Bigoli in Salsa

bigoi-in-salsa

 

Few things feel more festive to me (as to most Venetians) than bìgoli in salsa. As strange as this might sound, this poor, anchovy- and onion-based pasta dish is hands down the most popular Venetian Christmas Eve’s first course. A big classic in the cuisine of Veneto, bìgoli in salsa used to be enjoyed on giorni di magro (fasting days) such as Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and Christmas Eve. Nowadays, you can find all year round in traditional osterie and local restaurants all over the region. However, it remains very much linked to fasting days in the local tradition.

Context. Bìgoli is a type of thick, fresh spaghetti that is originally from Veneto. Their origin seems to date back to the 1600s, when the whole region was under the domain of la Serenissima. A pasta maker from Padova designed and patented a machinery (called bigolaro) apt to make different shapes of pasta. Among them, thick bìgoli gained people’s preference, and fast became the signature pasta shape of the Venetian republic.

The original recipe for bìgoli simply called for wheat flour and water. The dough was then kneaded, rested, and finally hand-pressed through the bigolaro. The signature bronze die imparted a rustic, rough texture to the extruded strings of dough, which measured about 25 cm in length. Variations on this basic theme included the use of different types of flour –  wholemeal wheat and/or buckwheat – to produce bìgoli mori (dark). In recent times, eggs began to be added to the mix, their protein content ensuring softer, durable results. Also, many pastifici (particularly in the town of Bassano del Grappa) started the production of dry bìgoli, either white or wholemeal, using durum wheat flour.

In my family, we start with dry bìgoli, then season them with this unctuous sauce (the salsa) made with salt-packed sardines (or anchovies), softened white onions, and (lots of) oil.  it’d be difficult to establish an original recipe for bìgoli in salsa: every family has its own. Here, I’m sharing a slightly mellowed version, with anchovies rather than salted sardines. But if you want to go full blast, by all means, do. Use sardines. Personally, I love both takes in equal measure.

Bigoli in Salsa

For this recipe, choose bìgoli or just the thickest spaghetti you can find (spaghetti alla chitarra work wonders), even better if made with wholegrain flours. If using fresh pasta, adjust the cooking time accordingly. 

serves 4
400 g dry bìgoli (or other thick spaghetti)*
350 g white onions, thinly sliced
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
10 oil-packed anchovies, drained

Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Begin by bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a large skillet set over a medium-low heat, fry the onions gently in olive oil until very soft and creamy, about 15 minutes. Add a little pf the pasta water (about 60 ml/1/4 cup) to help with the softening.  Next, add the anchovies and dissolve them within the onion sauce, then remove from the heat and set aside.

When the pasta water has reached a rolling boil, lower the bìgoli. Cook until al dente, drain, and transfer to the skillet with the anchovy and onion sauce. Set the skillet over a medium heat and toss the pasta with the sauce for a couple of minutes, until you see the sauce clinging to the pasta. Season with black pepper, toss once more, then serve right away.

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11 Comments

  1. Rosa's Yummy Yums December 11, 2012

    What a beautiful spaghetti dish! I've never had bigolì, but I'd love to try…

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    Reply
  2. Emiko December 11, 2012

    Beautiful as always Val. It's so nice to read about your own family traditions combined with the centuries-old traditions of the Veneto. Such a fascinating cuisine, and such a classic dish. Flavourful, simple, I love it.

    Reply
  3. l'albero della carambola December 11, 2012

    Adoro questa ricetta, io aggiungo anche una manciata di uvette. E adoro le tue foto.
    simo

    Reply
  4. Reb December 11, 2012

    E' buffo: i tuoi post in inglese me li godo sempre di più di quelli in italiano, come se oramai ti appartenesse maggiormente.
    Col bigolo, devo far la pace, che quello di Bassano non mi aveva entusiasmato mica poi tanto.
    Un condimento così, però, mica lo avevo abbinato, stoltina che non sono altra!
    Un abbraccio grande di qui a lì.

    Reply
  5. la domestique December 11, 2012

    I agree with Emiko in that it's so interesting to see how the tradition evolves over time, and how a family makes the recipe their own. My mouth is watering just looking at that pasta dish. Happy Holidays!

    Reply
  6. Zizi December 12, 2012

    I just mentioned to Emiko in her Italian Table Talk post that I love reading them because I learn so much from you, girls! It was so fascinating reading yours as well. I know a lot now about Venetan Christmas and traditional meals. I love pasta so much!

    Reply
  7. Sarah | Yahoo! Shine December 12, 2012

    This recipe has so many of my absolute favorite ingredients. I love reading about different holiday traditions all over the world–you've made this one sound especially delicious!

    We are celebrating our favorite holiday traditions this month on the Shine Supper Club and recipe like this would make a gorgeous contribution. I hope you'll join us!

    Reply
  8. Barbara Dubreuil May 31, 2013

    Yummy! I just noticed, did you use terracotta ceramics for the bigoli bowl? It's very oriental, I love it!

    Reply
  9. Hotel Jesolo July 1, 2013

    This recipe is wonderful. It's nice you shared it with the rest!

    Reply
  10. JASON February 1, 2017

    Why does some pasta add onions, whilst some added garlic or both?
    hmmm….

    Reply
    • Valeria February 1, 2017

      It really depends on the recipe. Bigoli in salsa only takes onions. Hope this helps!

      Reply

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