Paccheri; its origins, history and recipes.
Paccheri are a traditional Neapolitan pasta which look like giant macaroni or, as some say, pieces of a cut-up garden hose! Generally made with durum wheat semolina and usually served with rich heavier sauces, they are also very often stuffed with ricotta or other ingredients.
The word paccheri apparently actually comes from the ancient greek (“πας” -all and “χειρ” -hand) which is still used in the Italian language to mean a pat or a slap given with an open hand, but not in an aggressive way. Many attribute the name to the noise made when pouring sauce onto the pasta, which in Italian is described as resembling a ‘schiaffo’ or in Neopolitan dialect ‘una pacca’ which also means slap.
In Neapolitan cuisine, paccheri have pretty ancient origins and have been around for a long time. In the past they were considered ‘poor pasta’ or pasta for the poor because they are very large and filling and so appetites could be satisfied with only a small quantity of pasta and for a very low cost, as they are actually made with only flour and water!
The pasta that was used for smuggling garlic!
Paccheri have one of the most interesting origins I have come across in my pasta history research! I have read that their invention was in fact, as a means to smuggle banned garlic cloves across the alps into what is Austria today. Apparently, Prussian garlic (Austria was called Prussia in those days) was rather small and not very pungent. In contrast, Southern Italian garlic, with its large pungent cloves, was sought after by the Prussian and Hungarian aristocracy. In the early 1600s, in order to protect their own garlic farmers, the Prussians banned the importation of Italian garlic. Southern Italian garlic farmers, whose livelihood depended heavily on the Prussian Garlic market, were more than upset.
Food history tells us that Southern Italian pasta makers secretly invented paccheri pasta to be perfectly shaped to hide a ducat’s worth of Italian garlic (approx.four cloves). This garlic smuggling operation was so effective that in the early 1800s, the Prussian garlic industry finally collapsed as a result of the Prussian government not being able to find out how Italian garlic was being smuggled across the alps so effectively and stop it!
Funnily enough many dishes made with paccheri do tend to be very garlicky, maybe because of the pasta’s garlicky history!. This pasta is often stuffed with sausage and garlic and topped with a red wine sauce or stuffed with porcini mushrooms and served with a garlic flavored white wine sauce. Whichever way they are cooked, recipes made with paccheri are definitely hearty! They also often include a thick meat ragu or bolognese.
One dish which is definitely on my pasta to make list is paccheri alla Genovese. This is a classic Neopolitan dish which takes about 3-5 hours to cook and includes meat cuts and lots of onions!
Paccheri are also used in a sort of a lasagna-style dish. The pasta is filled with ricotta and then layered in an oven dish with tomato sauce and Parmigiano cheese before baking. Another popular and delicious way to cook this pasta is with eggplant and dry ricotta cheese!
In Italy there are some different types/sizes of paccheri. Mezzi paccheri are half the size of the traditional ones and both rigati ‘grooved’ and lisci ‘smooth’ versions are available. As far as I know, paccheri are now quite easy to find outside of Italy, so if you haven’t cooked with them before now’s the time to do so! I have already posted a recipe from Puglia for baked pasta alla Tranese with mezzi paccheri rigati and am going to be posting many more with this pasta as I continue my journey through the wonderful world of Italian pasta!