Bigoli, The Latest Hot New Pasta

Bigoli is actually not the latest hot new pasta as Venetians have known of it for centuries. However, in America, where food fads are driven by newness rather than tradition you’ll be hearing more about it.

Bigoli in salsa, an old and beloved Venetian preparation made on Good Friday. A Venetian would know that bigoli in salsa, which means “spaghetti in sauce” in dialect, is nothing other than this luscious concoction also called bigoli con le sardelle. Today the dish is made with anchovies, although I use the sardines of the older fashion in this recipe, which Venetians would get from Chioggia, in the southern portion of the lagoon, and salt themselves.  Other recipes using this pasta might include duck livers sautéed in butter and seasoned with duck broth, onions, and sage.

Bigoli in salsa is a typical preparation of the lowlands where the pasta was once made in the home with a special press called a bigolaro or bigolo and also a torchio in Emilia-Romagna. Today Venetians rarely make their own bigoli (a Venetian dialect word pronounced BEE-go-wee) as it is easily obtainable around the city made by artisanal pasta makers and sold in gourmet stores.  “Bigoli” is the Venetian word for “spaghetti,” actually vermicelli, but refers to any kind of spaghetti.  In this preparation a very long, dark whole wheat spaghetti is used and it is kept long while cooking and not broken in two. In fact, bigoli is notable in being a dark whole wheat spaghetti.  The origin of the word is unknown, but some scholars believe it comes from the Italian baco, worms.

Bigoli is also used in a preparation called all’ajada, a dialect word indicating how the pasta is cut: it is meant to resemble the swathing with which the Madonna wrapped the infant Jesus.  It is traditionally served in the lower Lombardy on Christmas eve.  The domain of this dish extends into France where in the Haute-Provence it is known as crouzets and eaten on Advent Eve.  Crouzets  is a bigoli made with a sauce of walnuts, fresh bread crumbs, garlic, and milk.

You can make bigoli in salsa very nearly identical to the Venetian one by observing a few rules.  Make sure the onions are finely chopped; no piece should be bigger than this “o.”  You will need the salted sardines which can be found in Italian markets sold in tins, or you can mix sardines and anchovies as explained in the Note below.

@ Emilio Mitidieri

Bigoli in Salsa
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Cook time
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Note: If you do not have homemade salted sardines, mix 3 ounces sardines canned in olive oil with 6 salted anchovy fillets, previously rinsed, and continue with the preparation.
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4 to 6
  • ¼ pound salted sardines
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, very finely chopped
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • Salt
  • 1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. If using the homemade salted sardines, first wash, then peel the fillets off the backbone and chop fine; otherwise, see the Note below. In a large casserole, heat the olive oil over high heat, then cook the onion and sardines until they begin to turn color, about 5 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Add the water, cover tightly, and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the onions is soft and golden, 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of abundantly salted water to a boil and add the pasta when the water is rolling. Cook until al dente, drain, and add to the casserole with the sauce, tossing. Sprinkle with the pepper and toss again. Serve immediately without cheese, but pass the peppermill around.


Oaxaca-style Smoky Shredded Pork Tacos

Although I’ve been to Mexico and live in southern California where there are plenty of great Mexican restaurants I also enjoy cooking Mexican food. If I’m not actually getting a recipe from a Latino friend my go-to cookbooks are any of those of chef and cookbook author Rick Bayless’s, especially his earlier ones. This recipe from Oaxaca in Mexico called tacos de picadillo oaxaqueño is adapted from Bayless’s recipe who recommends that the meat be chopped and not ground. This filling could go into tamales or enchiladas but putting it on soft corn tortillas for tacos is excellent. If you have never heard of or used canned chipotle chiles in adobo you will be surprised to find them in all supermarkets with other canned goods. Serve as an appetizer this is a delightful way to start an entirely Mexican dinner.

Tacos de Picadillo Oaxaqueño
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Recipe type: Appetizer
Cuisine: Mexican
Serves: 6 to 8
  • 1 ½ pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 5 large garlic cloves, 2 finely chopped and 3 left whole with their skin
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 1¼ pounds ripe tomatoes
  • 3 chipotle chiles in adobo
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • 2 ½ tablespoons pork lard, divided
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground cloves (2 cloves)
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup golden raisins
  • 16 corn tortillas
  • ½ cup crumbled Mexican queso panela or other Mexican cheese or farmer’s cheese
  • Red Sauce (optional)
  1. Place the pork in a 3-quart saucepan with the chopped garlic and half the onion and cover just barely with salted water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, skim the foam off the top, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered until very tender, about 1 ½ hours. Cool the meat in the broth, then remove and shred the meat using two forks.
  2. Heat an un-greased cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, then cook the unpeeled garlic until soft, about 15 minutes, turning occasionally. Remove the garlic and peel. Set aside.
  3. Preheat the broiler. Arrange the tomatoes in a broiling pan and roast about 4-inches under the broiler flame or heating element until the skin is blackened, about 6 minutes. Turn and roast the other side until blackened, about another 4 minutes. Remove the tomatoes and set aside. Leave the broiler on, and place the almonds under the broiler on a small metal tray until they are lightly browned, about 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside. Cool both the tomatoes and almonds. Once the tomatoes are cool, peel, and collect all the tomato juices in the pan. Place the tomatoes in a food processor and pulse with the canned chipotle chilies and soft cooked garlic until a medium-fine puree.
  4. In a heavy 3-quart saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon lard over medium-high heat, add the tomato purée and cook until it thickens, about 5 minutes, stirring. Turn the heat off, season with salt, and set aside until needed.
  5. In a 12-inch non-stick skillet, heat the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons lard over medium-high heat. Once the lard starts to smoke, add the shredded meat and the remaining half onion. Cook until the pork is crispy and golden, about 12 to 14 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping brown bits up. Sprinkle with cinnamon, pepper, cloves, and raisins, then pour in the tomato purée. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until all the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the almonds to the meat and correct the seasoning.
  6. Place the corn tortillas in a kitchen towel and wrap them up. Place the wrapped tortillas in the steamer portion of a steamer with 2 inches of water in the bottom portion and bring to a boil, keeping the top tightly covered. Once it reaches a boil, turn it off and let the tortillas sit for 15 minutes. To serve, hold a tortilla in your hand and fill with the cheese and shredded meat. Top with Red Sauce if you like.


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