Venetian 'bigoli in salsa’ - Italian spaghetti recipe with onion & anchovy


This deliciously light, sweet and oniony Italian spaghetti recipe, which translates simply as ‘bigoli in sauce’, is traditionally eaten the evening before the Venetian festival of La Festa del Redentore on July 19th (an event that commemorates the end of a nasty year-long plague that struck Venice in 1575).

Bigoli pasta itself is effectively very similar to spaghetti, only a little thicker, and available only in and around the Venice region of Italy (however a very similar pasta shape is found in Tuscany too, called ‘pici’ or ‘pinci’).

Italian spaghetti recipe bigoli in salsa

Back in the day bigoli was made by squeezing, or ‘extruding’, the shapes out of a ‘bigolo’ machine (why of course!), kind of like you see with minced beef at the butcher’s (see pic here). It was traditionally made using buckwheat flour but typically these days its makers often opt for whole wheat instead; giving modern bigoli a slightly darker finish than normal store-bought durum wheat spaghetti.

With this moreish dish the bigoli (or if you can’t get to Venice, whole wheat spaghetti) is twinned with a sweet-tasting, almost transculent onion sauce - or ‘salsa’ - into which a handful of anchovies have been gently disolved.

It’s so scrummy, and smells like an Italian bakery that’s just cooked up a batch of onion focaccia. Mmm…

Fishy note: If you don’t like anchovies, you should still giving this Italian spaghetti recipe a whirl, as its taste is that of luscious creamy onions, not fish.

Serves 4

onion spaghettiIngredients:

400g/14oz bigoli/wholewheat spaghetti

5 anchovies (bone-free if possible)

2-3 large onions (ideally white)

Extra virgin olive oil


Black pepper

Small glass of dry white wine

STEP 1 – First, the anchovies:

- Rinse these to remove any excess salt and chop off their ends.

- If they have spines, also remove these by chopping down the middle and lifting/chopping out the spine with your knife/fingers.

Note: This de-boning can be a little tricky, but take your time and don’t worry if you make a mess of the fish… it’s only for flavor, not presentation. (And if some tiny side bones remain, don’t worry… these will dissolve in the pan along with the fish ‘flesh’.).

- Now chop the remaining fish flesh very finely.

onion spaghettiSTEP 2 - Peel and de-end the onions, then slice as thinly as you possibly can.

STEP 3 - Cover most of base of frying pan with oil. Heat oil through, then turn down to medium heat and add onions. Cover if possible.

- Fry onions on medium lively heat for somewhere around 10 mins, stirring regularly to stop them sitting in one sport and turning brown.

The aim here? To soften and turn these onions a light gold colour, rather than burnt brown.

STEP 4 - Turn the heat down to medium/low and remove the lid.

- Add the anchovies, breaking these into paste with your spoon.

easy Italian spaghetti recipe- Next add the wine bit by bit, poring only after the previous glug has largely evaporated. Also add a good pinch of pepper.

- Pop the lid back on and fry all gently on this low heat, for roughly 10 mins, so that the onions gradually melt into a creamy caramelized sauce.

Tip: Keep this sauce moist and bubbling even longer (on a very low heat), while we cook the bigoli.

STEP 5 – Boil up the bigoli/spaghetti in salted water as per packet’s timings, then drain and add to pan of sauce. Turn up high for a minute, mixing through dxdthoroughly.

To serve: grind a little fresh black pepper over each dish.

Planning a trip to Venice?

If you're planning to hit this most special of European cities, pay a visit to the wonderful Giacomo Rizzo pasta store in the city center. It was the lovely lady there who told me all about this recipe!

Venetian masks of Venice

And for your next Italian spaghetti recipe?

If you enjoyed this onion spaghetti, try these other delectable spaghetti dishes.

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