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"Stuff the paccheri" (or not)

"it can also be stuffed and baked or just filled." The Pasta Project


'Just filled'. Oh yes? And how do you do that? And why am I asking anyway?


Two reasons really, one which is about technique, and one which is the eternal 'what's for dinner tonight' question. So let's look at the second question first, because it is, after all, the reason I am writing this at all.


It's one of those days when I need to create dinner from what's in the fridge. In this case, some leftover rotisserie chicken from Coles, milk, some mushrooms and some celery.


Normally I guess I would be thinking in terms of a simple pasta sauce, a pie or a stir fry, maybe a risotto but whilst I was searching for an inspirational dish for Friday's birthday party, I noticed Cannelloni enchiladas in Ixta Belfrage's book Meczla, as reproduced on the Thrill List website.. The common factor here is the filling of leftover chicken. I don't have enough for Friday's party, but I guess the link between the chicken and the stuffed pasta reminded me that I also have some beautiful paccheri, that somebody gave me - my older son probably - which I never know what to do with. I mean it's so large it's crying out to be stuffed isn't it?

And I may yet make the cannelloni enchiladas on Friday - I'd just have to buy some more chicken. I'm tempted because there is also an Ottolenghi vegetarian Asparagus cannelloni which would be a suitable companion piece for the vegetarian granddaughter. I have made this before and it was pretty delicious. But then again there are other equally tempting and probably more teenager friendly and easier alternatives.


So to return to today's dinner and the chicken/mushroom/celery thing. So I started looking to see if there was an actual recipe or at least some pointers that might make everything easier and/or more exciting. I'm now quite fixed on the idea of the paccheri but I quailed at the stuffing idea. You see I tried some kind of stuffed paccheri once, and it was a bit of an ordeal and not absolutely successful. Which is where I get into the technique thing. Two of them actually.


Part of the reason my previous attempt failed somewhat was because I did not cook the paccheri first. I wasn't following a recipe and it seemed to me that it made more sense to stuff them when they were dry and easy to stand up than to cook them first. Well it seems I was wrong. I have now perused a dozen or so recipes of one kind or another and every single one cooked the paccheri - some from barely soaked, to some that were almost cooked. Only one cook suggested that when you drained them you tossed them in some oil to stop them sticking together. Nobody else suggested this but I bet that's good advice. I can see it now - all of them stuck together into one big heap. Or else you separate them out as soon as they are cooked - asbestos hands required tedious job. And if you laid them out on kitchen paper they would all stick to that.


I think everyone agreed that you then put some of your sauce whatever it was - tomato, béchamel or something else - in the bottom of your dish, stand your paccheri up in it, and then stuff them. Nobody had any tips to stop them all falling over each other, which I'm guessing they might do. Even more importantly though it was a hit and mis thing about whether they told you how to stuff the paccheri. They mostly simply said, 'stuff the paccheri'. When I had my previous attempt I tried with a small spoon. It was almost OK but very difficult to get the filling in the right place. Half of it fell out into the dish, which wasn't a real problem but a bit annoying and not what was intended.

Some of them did tell you to use a piping bag. Which I don't have. I can see that it would be much easier, but I'm just not that kind of cook and, you know, just about all food bloggers are. They obviously spend a lot of time decorating cakes. An aside - not my problem for the birthday - my granddaughters are going to do their wonderful thing. Anyway some of these bloggers helpfully suggested just getting a ziplock bag and snipping the corner off. I also don't have any of them. Just ordinary plastic bags were also suggested, but I only have pretty flimsy ones from the supermarket fresh food section, or tougher ones, which are not clean because they have housed things like potatoes or bread, or else they are huge. What to do? In desperation I searched again and found this rather nifty and easy solution on YouTube that used baking paper (it's very short). I shall give this a go, hoping that it doesn't all fall apart. After all she didn't put anything into it.


But there is another solution. Don't stuff the paccheri at all. Rachel Roddy, and several others, seem to imply that the Italians - specifically the southern Italians from whence come paccheri - don't stuff them - as in this traditional dish of mussels and potatoes - yes potatoes:


"They take their name from the onomatopoeic 'paccarià', Neapolitan for 'to slap'. Which is exactly what they do when cooked, like soft sacs, they slap and flap when you toss them in the sauce, then again in your mouth." Rachel Roddy


The theory here is that the holes in the pasta are so large that the sauce will slide all by itself in between and all around. In fact Rachel Roddy claims paccheri as her favourite pasta (with rigatoni) and another website also thought that they were the best kind of dried pasta. The trick here is in the final tossing in the sauce, aided by that essential pasta cooking water, so don't forget to keep some when you drain your paccheri.


I have yet to decide what to do. In the meantime here are a few examples from the net - including bundles meant for a kind of canapé - just slide some roasted veg and slices of cheese into the cooked paccheri. It wasn't clear whether you ate these hot or cold. Tricky to eat as well. I think you would need a bib. And some fried ones too - surely a huge mess in the frying pan with this one? Wouldn't the filling all drop out into the pan?

The others were more tempting: Pesto rigatoni mac 'n' cheese from Phoebe Wood of delicious.; Baked paccheri pasta from Real Good Food at Home; Rachel Roddy's Baked pasta with ricotta and spring vegetables and Paccheri with sausage ragù and mozzarella from Emma Knowles on Gourmet Traveller.

It's more of a technique than anything else though. What works for a lasagne would work for paccheri. And if you want to make that pie at the top of the page then make it in a spring form pan. It's called Stuffed rigatoni pie and is found on the Olive and Mango website.


I rather like the idea of the ribbons of zucchini as well in Rachel Roddy's last one - which she made with shells rather than Paccheri. And you will have noticed that many call their paccheri rigatoni which I think is incorrect as that is rather narrower.


Well I'll par cook the paccheri, make my two sauces - the chicken and the béchamel and then see how I feel about stuffing the paccheri or not. I suppose it makes more sense if you've got two different sauces and you were really planning to bake it. We'll see. I'm not really expecting great things, just something eatable and a variation on almost everything else I cook.

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