Bigoli are a long thick pasta, originally made with buckwheat flour but now normally made with whole wheat flour, water and salt. They look like a thick spaghetti but, are quite rough on the outside, which means they hold sauces well. They originate from the Veneto region, but are also popular in Eastern Lombardy.
A little bit of Bigoli history!
Bigoli have been made and eaten in Veneto since the time of the Venetian Republic. Legend has it that in 1604 a pasta maker from Padua, called Bartolomio Veronese but nicknamed ‘Abundance’ because of his size, applied to the city council for a patent for a machine he had invented which made long pasta. This machine was made of wood and cylindrical in shape. It allowed the dough, which was inserted from above, to be compressed using a lever and a piston and then passed through a perforated filter. The result was a long pasta similar to Neapolitan spaghetti, but much larger (2 to 2.5 mm in diameter) and quite coarse on the surface.
There are a number of different opinions on where the name ‘Bigoli’ comes from. Some say it derives from the local dialect word ‘bigat’, which means caterpillar or from the Latin ‘bombyx’ meaning bug. Others think that the word ‘bigoli’ refers to the curved rod with a hook at each end, which was carried on the shoulders and used to transport buckets of water or milk urns. And there are other theories, of course!
From the end of 17th century, Abundance’s ‘bigolaro’, as it was called, became popular in the north-east of Italy. It was used mostly by poorer families because they could make a very inexpensive dough with it, which didn’t include eggs. At that time, eggs were used as coins in exchange for goods, so one egg could buy its equivalent weight in sugar or salt. Since most families had their own chickens, eggs were not scarce, but they were used primarily as ‘money’.
The bigoli dough was made from flour, a pinch of salt and enough water to make the dough firm but elastic. The bigolaro was fixed to a table, or some types would be attached to a stool on which the person operating the bigolaro would sit. As soon as they were made, the bigoli were hung to dry over sticks suspended between two chairs. Locally, these sticks were called ‘perteghe’ or ‘perteghete’, depending on their length.
Traditionally, bigoli are eaten with a duck or meat sauce, as well as with anchovies (or salted sardines) or in the Lake Garda area, with a lake fish known as Alborelle. This pasta was and is the most common dish eaten in Veneto during days of abstinence and fasting such as Christmas Eve, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Almost all the cities in Veneto had and have ‘bigoli in sauce’ days, when bigoli are prepared with salted sardines, plus a variety of other ingredients which differ from city to city. However, they are also traditionally served with turnip greens and sausage, swordfish and cherry tomatoes, gorgonzola cheese or with goose and porcini mushrooms, or just with the porcini. Whichever bigoli dish you choose to try, if you haven’t eaten bigoli before, I guarantee you will love them!