Paccheri is a pasta shape that is all the rage in the USA at the moment. It’s been in several cooking magazines of late, mentioned on blogs and featured on hot restaurant menus, but I haven’t seen them sold in mainline food stores. So when we went on vacation to Puglia, on the first night at Torre dei Preti, they offered a dish with paccheri and seafood. The best way to describe paccheri is a half-size cannolini shell or a giant rigatoni. It takes a full 12-14 minutes to cook these to al dente because you need to cook them in a gentle to medium boil. Otherwise, you’ll have a lot of torn and broken paccheri.
Paccheri can be used like other dried pastas — with sauce or stuffed. When I got home, I went searching for these guys and found them at a couple of Italian specialty stores in LA, namely Claro’s and Mario’s Deli. I came across an interesting recipe in La Cucina Italiana that is in the spirit of the Pugliaese dish we had. This is a heavily modified version of that recipe and one that I scaled up for a dinner party for 30 people. So it works! It keeps the fish and vegetable cuisine of Puglia intact.
This recipe serves 6 people. You can prepare the individual stuffing components (swordfish, kale and mushrooms) 2 days in advance. Prepare the stuffed pasta up to 1 day in advance. Cover and refrigerate each before use. Remove from refrigerator and allow to approach room temperature before use. About 1 hour.
Ingredients and directions:
- Olive oil for cooking
- 12 to 18 paccheri (2-3 per person) plus a few more for breakage
- One grilled swordfish steak. See this recipe for directions to grill swordfish. Don’t make the sauce described. Just squeeze a little lemon over the prepared steak and cool to room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.
- One batch of sauteed kale. Follow the directions in this recipe. Substitute cavolo nero or other type of kale for the Swiss Chard. Omit the step to add the chickpeas and tomatoes. Prepare, let come to room temperature or cool overnight in refrigerator.
- One package of medium sized Cremini mushrooms — chopped into large pieces, sauteed with olive oil and garlic until cooked through but still somewhat firm.
- Salt and pepper
- Lemons for juicing
- Home-made smooth tomato-sauce (Tomato sauce passed through a food mill, or pureed with a immersion blender or in a standup blender). You can use this recipe to make the sauce.
- High quality olive oil for drizzling
- A baking dish big enough to hold all the paccheri on one level.
- A spider
- A large strainer
- A large bowl for preparing the stuffing
- If serving right away, heat oven to 350 degrees.
- Prepare the baking dish by drizzling a little olive oil in the dish and coat the entire dish using a paper towel or a brush.
- In a large pot with boiling salt water, boil the paccheri according to the package directions. Probably 12-14 minutes. As mentioned, cook in a gentle bowl; not a violent boil. If you are cooking paccheri for the first time or using a new brand of pasta, I recommend you do a “test boil” with one piece to get the cooking time right. You can remove the test piece starting at the low end of the cooking range and test by cutting in half. Return to boiling water if not cooked through. There should be no dry looking band of pasta on the interior of the pasta. One brand of paccheri I bought said to cook for 12 minutes and it took 16. Also, don’t overcrowd the pot with pasta. Not more than 10 paccheri at a time.
- Remove the pasta from the water using a spider. Place in a strainer and rinse with cold water. Cool until you can handle them.
- Transfer the cooled pasta to the prepared baking dish lining up the paccheri in an organized manner (see photo).
- Prepare the stuffing. Look at the paccheri to gauge the size of the ingredients, remembering that the stuffing will need to be easily placed inside. In a large bowl —
- Coarsely chop the prepared kale and add to the bowl
- Coarsely chop the prepared mushrooms and add to the bowl
- Breakup the swordfish steak using your hands into to very small pieces. Don’t chop up with a knife as it will lose its texture.
- Gently mix these 3 ingredients together and season with salt, pepper and some lemon juice. Taste the mixture and season as needed to obtain a nicely acidic and seasoned mixture. Add olive oil if the mixture seems too lose.
- Using your hands, gently stuff the paccheri with the prepared mixture over the bowl letting the lose pieces to fall back into the bowl. Fill the paccheri completely but don’t pack them in and place back in the prepared baking dish. If the paccheri have any splits in the pasta, hold together as your stuff and return to the prepared dish with the split side down. Don’t use any really broken up paccheri.
- Spread about 1 cup of sauce over the paccheri just before baking. Spread evenly over the entire surface and push in between the stuffed pasta.
- Bake for about 20 minutes until you can smell the swordfish, lemony aroma from the oven.
- Using a spatula, place 2 to 3 paccheri on each plate. Drizzle with a little high quality olive oil and serve.