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
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
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.


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