Paccheri; its origins, history and recipes.
Paccheri (also called schiaffoni) is a traditional Neapolitan pasta which looks like giant macaroni or, as some say, pieces of a cut-up garden hose! Generally made with durum wheat semolina, these short wide pasta tubes are usually served with rich heavier sauces or seafood. Italians also very often stuff them with ricotta or other ingredients and bake them.
What does ‘paccheri’ mean?
The word paccheri apparently comes from the ancient greek (“πας” -all and “χειρ” -hand) which translated into Italian means a pat or a slap given with an open hand, but not in an aggressive way. In Italian, the word for slap is ‘schiaffo’. Whereas in Neapolitan dialect, it’s ‘una pacca’. In fact, this pasta has two names, paccheri and schiaffoni! Many attribute the name/s to the ‘slapping’ noise made when pouring sauce onto the pasta!
Some paccheri history
In Neapolitan cuisine, paccheri has pretty ancient origins and has been around for a long time. In the past, it was considered ‘poor pasta’ or pasta for the poor because the pieces are very large and filling. So, appetites could be satisfied with only a small quantity of pasta. Plus, this was a low cost food they could make with only flour and water!
The pasta they used for smuggling garlic!
According to food legend, these wide pasta tubes were invented as a way to smuggle 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, the Prussians and Hungarian arictocrats loved Southern Italian garlic, with its large pungent cloves.
In the early 1600s, the Prussians banned the importation of Italian garlic in order to protect their own garlic farmers. Southern Italian garlic farmers, whose livelihood depended heavily on the Prussian Garlic market, were more than upset.
The story goes 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. The Prussian government had not been able to find out how Italian garlic was being smuggled across the alps so effectively or stop it!
Recipes with paccheri.
Funnily enough many dishes with paccheri do tend to be very garlicky, maybe because of the pasta’s garlicky ‘history’! Italians like to stuff this pasta. You can find it stuffed with sausage and garlic and topped with a tomato sauce. Or, filled with porcini mushrooms and served with a garlic flavored white wine sauce. Whichever way it is cooked, recipes made with these Neapolitan pasta tubes are often hearty! They also often include a thick meat ragu or bolognese.
Many Italians use paccheri in a sort of lasagna-style dish. They fill the pasta with ricotta and then layer it 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 dried ricotta cheese! My favourite way to eat it is with seafood!
In Italy, there are some different types/sizes of paccheri. Mezzi paccheri or half paccheri is half the size of the traditional type. Both rigati ‘grooved’ and lisci ‘smooth’ versions are available. Although, smooth is more common.
Paccheri pasta recipes on The Pasta Project.
As far as I know, this pasta is now quite easy to find outside of Italy. So, if you haven’t cooked with it before, grab a pack when you come across it! The first paccheri recipe I posted is one with porcini, speck and pistachios. Definitely worth trying! However, I plan to post many more with these pasta tubes as I continue my journey through the wonderful world of Italian pasta! (see below for recent recipes)
You can also use paccheri in recipes for similar pastas. Here are some recipes which would work well with it too.
- La Calamarata from Campania
- Fusilli pasta with tomatoes, basil and burrata cream.
- Pasta with friggitelli peppers (friarielli) and pancetta
Other recipes made with paccheri
- Mezzi paccheri with mushrooms and cream
- Paccheri with potatoes and calamari
- Ricotta and basil filled paccheri
- Baked stuffed paccheri with sausage
- Pasta with octopus alla Genovese
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