When cascatelli first went viral, Dan heard from dozens of listeners who wanted to try it, but couldn’t because they were gluten-free. Well, challenge accepted: Dan sets out to make a version of cascatelli without gluten, a project that’s now nearly a year in the making. Along the way, he learns about the science of starch with an Italian pasta researcher; he cold messages pasta execs on LinkedIn; and he meets a kindred spirit pasta maker who tries to make his gluten-free dreams come true. If you thought regular ruffles were a challenge, just wait until you try to make them gluten-free.
Buy Banza cascatelli made from chickpeas here!
Banza cascatelli is also available at your local Whole Foods Market, where all Banza pastas, mac and cheese, and rice are 25% off from February 16 - March 1.
The Sporkful production team includes Dan Pashman, Emma Morgenstern, Andres O'Hara, Johanna Mayer, Tracey Samuelson, and Jared O'Connell, with help this week from Mary Diduch, Gianna Palmer, and Nora Ritchie. Original theme music by Andrea Kristinsdottir.
Original theme music by Andrea Kristinsdottir. Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- “Lowtown” by Black Label Productions
- “Layers” by Afrokeys
- “Loud Instrumental” by Bira
- “Lucky Strike” by Erick Anderson
- “Midnight Grind” by BWN Music
- “Talk To Me Now (Instrumental)” by Black Label Productions
- “Small Talk” by Hayley Briasco
Photos courtesy of Banza.
Linda Pashman: Hi!
Dan Pashman: Hey Mom. How’s it going?
Dan Pashman: I talked to my mom recently, and she told me that lately all her friends want to talk about is cascatelli ... and me.
Linda Pashman: It’s been a full Dan 24/7 day. Today, she sends me a message that she saw you were one of the ten best podcasts. And then I got an email from Bobby Vinick to make sure I saw the New York Times podcast listings. Then the party tonight, which was really fun, I came home and I said to Dad, "I am so tired of talking about Dan. Isn’t anybody interested in me?"
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
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. Today, we’re bringing you the next chapter of Mission: ImPASTAble, my three-year quest to invent a new pasta shape, actually get it made, and actually sell it. And it occurs to me that we’re coming up on the anniversary of the launch of cascatelli next month, so this is now a four-year quest. If you haven’t heard the original series or the updates from last April and November, I really recommend you start there.
Dan Pashman: Later on I’ll give you all the latest with Sfoglini, Trader Joe’s, and other exciting news, but our focus today is another part of the pasta story, something that's been going on for nearly a year that I haven't told you about yet. So let’s get to it.
Dan Pashman: To tell this parallel story about cascatelli, let's go all the way back to right after it launched. Cascatelli is going viral, and I’m getting dozens of emails and messages on social media like these:
Joe: After being so invested in the story of how cascatelli came to be and people loving it, I have to ask: When are we getting some gluten-free cascatelli?
Ginger: You know I’m always holding out hope that there will be gluten-free cascatelli.
Tai: It sounds like the perfect pasta and I was a little envious of the people who could try it.
Elizabeth: Dan, it sure would be amazing if you could make your cascatelli gluten-free.
Dan Pashman: That last listener is Elizabeth. She’s been gluten-free for ten years. Her husband Harvey isn’t gluten-free, but since he’s the main cook in the family and Elizabeth is going to eat what he makes. He rarely eats gluten. Which is saying something because Harvey is the one who’s really loves food.
Harvey: I do the shopping, I do the cooking, I plan the menus. I’ll go to multiple stores because I want to get this particular product.
Dan Pashman: And What about you, Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: I’ll go to Wegman’s and get what I need. You know? We're done.
Dan Pashman: Right, right. Okay got it.
Dan Pashman: Elizabeth might be less passionate about food, but she still misses the days before she was gluten-free, when she and Harvey could pop into a bar for a burger without having to call ahead to find out if the place had gluten-free buns.
Dan Pashman: Meanwhile, Harvey does occasionally eat gluten. So when cascatelli came out, he could have ordered it for himself, but he decided not to.
Harvey: Eating pasta is a shared experience. And I’d like to share that experience, especially your pasta, with Elizabeth.
Dan Pashman: Elizabet, did you ever try to convince Harvey he should go ahead and have the semolina cascatelli?
Elizabeth: I’m bad. I’m bad, I admit that I didn’t say, honey, you go ahead without me. I didn’t do it.
Dan Pashman: Did the thought of saying that cross your mind?
Dan Pashman: This call for a gluten-free cascatelli, I’m not just hearing it from so many of you. I’m hearing it from someone I talk to all the time.
Emma Morgenstern: I’m Emma Morgenstern, I’m the senior producer of The Sporkful, and I’m gluten-free.
Dan Pashman: Emma is really into food. She’s an accomplished home cook, and she’s the lead producer on Mission: ImPASTAble. She came up with the name cascatelli! And yet, because she has celiac disease, Emma has never tried a single bite of it. In the past, she thought the gluten-free pastas out there were pretty good.
Emma Morgenstern: With that being said, once I started working on the series, it was like this brought a whole new meaning to pasta for me. Um, I was thinking about it day in and day out. Everybody’s talking about, everybody is trying it, you’re trying it, my husband was trying it, my sister, my parents. Like, I sent samples to all of them.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Emma Morgenstern: And I couldn’t make my own judgment on it. People are like, “Is it really that good?” And I’m like, “I don’t know. I actually can’t tell you.”
Dan Pashman: But how did that feel?
Emma Morgenstern: I think it’s sort of an extension of the feeling when you’re gluten-free, which is just like that you’re left out of stuff. It’s like not the biggest deal in a certain way. I’m fine. I can — I have plenty of other food to eat, but at the same time I would really like to have this thing that’s right in front of me and I can’t have it. And I will never be able to have it.
Dan Pashman: One of my main goals with this whole project was to create something that pretty much everyone could enjoy. That’s a big part of why I chose pasta. It’s affordable and basic. So in April 2021, and I am embarking on my next pasta mission: to make a gluten-free cascatelli.
Dan Pashman: Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Cascatelli, and all traditional pasta, is made with semolina, a type of wheat. I already know that Sfoglini, who makes my original cascatelli, doesn’t do gluten-free. They would need dedicated machinery to avoid cross contamination. So I need to find another pasta company that’s already making gluten-free pasta.
Dan Pashman: I start with some very scientific market research. In other words, I throw a question up on social media: Who makes the best gluten-free pasta? From your responses, I create a short list, which includes brands that use corn, rice, lentils, and chickpeas. At this point, I realize, I got to learn more about all these options.
Dan Pashman: There are researchers who study gluten-free pasta, who are constantly trying to find ways to make it better. And it turns out a lot of them are in the same place where you find regular pasta.
Alessandra Marti: Yes, I’m Alessandra Marti, and I’m an associate professor in cereal science and technology at the University of Milan.
Dan Pashman: Cereal science is not the study of Lucky Charms — if it were, I can promise you my wife Janie would be a leading scholar in the field. In Professor Marti’s case, cereal means grain. She studies different grains, their chemistry, and how to manipulate them to make better gluten-free products.
Dan Pashman: Italy is one of the leading places for gluten-free food science research. That could be because so much Italian food contains wheat, and they already know so much about making traditional pasta. Professor Marti says more people there are going gluten-free for the same reasons as people everywhere else: They have celiac disease or a wheat allergy. Maybe they have a non-celiac sensitivity to gluten… or they’re just curious to try an alternative. But there are some holdouts.
Dan Pashman: So when you told your parents that you’re going to study gluten-free pasta, did you ever try to convince them to try the gluten-free?
Alessandra Marti: No. No, it was impossible.
Dan Pashman: To understand why it’s so hard to make good gluten-free pasta, you got to understand how gluten works. Gluten is made up of these two smaller proteins that you find in wheat flour. When you add water to the flour, those proteins link up to form gluten. Then if you exert force on it, like with kneading or extruding it through a press to form a shape, the gluten changes and forms like a microscopic web, a network that gives dough its structure.
Alessandra Marti: A viscoelastic network which is called gluten.
Dan Pashman: Did you say viscoelastic?
Alessandra Marti: Yeah. Viscoelastic.
Dan Pashman: I love that. That’s my new favorite word. I love that word. So you mean it’s sort of viscous and sort of elastic?
Alessandra Marti: Exactly. Exactly. So it’s unique. That’s why it’s very difficult or impossible to replace such properties, such functionality in gluten-free products.
Dan Pashman: And so what does that mean in terms of eating?
Alessandra Marti: The gluten is responsible for the al dente texture of the pasta.
Dan Pashman: So gluten is responsible for toothsinkability.
Alessandra Marti: Exactly.
Dan Pashman: So how do you get that viscoelastic network, that gives pasta its toothsinkability, without gluten? Follow me here …
Dan Pashman: In addition to gluten, there’s another key component of pasta: starch. Professor Marti explains that starch does its own changing when water and heat get involved. It gelatinizes, so the molecules absorb water, swell up, get sticky — that’s what makes the inside of fresh bread soft.
Dan Pashman: When water evaporates from starch, that process is called retrogradation. That’s what happens when bread goes stale and turns hard. When it comes to making gluten-free pasta, retrogradation can be used to your advantage, to replicate some of gluten’s viscoelastic properties.
Alessandra Marti: What we do is apply thermal treatment to gelatinize the starch, and after that, during cooling the starch retrogradates.
Dan Pashman: Oh, that’s so interesting. So you heat the starch, which effectively mimics the cooking process.
Alessandra Marti: Exactly.
Dan Pashman: And that causes the starch to gelatinize, then you allow it cools and retrogradate, which makes it turn hard and makes it more firm ...
Alessandra Marti: Exactly.
Dan Pashman: And you’re able to get it to retrogradate and firm up into a shape or a structure that is similar but not the same as the gluten structure.
Alessandra Marti: Correct. We will not have the same texture but we will able to create a pasta without gluten.
Dan Pashman: Professor Marti says some starches work better for this than others. Rice and corn are good options. But the best are legumes like peas, lentils, and chickpeas, because they’re high in protein. Remember, gluten is a protein. While the proteins in legumes aren’t the same ...
Alessandra Marti: They are still able to interact to form some network and to help improving the quality of the final product.
Dan Pashman: While Professor Marti herself is not gluten-free, she eats plenty of gluten-free pasta for research. She likes the ones made with legumes the best.
Alessandra Marti: In the last 10 years, the quality of gluten-free pasta has been improved in a terrific way, I have to say. But we are still far away from the al dente bite which is typical of semolina pasta.
Dan Pashman: I feel like gluten-free people are going to be sad to hear you say that.
Alessandra Marti: I’m sorry but the gluten is really unique.
Dan Pashman: Gluten-free cascatelli may never have quite the same toothsinkability as the semolina version, but I want to get as close as possible. That being said, I don’t want to think of this as a replica of the original. It’ll be its own thing, which I hope will be extremely delicious in its own way. Looks like it’s time to get back into the Pashman family test kitchen. Last time I was testing different pastas, I was interested in their shape. This time, I want to find the ingredients that produce the best texture.
Dan Pashman: All right, gluten-free pasta taste test. We have two chickpea pastas and one one brown rice pasta, all gluten-free. Becky, what are your thoughts?
Becky Pashman: The two chickpea pastas, one of them has a more chickpea flavor. But I actually like the other one better because when it’s in my mouth it has a better taste even if it’s less of a chickpea flavor. But I still like both of them and even though it wasn’t similar to regular pasta it’s still very good.
Dan Pashman: And then what about the brown rice one?
Becky Pashman: It’s kind of more hard than what I would like. Even if it doesn’t have good toothsinkability, it’s still kind of satisfying to bite into it.
Dan Pashman: I’m impressed with all three.
Janie Pashman: Yeah, I mean, I’m eating them plain just with some olive oil. I feel like if you gave me this with a sauce, I don’t think I would — for any of them, I don't know that, I would even know that it was gluten-free. I don’t have to eat gluten-free so I probably wouldn’t choose a gluten-free rice flour one because I feel like the nutrition facts are pretty much the same. But I actually would totally swap out to eat the chickpea one, because it has so much more protein and fiber. And I like it. I actually like that little chickpea flavor. I like that extra, um, taste that it gives and it’s really good.
Dan Pashman: Overall, my biggest concern was texture, and I fell like I am very satisfied and impressed even with the chickpea pasta texture.
Janie Pashman: I think I might be off of regular pasta now.
Dan Pashman: I don’t actually think Janie will ever give up regular pasta, she loves it too much. But for gluten-free, we agree that chickpea pasta is the way to go. And my favorite of the ones we tried is made by Banza. Which, I learn, is the biggest exclusively gluten-free pasta brand in the U.S. Their bright orange boxes are in 19,000 stores — Target, Whole Foods, a bunch of others.
Dan Pashman: From there I'd love to tell you that I prepare a dazzling powerpoint, smooth-talk my way into Banza headquarters, and wow all the top execs with my pie charts and projections. But in reality, I’m in my pajama pants hunched over my laptop, and I go to LinkedIn and type "Banza" into the search bar. I cold message the first exec who pops up. He writes back right away like, "We heard about cascatelli, let's talk!"
Dan Pashman: It sure is easier to get people to return your calls after you’ve launched a hit pasta shape. It quickly becomes clear to me that Banza is an ideal partner not just on the pasta quality front, but also on the business front. They're just the right size for me. They have about 140 employees. Big enough that they have a marketing team to spread the word about cascatelli and people in the factory to monitor quality. So I won’t have to worry about that stuff. But they're small enough that this would be a priority for them.
Brian Rudolph: We're always having conversations with retailers about new shapes. This is like so perfectly aligned with what we were hoping to do.
Brian Rudolph: I was just using a bottle of wine to roll out the dough, cutting it with a knife.
Dan Pashman: Brian learned early on when he was selling at farmer’s markets that if he started by telling people his pasta was gluten-free, anyone who wasn’t gluten-free was like, “Gross.” But when he just called it pasta made with chickpeas, no mention of gluten, he pulled in people who just wanted pasta with more protein and fiber. Which is why to this day, the front of Banza’s boxes call it pasta made from chickpeas — only on the back does it say gluten-free.
Dan Pashman: How much Banza do you eat?
Brian Rudolph: A lot.
Brian Rudolph: Like a lot a lot. I mean, there was a point where I was eating it every day because we were just constantly iterating on new things, new shapes, new dies.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Brian Rudolph: It’s a little bit less now, but even if I have to eat it for work, I’ll also still eat it for dinner.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Brian Rudolph: Cause it's — I don’t know if I’ve gotten this point across, but I love pasta. So ...
Dan Pashman: After a few more conversations, we have a deal. I’ll license Banza the rights to make the only gluten-free cascatelli in the U.S. It will be called Cascatelli by Sporkful, like Sfoglini’s semolina version. These two versions will be the only ones in America with the official Sporkful seal.
Dan Pashman: But this is still just the beginning. Our deal is contingent on Banza finding stores to commit to carrying the pasta and confirming they can actually make it with their chickpea dough.
Dan Pashman: In July 2021, Banza makes a big pitch to Whole Foods. Their proposal? An exclusive national launch of Banza cascatelli. So at first, it would only be available at Whole Foods and through Banza’s website. Whole Foods says YES. Great news! But there’s an issue: They want the pasta in time to go with a big Italian food promotion — just seven months away. And right now Banza’s cascatelli doesn’t exist.
Dan Pashman: The person leading the team in charge of bringing it into existence is Banza’s director of product, Meg Marchuk.
Meg Marchuk: I have to tell you, I listened, obviously, to the podcast when you were going through this with Sfoglini. I feel like we're kindred spirits now, because you’ve experienced the highs and lows of what it means to be a pasta maker.
Dan Pashman: Meg didn’t plan to have a career in food. She grew up in Ontario, was a chemistry major at Queen’s University there. Right out of school she got a job in sales and marketing at a consumer packaged goods company. She started meeting people at food companies who develop new products, and that work really appealed to her:
Meg Marchuk: I would say, it’s really the balance of technical aspects but also the ambiguity of having an opinion about what makes a good food product. You sort of have to have a balanced approach. You need to understand what the drivers are to make a good food product from a functionality perspective, so what ingredients can we put in there to get the result we want. But then you also need to have a sensory stance on it, saying, "Hey, I think this is going to be really delicious, or this is what I think consumers want." And it’s funny, my mom always told me, she was like, "You should go into food." It just shows that you should listen to your mother.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Meg went back to school to get a masters in food science, then moved to New York City to work for Banza. She’s now been at the company for almost four years. Banza’s pasta has four ingredients: chickpeas, pea starch, tapioca, and xanthan gum. As Professor Marti explained, to get something similar to the gluten protein, you want to use other proteins. Chickpeas have protein. And you need to manipulate starch to have some of gluten’s properties. Hence, pea starch and tapioca, which is also a starch. Then xanthan gum, that’s in a lot of things, it’s a thickening agent that helps to hold the dough together.
Dan Pashman: But apart from the ingredients, the process of making Banza’s pasta is pretty much the same as it is for regular pasta. They use the same pasta-making machines. They mix their chickpea flour with water to make dough, push the dough through an extruder, use a die to make the shape. Remember, the die is like the mold for the shape. And guess who makes their dies? None other than our old friend Giovanni Cannata, who I worked with to make the first cascatelli die, for Sfoglini. I told you he was the only pasta die designer in America!
Dan Pashman: Before Meg joined the company, Banza had already developed a few different pasta shapes. Spaghetti, penne — you know, beginner stuff. No ruffles, no sauce troughs. But in recent years they’ve started making more complex shapes, like cavatappi. That’s a corkscrew tube, with ridges on the outside. At first …
Meg Marchuk: It was not perfect. It wasn’t as … I think we had some customers write in being like, "Your cavatappi, you know, it's not that — the curl’s not that tight." And internally that’s something we wanted to fix, too. And so in the last couple of years, we said okay, we’re finally going to do this, we want to make a tighter cavatappi. And as you know with cascatelli, when you change one thing it sets off a whole array of other things you have to change.
Dan Pashman: Don’t I know it.
Meg Marchuk: Yeah, so that was challenging. And now i have to say it’s my favorite shape of all time. Because it is just, it’s beautiful, it has nice tight curls, it’s exactly what we were hoping for. It's hard.
Dan Pashman: Favorite shape of all time ... so far, Meg!
Meg Marchuk: So far, correct. Correct. Yes!
Dan Pashman: Meg orders a die from Giovanni and gets to work on Banza’s cascatelli. It’s a big unknown. The die is supposed to be identical to Sfoglini’s, but it’ll be put into a slightly different machine. Then, they’re working with chickpea dough, which will flow through the die at a different speed, which affects how the ruffles form and how thick the pasta comes out, which affects how it dries, which affects how it cooks.
Dan Pashman: Coming up, Meg reports back with her first results. And as I’ve learned, in the pasta business, things are never as easy as you think they’ll be …
Meg Marchuk: We’re kind of in crunch time. So pressure’s on, we’ve gotta get it done.
Dan Pashman: Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. I've got some exciting updates from other parts of cascatelli-land for you. First off, December was amazing. Cascatelli was named one of the 100 Best Inventions of 2021 by Time Magazine. Not just food inventions, all inventions. And not only that… a picture of cascatelli was on the cover!
Dan Pashman: Our Mission: ImPASTAble series was also named one of the 10 best podcasts of 2021 by The New York Times. Big shoutout to the team here for that. And this one is kind of industry insidery but Scott at Sfoglini says it’s a big deal — The Specialty Food Association picked pasta as one of its top trends for 2022, and they specifically cited cascatelli as a driving force.
Dan Pashman: Speaking of Sfoglini … their Cascatelli by Sporkful continues to hit shelves in more places around the country, specialty stores as well as The Fresh Market. Of course, you can always order it direct to your door from sfoglini.com.
Dan Pashman: And remember how they were upgrading their equipment, getting more dryers and everything was delayed because of supply chain issues? Well, it’s still delayed. But they’ve been told some of it is about to ship. Once it’s up and running, their production capacity will increase 25 percent.
Dan Pashman: Finally, cascatelli is now in Trader Joe’s! Janie picked some up at our local TJ's. Now, it may seem to be making it's way to every last store, especially on the west coast, so if it’s not in yours, keep back. And since we’re talking about making cascatelli accessible to more people I should mention, this version is kosher! We covered the backstory of this cascatelli back in November — it’s Trader Joe’s own version, not quite the same as Sfoglini’s original version, so we’re excited to hear what you think.
Dan Pashman: Okay, back to Banza cascatelli. It’s now Fall 2021. Meg and her team are starting to develop their version of cascatelli. Meg is in constant communication with Giovanni trying to get the die just right. In late October, they do their first full test run in their factory in California. Over a couple days, they pump out 10,000 pounds of test chickpea cascatelli. I check in with Meg Marchuk:
Meg Marchuk: I thought it went really well relative to our expectations. I think that the actual shape itself of the noodle came out really well.
Dan Pashman: The comma …
Meg Marchuk: Cascading ... yes ...
Dan Pashman: Type curl?
Meg Marchuk: Yes, the waterfall shape came out very well.
Dan Pashman: Okay.
Meg Marchuk: So that was good. We hit that immediately. We struggled to get the ruffling right. It was inconsistent and then it wasn’t quite tight enough.
Dan Pashman: And when you say not tight enough, so the ruffles were kind of more like a wavy line as opposed to real ruffles?
Meg Marchuk: Exactly, exactly. It wasn’t like a true ruffle. So we had to go back to the drawing board and think about what we wanted to do next to try to tackle that. And that’s where Giovanni was really helpful.
Dan Pashman: What did he recommend?
Meg Marchuk: His approach was to change … so the junction point between the ruffle and the body itself was to make that a little bit thinner, which changes the head pressure of the dough that's coming out. And so ultimately, that changes how the ruffle comes out and that makes it tighter.
Dan Pashman: If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. We had the exact same struggle with the original cascatelli. If the connection between the ruffle and the body is too thick, the ruffles won’t ruffle. Making the connection thinner creates a pinch, like a crimp, which helps form ruffles, but it also increases the chance that ruffles will fall off. Giovanni tells Meg he’ll tweak the die to try to find the sweet spot.
Dan Pashman: Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. 35,000 boxes of Banza Cascatelli are supposed to be on Whole Foods shelves by February, which means they have to be in Whole Foods’ warehouses by January, which is now less than three months away. In early November, Giovanni sends the new die to Banza’s factory. Meg is there to supervise the test, and as soon as things get going, she’s feeling good.
Meg Marchuk: Everyone’s giving me thumbs up, really excited. I’m excited. I'm like, wow you guys are making my job super easy. The dough was flowing through the press very easily and ruffles are looking great. Nice and tight, consistent.
Dan Pashman: Meg is relieved. But there’s one more step: the pasta has to be dried overnight, and it can change a lot when it dries. That’s especially true with drying cascatelli, because it’s so thick. Sure enough, a couple days later, Meg sees what’s called “delayed checking” — white spots on the pasta that are tiny cracks.
Meg Marchuk: Basically, it comes out of the dryer, it’s put in totes before packing, and while it sits there it has time to equilibrate with the atmosphere. And what happens is when you go to cook the product, these spots break.
Dan Pashman: When Meg cooks this second version, that’s exactly what happens. The ruffles are falling off. Now with pretty much every ruffled pasta in the world, when you cook it, you lose some ruffles. It’s true with Sfoglini’s cascatelli. You can’t help it and I don’t mind it. I think the torn ruffles add another nice textural component. But you can’t have too many ruffles falling off. And right now, Meg estimates we’re losing 70 percent of them.
Meg Marchuk: Yeah. It was a lot. Um, so we have some work to do.
Dan Pashman: It’s interesting to me hearing the struggles you’re having.
Meg Marchuk: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: I don’t think I appreciated how hard it is to make this shape.
Meg Marchuk: Right.
Dan Pashman: That frankly, the fact that we got it after only three rounds with Sfoglini is in retrospect a miracle.
Meg Marchuk: It’s amazing. Yeah, and I think we went into this expecting to do a few rounds. So this isn’t a huge shock for us. I think the added layer of complication is we’ve committed to an in-store launch date with Whole Foods. So we’re under a bit of a time crunch.
Dan Pashman: It’s exciting though.
Meg Marchuk: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Nothing like a deadline. I mean, it's easy for me to say. I’m here in my basement … I’m like you guys keep on rocking [LAUGHS]
Meg Marchuk: Yeah. Appreciate the support from afar.
Meg Marchuk: Yeah, but I mean, the good thing about cascatelli is once we do this, I feel like we’ll be able to do everything.
Dan Pashman: The next week, Meg tweaks a bunch of machine settings and runs a third test. Once it’s done, she sends me my first samples.
Dan Pashman: You said a box came?
Janie Pashman: Yeah, they packed it really carefully, it’s the Banza. I think it looks like the reject cascatellis from the original Sfoglini batch. The ruffles are very tight.
Dan Pashman: Wow, you’re right.
Janie Pashman: They’re really tight ruffles.
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Janie Pashman: I mean, they look thick enough. The main thing I see is the ruffles and the size. They’re smaller …
Janie Pashman: What's the measurement there?
Dan Pashman: I just love that you’re a pasta expert now. And you’re like, “The thickness in this area seems just right.”
Dan Pashman: I cook some up for Becky. There are still too many ruffles falling off, but it’s much less than 70 percent — a definite improvement from the last test.
Dan Pashman: All right Becky, this is top secret advance samples, Banza’s cascatelli. Take a taste and tell me what you think. It’s just with olive oil and cheese, grated cheese.
Becky Pashman: Mmmm. I like it. It tastes like the real cascatelli except it has a little bit of a different flavor but obviously, because it’s made from the chickpeas. So, obviously, yeah.
Dan Pashman: I mean, it’s got all the different mouthfeels are in there. It’s just a matter of getting it to hold together. Not have the ruffles fall off. If they can keep more ruffles on, I think we’ll be there.
Becky Pashman: What he said.
Dan Pashman: Now, if this were me last year, before the Sfoglini launch, I’d be an absolute wreck. And I’m not just saying that — you heard me fall apart as we came down the home stretch. But this time, I’m more of an outsider looking in on the process. Which is intentional. This is why I wanted to license the shape to other companies instead of trying to build my own pasta brand. I don’t want to be up at night worrying about how the next run will go. Meg and the other folks at Banza know more about pasta making than I do anyway, let them worry.
Dan Pashman: That being said, as our deadline approaches, I do find myself tossing and turning a little more than usual. It’s in my nature. And there’s good reason to stress. Banza has one month to make, dry, and pack tens of thousands of boxes of cascatelli and get them to Whole Foods’ distribution centers. We’ve reached the do or die moment. The next run will not be a test — it’ll be the product we launch with.
Dan Pashman: Meg sends the die back to Giovanni for one final adjustment, and plans a few more tweaks to dryer settings. When the pasta starts rolling off the presses, she says it looks great. But the real test comes a few days later, after it’s been dried and any of that cracking, or checking, could pop up. Meg reports back:
Meg Marchuk: Some of it is near perfect, some of it has more like 20 percent checking.
Dan Pashman: So breakage has gone from 70 percent to somewhere between 0 and 20 percent. A big improvement.
Meg Marchuk: We feel good about the product that we’re putting into market for launch. It’s not perfect. The perfectionist in me is struggling with that a little bit. But it’s a really good product and it’s a really good place to start.
Dan Pashman: Well, it’s funny, Meg. I was talking about this with my brother-in-law, who used to run a company — they made like apps and games for your phone and stuff. And they’re getting ready to launch a new game.
Meg Marchuk: Mm-hmm.
Dan Pashman: And the software developer, who is sort of like you in this situation, would be like, “But it’s not perfect yet! I still have this one line of code that I haven’t quite worked out.” And he, as the businessperson, would sometimes be in a position to be like, “Look. It’s really good. We’re going to launch it and then we’ll learn and get better over time. And we'll — there’ll be a version 2.0 eventually”, you know?
Meg Marchuk: Totally.
Dan Pashman: And the Sfoglini version has gotten better. People might not notice, but I have some of the original boxes and they are not as consistent as they are now. They’ve gotten more consistency since they launched.
Meg Marchuk: Oh, I'd love to hear that. Yeah, that’s definitely encouraging.
Dan Pashman: In just five months, Meg and her team have gone from ordering a die for a shape almost nobody in the world has ever made, to having a product ready to hit shelves across the country. They begin shipping to Whole Foods.
Dan Pashman: And they send some of the first boxes to me. The boxes themselves are so cool — they’re Banza’s signature bright orange, but the clear window on the front is shaped like a spork. And on the side of the box in big letters it says,"Banza x Sporkful". That’s crazy to me, that the Sporkful brand is getting equal billing next to a pasta brand that’s in thousands of stores nationwide. I’m really excited — but not just for me.
Dan Pashman: I get on a Zoom with senior producer and senior gluten-free correspondent, Emma Morgenstern. The Banza folks have sent her a couple boxes to try.
Dan Pashman: So what’d you think, I’m dying to hear?
Emma Morgenstern: Yeah, so I was super excited when I got the package. I didn’t know that the cascatelli was going to be in boxes, so that was really cool that the spork-shaped window ...
Dan Pashman: The box looks awesome.
Emma Morgenstern: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: The box is really, really cool. They showed it to me and I was like, no edits, this is flawless.
Emma Morgenstern: Wow, impressive.
Dan Pashman: And you know from working with me, Emma, that’s rare.
Emma Morgenstern: I wasn’t gonna say it, you said it.
Dan Pashman: Once Emma cooked it up and tried it, the first thing she noticed, of course, was the ruffles, and how they felt in her mouth.
Emma Morgenstern: When I ate it, I was like, this is just so fun. You kept talking about how pasta shapes could be fun and I think I didn’t know what you were talking about and now I understand.
Dan Pashman: I’m so happy! I’m really happy you had that reaction. Ruffles are just fun to chew on.
Emma Morgenstern: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: There’s something whimsical about the way that it feels in your mouth.
Emma Morgenstern: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Dan Pashman: I gotta say, I mean, I had it for lunch today.
Emma Morgenstern: Yeah, so tell me. Tell me.
Dan Pashman: But, first of all I cooked it a little less. The early boxes are say 10-14 minutes, I think they may reduce it, I cooked mine for 9 minutes.
Emma Morgenstern: Yeah, I think I cooked mine for 9 minutes, too. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Yeah. So folks out there, do that. I stirred it gently. I only lost a couple of ruffles. And what I noticed was, yes, it’s different from the semolina pasta, but something ... something kinda special happened, which was as it cooled, the pieces stuck to each other just a little bit and they formed these like cascatelii clusters, which you don’t get with semolina pasta.
Emma Morgenstern: Ohh.
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Emma Morgenstern: So it’s like a popcorn ball but cascatelli.
Dan Pashman: Yes, yes. And those clusters are extremely toothsinkable. And have a whole other combo of textures that you can’t get with the original. And I found myself fishing through the colander with my hands to try to find clusters to pop into my mouth as I walked by the sink.
Emma Morgenstern: All right.
Dan Pashman: And so I feel great about it.
Dan Pashman: Of course, I’m very happy that Emma and I like it. But remember all those listeners who wrote in to ask about gluten-free cascatelli, who you heard at the start of the show? I want them to try it, too. A few weeks before Banza hits shelves, I send them each a couple boxes as a surprise …
Ginger: We're opening the box now.
Elizabeth: All right honey, you do the honors. [LAUGHS]
Harvey: Cascatelli made from chickpeas?!
Elizabeth: Oh my gosh!
Harvey: Which means it’s …
Tai: Whoa, that’s amazing.
Joe: Banza?! I love this brand Dan. Oh my gosh, yeah, like, my heart is actually racing a little bit because that's so exciting. [LAUGHS]
Elizabeth: Oh, I can’t wait to try this!
Tai: I looking forward to trying it. I really didn’t think it was ever going to come when I originally asked for it, so thank you! [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Hearing these reactions is a really great feeling — I hated the idea that anyone would feel left out of the cascatelli experience, so I’m really glad to be able to share it with more people. A few days later, Elizabeth and Harvey send us a message about what they did with the pasta:
Harvey: I sautéed up some Beyond Beef and some baby portobellos, and put that into a sauce, made it nice and chunky, so we were able to maximize the sauceability of the cascatelli. It served up beautifully, couldn’t wait to dive in. The toothsinkability, even Elizabeth commented on that.
Elizabeth: Oh, I loved the texture of the little cascatelli, waterfall rapidy things on there was great. It’s supposed to be four servings per box, but Dan it was so delicious we ate the whole box.
Harvey: Had no problem finishing it off.
Elizabeth: [LAUGHS] No.
Harvey: So Dan, after listening to all of your episodes of Mission: ImPASTAble and reading the stories about cascatelli, being able to share gluten-free cascatelli with Elizabeth was amazing.
Dan Pashman: And with that I am pleased to announce that Banza Cascatelli by Sporkful is available now at your local Whole Foods, where all Banza pastas, mac and cheese, and rice are 25 percent off from February 16 - March 1! Now, it may still be making its way to a few locations, so if it’s not at yours, please check back.
Dan Pashman: And if you’re anywhere in the continental U.S. you can order cascatelli made from chickpeas direct from Banza and get it shipped to your door, just go to EatBanza.com.
Dan Pashman: To celebrate, I’m going to cook Banza cascatelli with Dan Pelosi on Instagram Live! You might know him by his handle, Grossy Pelosi. He’s famous for his vodka sauce, I know so many of you have already made it with cascatelli. He’s going to teach me how to make it. That’s tomorrow night, Wednesday February 16 at 7 p.m. Eastern on Instagram Live. Come cook along with us!
Dan Pashman: If you want to see that plus videos of the making of Banza’s cascatelli and more, follow me on Instagram @TheSporkful.
Dan Pashman: One very important note: Banza will be revising the cook time for cascatelli down to 8 to 11 minutes, so go shorter than it says on the box, stir gently, I think you’ll love it. Finally, don’t forget, go to Trader Joe’s to buy their version of semolina cascatelli, or get the original cascatelli from Sfoglini in stores and online at sfoglini.com.