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Recipe for Christmas Eve: Bigoli in Salsa

By Monica Cesarato

Christmas is just around the corner and here in Italy many housewives are already planning the various menus which will delight the palate of family and friends during this festive period.

In Venice and Veneto there are many traditional recipes which cannot go amiss on our tables during the festivities: we will start with the typical fish antipasti which will include baccalà mantecato (creamed dry cod), sarde in saor (sweet and sour sardines) and all sorts of raw freshly caught fish or massive platters packed with a wide variety of local cold cuts (salame, soppressa, mortadella, coppa etc.).

Christmas recipe: Bigoli in Salsa by Cook in Venice |

Photo credit: Rocco Paladino

We will then proceed to taste some delicious first courses like the typical cappelletti in brodo di cappone (tortellini with capon broth) and the main courses with a selection of boiled meats, the famous bollito, with tasty beef cuts, capon pieces and more.

But it is also customary to celebrate Christmas Eve eating “magro”, that means not eating any meat at all, by having an all seafood menu, in preparation to the huge eating feast that will follow the next day!

The tradition indicates you should be eating Bigoli in Salsa (Venetian Long thick Spaghetti with Salted Anchovies) during the days of fasting, as proclaimed by the Church, therefore for Good Friday, Christmas Eve and Ash Wednesday.

About Bigoli

Bigoli are very rough spaghetti type pasta that fit perfectly this wonderful sauce made with anchovies. Very similar to thick spaghetti, bigoli are a type of pasta that is still prepared in many Venetian houses using a press, that is why they have a rough surface; in addition to being prepared with wheat flour, they can also be produced with wholemeal flour, with or without eggs.

Christmas recipe: Bigoli in Salsa by Cook in Venice |

Photo credit: Rocco Paladino

Bigoli are a simple pasta, traditional peasant and of very ancient origins: they have a diameter of 2-3 mm and they are 25-30 cm long, simply prepared with wheat flour, salt and water. Very little water, just enough to get the dough to turn into a solid dough which can be passed through the press to obtain the bigoli.

Once the bigoli come out of the press, you put them to dry on the Perteghe or perteghele (if smaller), sticks of bamboo cane propped between the backs of chairs.

The press, in Italian “torchio”, is a tool only used to make bigoli and it is called in Venetian “bigolaro”. Legend has it that in 1604 a pasta maker of Padua, called “Abbondanza” asked and obtained by the then Council of the City the permission to have the patent of a machine of his own invention. Mr. Abbondanza, with his machine was able to produce various types of long pasta, but among the various options the Venetians loved the bigoli the most.

Venetian grandmothers used to make the bigoli with a home-cooking Bigolaro, a press which was fixed to the table: the Nonna would put a bowl on a chair which would be positioned under the Bigolaro and then press the dough with the machine and the long spaghetti fell into the basin below.

But why are the called bigoli?

Some people think that the name “bigoli” comes from the curved rod with two hooks at the end, which was used to transport buckets of water or milk crates resting them on the shoulders and that it was also a unit of measure (bi = two and angoli=angle = neck).

There also those who believe that the name derives from the verb “bighellonare” (loitering), which in Venetian dialect means, in its origin, going out to party. But nobody really knows!

Recipe: Bigoli in Salsa

The original recipe calls for homemade pasta (maybe like “bigoi de Bassan”) but if you cannot find them, you can safely use the classic spaghetti, better if wholegrain.

Ingredients for 4 people

1 spoonful of extra virgin olive oil
1 thinly diced white onion
2 spoons of dry white wine
6 salted sardines (thouroughly rinsed) or 8 anchovies in oil
400 gr bigoli or wholemeal spaghetti


Finely dice the onion.

Place a spoon of olive oil in a saucepan over a low heat and place the onion in it.

Fry very very gently and keep adding a spoon or two of wine to avoid the browning of the onion.

Rinse the sardines under cold running water, take the bones and innards off and cut the sardines in very small pieces.

As soon as the onion is nice and soft but still white add the sardines and keep cooking for a little longer until it become a very thick paste.

Christmas recipe: Bigoli in Salsa by Cook in Venice |

Photo credit: Rocco Paladino

In the meantime bring a pan full of salted water to the boil. As soon as the water boils, drop the bigoli or spaghetti in it. Cook al dente and drain.

Place the bigoli back on the pan where you cooked them and mix them with the prepared sardine sauce and gently cook for 1 minute longer. Serve immediately!


Author’s Bio: Monica Cesarato is a native Italian from Venezia. She loves to talk about Venice, Veneto and Italy in general and offers several services in Venice ranging from food and ghosts tours to cooking classes. To chat with her about all things Italian, connect with her on Twitter @monicacesarato

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