Pastafazool! Helping to name Cascatelli

Who could resist the opportunity to weigh in on a new pasta shape name?

Cascatelli - new pasta shapeFrom Catchword linguist, Laurel Sutton

When The Sporkful podcast contacted Catchword back in November 2020 to be a guest on air, I had to admit that I hadn’t heard of it or the host, Dan Pashman. As a frequent consumer of podcasts, I really should have—they’ve won awards, there’s a book, they have cool famous guests, and even a show on the Cooking Channel.

Despite my ignorance, their email totally drew me in: “We find ourselves in a bit of a pickle because we have to finalize the name of the pasta in the next few days, and we’re not quite decided on what to call it.”

Who could resist the opportunity to weigh in on a new pasta shape name?

The science of sauceability
Image courtesy of Sfoglini

Dan and I chatted over Zoom for an hour, during which time he shared with me his list of 5 finalists, which included Battistrada (the Italian word for “tire tread”), Millepiedi (Italian for “millipede”) and Cascatelle, meaning “small waterfalls” and used in Italy for many waterfalls or the tourist spots nearby (Cascatelle di Carano, Le Cascatelle Sappada, Agriturismo Le Cascatelle.) All of the names were aimed at suggesting the unique shape of the pasta: curled, with ripples running along one side and a groove down the center to improve sauceablity (a real word).

Like the other folks on the podcast, I immediately vetoed Millepiedi, because no one wants to eat pasta and be reminded of bugs. Battistrada was an interesting candidate, as the pasta shape does resemble tire treads, but no English speaker would make the connection; the word isn’t transparent enough. The clear winner to me was Cascatelle; it sounds beautiful, it’s easy to pronounce, and it’s cognate with English words like cascade. My only advice was to spell it “cascatelli,” which isn’t correct Italian.

Here’s the reason for the change: English speakers, the target audience, are already familiar with a lot of pasta shape names that end in “-elli”: gemelli, cavetelli, vermicelli, etc. Here the “-elli” suffix is a diminutive, meaning “little.” Although there are pasta shape names that end in “-elle,” such as rotelle and pappardelle, they’re often misspelled as “rotelli” and “pappardelli,” because, well, it’s easier for English speakers to remember, because there’s already a pattern to follow. Why not take the path of least resistance? Spelling the name “Cascatelli” makes it easier for people to pronounce right away, and easier to remember when asking for it. And it makes the name unique. I suggested—and Dan agreed—that all these benefits were worth the risk of being scolded by a few Italian speakers.

Many emails, texts, and phone calls later, we’d settled the -elle/-elli issue, the placement of the words and translation on the box, and the copy that explained the science behind the shape. The final product is beautiful and by all accounts, delicious.

Catchword is delighted to have played a very small part in the epic journey to Cascatelli! Mangia bene!


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