook time on the boxes before we were finished tweaking the shape. Now that we’ve made more adjustments and run more tests, I think the 15 to 18 minutes it says on the box is too long. If we make more of the pasta, future boxes will say 13 to 17 minutes. Still long. Personally, I like it at 13. You should cook it however you like it. I want you to be happy. But if you really want maximum dynamic contrast, stay in that 13 to 15 range.
Dan Pashman: What sauce goes with cascatelli, you ask? Honestly, almost anything, it’s great with just butter or olive oil and a little grated parmesan. But it’s especially great with any kind of thick sauce, or something where you have big pieces to stab like shrimp or vegetables. Then you stab a piece of pasta and you get a great bite. My personal favorite is Andrea Nguyen’s mapo tofu spaghetti recipe from the New York Times, but with cascatelli instead of spaghetti because...well, you know why. a
Dan Pashman: I actually put my mom in charge of testing some other combos, I’ll be sharing her favorites on my Instagram in coming weeks. I’ll also be sharing photos and videos of the pasta production. You want to be hypnotized by slo mo video of the pasta coming out of the die? Follow me on Instagram, @Thesporkful.
Dan Pashman: Finally, if you’re new to our show and you’ve enjoyed this series, I hope you’ll stick around. Connect with us in your podcasting app. In Spotify, Follow. In Apple Podcasts, subscribe. In Stitcher, Favorite. You can do it right now while you’re listening. Thanks.
Dan Pashman: And some more thank yous… Special thanks to Evan Kleiman, my pasta fairy godmother and spiritual advisor. Evan hosts the excellent public radio show and podcast Good Food - Listen on KCRW in LA or get it wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks to all of you for listening. And a big thanks to The Sporkful’s whole production team and everyone who worked so hard on this series...