Cookbook news: ‘Anything’s Pastable’ by The Sporkful’s Dan Pashman, plus Nancy’s Pizza book in the works

March 15, 2024

Dan Pashman not only invented a new pasta shape just a few years ago, now he’s coming for your pasta sauce.

He’s best known as the creator and . His culinary legacy, however, may be immortalized as the inventor of the cascatelli pasta shape. He’s also the author of the upcoming new cookbook “Anything’s Pastable: 81 Inventive Pasta Recipes for Saucy People.”

So what’s up with our pasta sauce?

“When cascatelli first came out, it was obviously extremely exciting,” Pashman said. The first batch sold out in less than two hours three years ago, he added, when it went viral on social media. “And people were sending me pictures of what they were making with this from all over the country, all over the world.”

It was a nice feeling, he said, as if he’d been invited into people’s homes for dinner, which was very meaningful.

“But there was a problem,” said Pashman. Seventy-five percent of the pictures he saw were tomato sauce, meat sauce or macaroni and cheese. “A few party animals made pesto, maybe a traditional cacio e pepe or carbonara.”

He said he saw in a way he hadn’t seen before that for a lot of Americans, their range of pasta dishes is very narrow. Even in his own home, he added, where it’s just so easy to stick with the basics.

“It was based on that experience that I set out to write a cookbook that would hopefully revolutionize pasta sauces the way cascatelli totally revolutionized pasta shapes,” Pashman said. “And show people that there’s so much more than they can and should be putting on all their pasta shapes, not just cascatelli.”

But speaking of cascatelli, chef Darnell Reed was not only the first to put it on the menu at his restaurant in Chicago, , but the first in the world.

“I was very interested in going beyond traditional Italian restaurants,” Pashman said. “I thought it would be more interesting to bring it to chefs with different culinary backgrounds and see what they would do with it.”

He reached out to friends all around the country and one connected him to Reed.

“And the dish was a Cajun crawfish carbonara with cascatelli,” said Pashman. “It is rich and decadent, but it’s also peppery and spicy.”

If you haven’t tried the dish, or the pasta, could the podcast host describe cascatelli in a conversation by phone?

“It’s a little hard to describe in audio,” Pashman said. “But basically, it’s a short shape with kind of a flat strip that curls almost like a comma, or half a heart if you look at it from the side. And then protruding out from that flat strip are two parallel ruffles that are perpendicular, sticking up from the flat strip, almost like Stegosaurus’ spine. But those two ruffle strips hold a lot of sauce in between them, the space between the two ruffles, I call the sauce trough and when sauce goes in there, it cannot escape.”

It is a squiggly but substantial little pasta. So why did he feel the need to invent a new shape?

“I was dissatisfied with a lot of the shapes that are out there,” Pashman said. “I have these three criteria that I came up with to judge all pasta shapes. So there’s forkability, how easy is it to get it on your fork and keep it there. Sauceability, how well the sauce adheres to the shape. And toothsinkability, which is how satisfying is it to sink your teeth into it. And I think a lot of shapes out there are good at one or two of those things. Very few nail all three. Spaghetti, the most popular shape out there, barely gets one right. It’s very hard to get a good bite of spaghetti on your fork. It’s either too much or too little. It’s got danglers getting all over your face. And certainly, we’ve all had the experience of eating a whole plate of spaghetti and meat sauce and you finished the pasta and half the sauce is still on the plate.”

What’s his go-to sauce now for cascatelli?

“One of my very personal favorites is a mapo tofu cascatelli recipe that’s in the cookbook,” Pashman said. “I collaborated with a great recipe developer and cookbook author, Andrea Nguyen, on that one. And Andrea has this cheat in a stroke of genius to take silken tofu, and instead of cubing it like you typically would for mapo tofu, she has you puree it, which gives the sauce like the thickness of a cream sauce without any dairy.”

It’s got meatiness, he added, tons of spice, an incredible depth of flavor and ground meat.

“I didn’t think the world needed any more recipes for marinara sauce or lasagna bolognese,” said Pashman. “That’s why we have kimchi carbonara. We have cacio e pepe with chile crisp and optional Sichuan peppercorns. We have shakshuka in shells.”

There’s also a recipe for roasted artichokes with preserved lemon instead of the traditional Italian pasta with fresh lemon, he added, so it gives you a Middle Eastern or North African vibe.

“There’s a keema bolognese that I love,” said Pashman, about his variation on the South Asian ground meat dish.

He said he did go on a research trip across Italy “to bring back some of the more obscure Italian pasta dishes that maybe aren’t well known in America.”

“I went to a restaurant in Bari in the far corner of Italy where they invented a dish called spaghetti all’assassina, assassin’s spaghetti,” Pashman said. The pasta is cooked down in a spicy tomato sauce, he added, then you pan-fry it until it turns charred, crispy and crunchy. “And it is ridiculous.”

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