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Paccheri: From 'Cucina Povera' to Michelin

Let's delve into the unusual meaning behind paccheri and their recipe for the most Michelin of sauces.


Paccheri pasta tubes on a wooden board

Paccheri (pah/keh/rih) truly belong to Naples. In harder times, these were a Napolitan household's go-to pasta, also known as mezze-maniche (half-sleeves) - chunky tubes in sauce or stuffed with ricotta would contentedly fill up the family. Considered part of Italy's cucina povera food culture in Naples and southern Italy, paccheri were made cheapy of semolina flour and water. It's said le mamme would typically make them on Mondays to use up the weekend's leftover ragù because whilst other types of pasta corta accompany their own sauces, these paccheri suit almost any.


Paccheri alla Vittorio being dished on a white plate

The Paccheri Slap

'Paccheri' comes from the Italian for 'una pacca' - a slap. Mostly in a friendly manner, this kind of slap is an open handed one and not intended to cause injury. In Naples, a plate of paccheri plays such a part in their food culture that you can walk into your favourite trattoria and even ask for 'schiaffoni' - schiaffo is the other Italian word for slap. Don't ask for schiaffoni anywhere else in Italy though, you may not like what you get!

But why call pasta a 'slap'?

The paccheri 'slap' you'll know about when you cook with paccheri, especially when you make them (yes paccheri are plural) with one of their most traditional of sauces: sugo di pomodoro. The combination of a wide tube of pasta and a liquid sauce means the paccheri slap is 'heard' more than 'felt' both in the pan and on the plate.


Paccheri Perfected to Michelin Status

One restaurant has perfected the 'paccheri slap to such a degree that its fame has become somewhat of an institution. In fact, their customers would not be satisfied without the iconic dish mixed right beside their table and Vittorio's signature white bib supplied especially for the rather messy affair. We're not saying the humble pacchero has earned Enrico (Chicco) Cerea from Da Vittorio 3 Michelin stars but it certainly has put Bergamo's countryside restaurant in Brusaporto on the paccheri-map, enough to draw the likes of Italian celebs such as TV star Michelle Hunziker, fashionistas Chiara Ferragni and Brunello Cucinelli.


The Michelin Star sauce is none other than Naples's humble scarpariello, tweaked into the celebrated Paccheri alla Vittorio. The scarpariello, named such after the scarpari (local shoemakers who first made the sauce), sautés the region's fragrant tomatoes in garlic, chili flakes and extra-virgin olive oil until soft so that the half-done paccheri can finish cooking in the pan of sauce. Much like the mantecatura of risotto, stir in heaps of basil leaves, acqua della cottura and grated hard cheeses like parmigiano and pecorino and mix to create a deliciously creamy medley.


Italian ingredients on a wooden board, tomatoes, Parmigiano, paccheri, garlic and basil

The brothers Chicco and Roberto (Bobo) Cerea from Bergamo have added butter, three kinds of tomatoes and left out the pecorino. With restaurants now in St. Moritz, Shanghai and Saigon, here's the recipe for their gloriously global Paccheri alla Vittorio and their personal cooking tips too:


Recipe for Paccheri alla Vittorio

Ingredients:

1 Clove of Garlic

200g San Marzano Tomatoes 

80g Beefsteak Tomatoes 

50g Baby Plum Tomatoes

20g Butter

70g Grated Parmigiano Reggiano

10 Fresh Basil Leaves

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper


Optional: Dried Chili Flakes


Method:

  1. In a wide and deep pan, saute the garlic in half a cup of good olive oil. Add the three types of tomatoes which have been chopped into small pieces.

  2. Add the salt and pepper and cook on a low heat for 35-40 minutes until soft.

  3. Blend the sauce with an immersion blender or in a food processor and strain through a sieve (if needed) to obtain a smooth consistency. Return the sauce to the pan.

  4. Cook the paccheri according to their packet instructions until al dente.

  5. Strain them keeping a cup of acqua della cottura aside and add the paccheri directly to the sauce in the pan on a low heat.

  6. With a wooden spoon, mix the butter and grated cheese into the sauce and keep stirring until smooth. Add l'acqua della cottura if needed, the roughly-chopped basil leaves, a drizzle of olive oil plus the chilli flakes and stir for another few minutes. Serve hot!


Cooking Tips

  1. Use the ripest tomatoes you can find for the sweetest flavour. Piccadilly work well if you can't find San Marzano.

  2. Use Parmigiano Reggiano that is 22 months matured or less for creamy texture.

  3. Mix continuously whilst adding the cheeses until a smooth sauce is obtained - this is easier if one person sprinkles cheese and the other mixes. You can add more acqua della cottura to make it silky.


Buon appetito my friends!

Allora, did you hear the slap?


Paccheri in tomato sauce in a black pan on a wooden table

In his interview from 2019, Chicco Cerea says one shouldn't chase Michelin stars; if you cook with love and the passion of your trade then keep doing what you're doing and the third star will naturally come.


Let's toast to that!


Here's to simple being best

and cin cin to a love of cooking.


Salute!

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