Big Fat Venetian Style Bigoli Pasta with Big Fat Onion-Anchovy Sauce

Bigoli pasta is style of noodle popular in Venice, Italy. Well I suppose it could be popular in Venice, California or Venice Florida. But I think the original Venetians deserve most of the credit and that’s where I’ll let it lay.

Bigoli pasta is maybe about the most simple style of fresh pasta you can make because you don’t need a pasta roller or a special attachment for your stand mixer. In fact I’ve made it with a potato ricer before. Because this pasta is made by pressing dough Play-Doh Fun Factory style through little holes into long stands of noodle. If you were a wee one in the 1970s you probably know what I mean. Or maybe kids today still press Play-Doh through multi-shaped stencils to make colorful logs of day-glo fun. How would I know?

The proper way to make bigoli however is with a bigoli press (torchio). Amazon has one for 400 bucks I’d love to have. But I need another piece of kitchen equipment like I need a hole in the head. Especially a piece of kitchen equipment that only does one thing and looks like bench press. Besides, like I said– I have made small batches of bigoli before using the Oxo good grips potato ricer.

Essentially bigoli is thick and chewy ribbon pasta with the nuttiness of whole wheat. It’s the signature pasta of the Veneto region of Italy. But it’s easiest described as extra fat (whole wheat) spaghetti. You can adapt your favorite fresh pasta recipe using a ratio of three parts all-purpose flour to one part whole-wheat flour and get a very nice approximation of the Venetian real deal. Also if you want to just use dried spaghetti I won’t tell a soul. As long as you don’t tell on me. I have certainly gone that route myself. Just make sure the spaghetti is whole wheat and as fat as you can find.

Torchio Bigoli PressNow that we got the bigoli pasta out of the way. Let me tell you how this pasta is typically prepared in Venice (Italy). Please, don’t go running from the room screaming, but is often served in a sauce of anchovies.

Okay, I see that look on your face, but let me explain. In Italy anchovies are used in many classic recipes and are served many, many ways. Fried up in breadcrumbs they are a street food triumph. But they can also be more subtle. In the Bigoli with Onion-Anchovy Sauce I present today, the anchovies dissolve into the sweet onion sauce– giving it an umami allure that’s is hard to explain. If I didn’t tell you it was an anchovy sauce, you might never guess.

But I know Americans have never quite warmed up to these little flag stripes of flavor. I suppose too many people had too many bad experiences with too many bad anchovies. They walk away thinking. Too salty, too rancid, and I don’t like the bones. Which is a shame though. I think of them as little fish with big balls, and I mean that in a good way. Because for all their dense nutrition they really do pack a wallop of deeply nuanced flavor. Though it’s a wallop that makes lots of folks shudder I know, I know. GREG

Bigoli with Onion-Anchovy Sauce serves 4 CLICK here for a printable recipe

  • 0.25 c olive oil
  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 3 clv garlic, peeld and chopped
  • 1 big pinch kosher salt, plus more for pasta water
  • 1 oz canned anchovy fillets, drained and finely chopped
  • 1 c chicken stock
  • 0.5 t ground black pepper, or more to taste
  • 1 lb fresh bigoli, or other spaghetti-like whole wheat pasta
  • 0.25 c flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Set a pot of salted water over medium-high heat and let it come to a slow boil as you prepare the sauce.

Heat the olive oil and butter in the large skillet over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, stir in the onions and garlic; season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cover the pan. Let the onions cook slowly, stirring occasionally until well-softened and lightly golden colored, edged with brown, about 15 minutes. Add the chopped anchovies and cook, stirring until the anchovies melt in the hot oil.

Add the noodles to the water and boil them until just barely cooked. The size and type of noodle you choose will determine the cooking time. Watch them carefully as you finish the sauce.

Raise the heat, add the stock, and bring the sauce to a boil. Then lower the heat to medium once again and stir until the sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Season generously with freshly cracked black pepper and a little salt if needed (taste first).

Using tongs drop the pasta (with some water still clinging) into the onion-anchovy sauce. Toss the pasta and sauce together until well coated. Add the parsley and serve immediately.

Source: Adapted from Lidia Bastianich