SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Toilet tissue, hand sanitizer, hair trimmers and desk chairs have sometimes all been scarce during this pandemic, and now bucatini? Well, not exactly bleach wipes, but when New York magazine writer Rachel Handler noticed a dearth of the long spaghetti-like noodle with a hole through the middle, she set out to discover why and has published her findings in an article for Grub Street titled, What The Hole is Going On?
Rachel Handler, thanks very much for being with us.
RACHEL HANDLER: Thanks for having me.
SIMON: Bucatini is not just another noodle to you, is it?
HANDLER: (Laughter) I mean, I don't know if you can tell, but I feel quite strongly about bucatini. It is absolutely my favorite noodle. Cooked al dente, it's perfect. It's got the best texture. It's sort of bouncy. I think it goes well with almost any sauce. And I really like the slurpy (ph) factor of it. I think it's just - it's got a lot going for it. So I had to get to the bottom of what was going on.
SIMON: All right. You talked to some pasta industry people, right?
HANDLER: Yes, many (laughter).
SIMON: And what did you learn about this deficiency of bucatini?
HANDLER: Well, so, you know, first I tried to reach out to De Cecco because that was where my journey began because I realized that - thanks to my mom, who actually noticed that there was no De Cecco bucatini. She had reached out to customer service. They reached out back to her and said there had been an FDA hiccup. So when I started reaching out to De Cecco, I was being frozen out. They wouldn't get back to me. I...
SIMON: I mean, that - OK, there's a cover-up going on.
HANDLER: (Laughter) Exactly.
SIMON: Rachael, I'm not going to bother with a lot of facts here. What do you suppose the FDA investigation was about?
HANDLER: So the FDA, back in the 1900s, they established a standard of identity for a pasta, which they are calling enriched macaroni products, which basically means that pasta has to have a certain level of nutrients and vitamins in it to pass as an enriched macaroni product and be available for sale. And one of those vitamins that they insist on having is - I think it's, like, no more than and no less than 13 milligrams of iron. De Cecco had, like, I think eight or nine milligrams of iron. And so that's why they were stopped at the border.
So then I reached out to the National Pasta Association. Altogether, we came around to this idea that someone had likely turned De Cecco in, a competitor, because the FDA doesn't go around testing pastas. You know, they're very, very busy, especially right now. I still don't know who turned De Cecco in and why they're being targeted. But, you know, now I'm deep into the big pasta intrigue, and who knows what will happen next.
SIMON: How are you contending with this dearth of bucatini?
HANDLER: You know, when I first started reporting the story, I did a bit of,- I guess you might call it insider pasta trading. I went ahead and bought a 20 pack online.
HANDLER: I know. I know. And so I'm still working my way through that.
SIMON: Rachel, forgive me. But, I mean, you could build a house with all that bucatini.
HANDLER: (Laughter) I feel like I'm going to get through it by the end of the winter, for sure.
SIMON: We cannot end this interview without asking for a recipe or at least your favorite use of bucatini.
HANDLER: I really like Alison Roman's shallot pasta recipe with bucatini, and I really like Frank Prisinzano, who owns Frank Restaurant in my neighborhood in the East Village. He makes a really great limone, and he does it with spaghetti at the restaurant. But I do it with bucatini.
(SOUNDBITE OF NINO ROTA'S "LOVE THEME FROM THE GODFATHER")
SIMON: Forgive this. So there's a hole in your heart because bucatini is missing?
HANDLER: There's a hole in my soul. It goes much deeper (laughter).
SIMON: Than your heart (laughter). All right.
HANDLER: Yeah (laughter).
SIMON: Rachel Handler, who will go on to investigate many important stories, I'm sure, with New York magazine, thanks so much for being with us. And may there be lots of pasta with a hole in the middle in your future.
HANDLER: Thank you very much.
(SOUNDBITE OF NINO ROTA'S "LOVE THEME FROM THE GODFATHER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.