Marille is not a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. It is a 1983 skunk works pasta engineered by Giorgetto Giugiaro, perhaps the most prolific Italian car designer ever.
“Engineered?” Come again? The man who gave use the DeLorean, the De Tomaso Mangusta, and the BMW M1 fooling around with frivolously shaped food? But that
would be saying that pasta is random, and nothing could be further from the truth.
Like a car, pasta is an exercise in structure. Every pasta is designed to work with one specific sauce, to combine for harmony in texture. For instance, there is no Spaghetti Bolognese: the incredibly complex sauce known as ragù alla bolognese is properly paired with tagliatelle, not spaghetti. And so on.
It should then come as no surprise that the people who take their pasta and their cars so seriously have pasta skunk works. One was called Voiello, operated by pasta giant Barilla, and it was Voiello who hired Giorgetto Giugiaro in 1983 to apply his magic. In a 1991 interview conducted at his company Italdesign’s headquarters, he told the story of his bi-tubular design, created not long after he did the M1, the DeLorean and Fiat’s brilliant little Uno:
The Voiello company had very clear ideas in mind: either the pasta would be designed by a “technological” designer such as Giugiaro, and thus be produced by means of a new type of extrusion molding, or it would be poorly and simply shaped, and in that case they would chose Bruno Munari.
We presented twelve designs, they chose five and passed them on to product engineers. We were invited to Naples in a fancy restaurant: the pasta had been tested with all kinds of sauces. As far as the requirements, the pasta should not absorb too much sauce; it should increase its volume in water, in the sense that a dish of marille should weigh half a dish of spaghetti; at the dawn of the nouvelle cuisine, it should be decorative, “architectural”; it should, like all pastas, retain the sauce and let the water go; it should then be: “palatable”, a technical term which indicates a positive reaction of the mouth to its taste.
They organized a big vernissage in Milano at the Centrodomus, Mendini did the design. It was a good image campaign, for the company and for its president, but the production did not go on long enough. The pasta was only distributed in a few places and people were not able to find it. Moreover, it took a few more minutes to cook and this was a discrimination point. But I owe my popular fame to that pasta, I got even published on Newsweek, isn’t it funny?
Like Giugiaro’s concepts for Lamborghini and Bugatti, the marille failed. The pasta’s irregular shape was very hard to cook evenly and this contributed to its demise. But how wonderful it would be to reverse engineer a handful, get someone like Massimo Bottura to develop the sauce for it, and savor each bite like a mile in a Maserati Ghibli.
Yes, the Ghibli too is vintage Giugiaro.