What's Fabulous: Paccheri
In his first year of holding office, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio took his family on vacation to Italy. As much political tour as a holiday, the Mayor was followed by the NYC and local Italian press corps wherever he went who covered every detail of the trip -- including anything he and his family ate.
At one meal, his Italian hosts acknowledged the vegetarian preferences of the de Blasio children, Dante and Chiara, with a tomato-sauced pasta dish that featured paccheri. Reading this, I thought how I had never heard of paccheri which set me off on a search for one more of the hundreds of different shapes in which Italian pasta is made.
Paccheri is a large rigatoni-type tube pasta that comes with either a smooth surface or with ridges that help any sauce or pesto adhere to its surface. Knowing that the shape of pasta is best matched to how it will be sauced and served, paccheri is a perfect partner to sauces that can seep into the long, wide tubes that collapse from their own weight once cooked or for a substantial sauce which needs a major pasta shape to stand up to all the flavors.
But paccheri can also be par-cooked, like large shells or cannelloi, and then stuffed and baked. Because of their size and shape, you can stuff the pasta with cheese or sausage or a thick sauce and then stack them up on their ends, placing them side-by-size in a baking dish which makes for a fun presentation as in this recipe for Baked Paccheri with Bolognese and Grana Padano Sauce from The Reluctant Housedad.
Several imported or premium dry pasta producers make paccheri and sell it in the U.S. but some versions of the super-sized rigatoni are larger than others. Look for ones by Seggiano which is my favorite because of their heft, but nice ones are also made by DeCecco and Garofalo. You can find these and other brands sold both in Italian markets as well as in Whole Foods and in NYC, at Zabar's which has a very good dry pasta selection.
See our recipe for Paccheri With Tomato Sauce and Ricotta, adapted from a recipe by Arthur Schwartz. If you want something more substantial, we've added a link to a recipe for Paccheri With Seafood, a recipe from the Abruzzo region of Italy, from Lidia Bastianich.