Bigoli and the bigolaro!
Bigoli is a long thick pasta, originally made with buckwheat flour but now normally made with whole wheat or 00 flour, egg (often duck eggs), water or milk, butter and salt. It looks like a thick spaghetti but, is quite rough on the outside, which means it holds sauces well. It originates from the Veneto region where I live, but is also popular in Eastern Lombardy.
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 (3 to 4 mm in diameter) and quite coarse on the surface.
What does the word ‘bigoli’ mean?
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!
Some more bigoli history!
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 pasta with it, which didn’t include eggs. Nowadays fresh bigoli are often made with eggs, especially duck eggs, but 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’ by the poor.
In the past, the bigoli dough was made from flour, a pinch of salt and enough water to make it firm but elastic. The bigolaro was fixed to a table, or some types could 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.
Here in Veneto, there are still restaurants and home cooks that make their own bigoli with a bigolaro! I have also read that it’s possible to make this pasta with a meat grinder but to be honest I have never tried to make it. Here, many supermarkets sell good quality freshly made bigoli, so I allow myself the luxury of buying it ready!
Traditionally, this pasta is eaten with a duck ragu or a meat sauce or sausage ragu, as well as with anchovies (or salted sardines) or in the Lake Garda area, with a lake fish known as Alborelle. It is also the most common pasta 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 this pasta is prepared with salted sardines, plus a variety of other ingredients which differ from city to city. However, it is 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!