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, Austrian garlic was rather small and not very pungent. In contrast, the Austrians and Hungarian arictocrats loved Southern Italian garlic, with its large pungent cloves.
In the early 1600s, the Austrians banned the importation of Italian garlic in order to protect their own garlic farmers. Southern Italian garlic farmers, whose livelihood depended heavily on the Austro-Hungarian 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 the Austrian garlic industry finally collapsed. The 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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Enjoyed learning about this type of pasta, especially how garlic was secretly transported to Austria. So interesting. Thanks for always sharing the history on pasta.
Austria isn’t Prussia and never has been. Otherwise, this was a nice read, and the pasta is super tasty.
Hi Greg, thanks for pointing that out. I’m not sure how we came to put Prussia when it should just be Austria! I’ve corrected the article. I agree paccheri is a great pasta type!
George Spaulding says
Hi Jacqui from Seattle, Washington, USA. I am going to follow your stuffed Paccheri with Ricotta and fresh basil. But I don’t understand what passata is. At first I thought it is what we call tomato paste but have never seen it chunky. Could you kindly describe it so I can duplicate. Thanks, George
Hi George, thanks for your comment. Passata is basically a purée made from peeled, seeded and cooked tomatoes. It doesn’t usually have seasoning. Italians traditionally make it at home in summer to use in the winter when tomatoes aren’t in season. They use a foodmill (passavedure) to’mash’the cooked tomatoes while removing the skins and seeds in the process. Here in Italy, we can buy ready made smooth passata or chunky (rustic) the latter is somewhere between chopped tomatoes and purée. I prefer it to the very smooth one.
George Spaulding says
Thanks, that clears it up for me. Since tomatos in the US are basically tasteless. I get my peeled tomatoes in a can from Italy. To make sauce(gravy) I puree them to varying degrees depending on the dish. So I can creat pasta.
Thanks so much……George
Michael Gates says
Thanks very much. Really interesting history. I looked this pasta up as my local department store in Helsinki started stocking paccheri recently. My 10 year old suggested a sausage, bacon, garlic and cream/egg sauce. I added some white truffle oil. Probably sacrilege for Italians but I just can’t follow recipes and always cook off the top of my head. Anyway, at least we liked it, and I think the thick rich sauce worked pretty well. Interesting that we put lots of garlic in it (before reading your article)!
Hi Michael, thanks so much for your comment! Some types of pasta and pasta dishes have an interesting history and I love to write about that rather than just post recipes. I think pasta is a great food to prepare the way you feel you want to! It works with so many combinations of flavours. Most the recipes on my blog are traditional but it’s great to be creative too! Hope you’ll come back and visit again soon! All the best from Verona! Jacqui