When we visited Venice we were surprised to learn that the cuisine wasn’t all pasta pasta pasta – rice dishes such as risotto are more typical of the region. And of course there is lots of seafood on offer.
When we explored the Rialto market we fell for the touristy foodie goodies – from different types of pasta to various herb and spice mix condiments. All wrapped up very prettily and ideal as a souvenir.
We wanted to try to make a sauce that was typically Venetian and came across salsa with bigoli.
This Venetian sauce is brilliant because it has a minimal number of ingredients, is really simple to cook, but packs a real punch in terms of flavour. The predominant flavours are sweet – from the onions which have a natural sweetness (any acrid onion flavour gets cooked away) – as well as salt and umami from the fish. It’s a fantastic combination.
Tinned fish is really popular these days and this recipe is great for using cheap ingredients – just onion and a couple of tins of fish. However, it does require quite a long cooking time, which uses energy, so we recommend making it in bulk and then freezing the leftovers. Then you can always have some to hand – just defrost and reheat.
Traditionally this sauce is served with bigoli, the pasta of choice in Venice. It’s like a big spaghetti, long and with a rough texture to soak up the sauce. We find it quite difficult to get bigoli in the UK, so spaghetti or tagliatelle work well as substitutes.
How to Make Venetian Pasta Sauce
Serves 4 people (or 2 and you can freeze any leftovers). Or double up and make a large quantity to freeze.
2 large onions
1 tin of anchovies in oil
1 tin of sardines in oil
Black pepper to taste and green herb such as parsley to garnish
Pasta of your choice to serve it with (bigoli is traditional)
Chop the onions very finely. When you think you’ve chopped them finely enough, chop them some more. The aim is to cook them to a mush.
Put the very finely chopped onions into a pan and add water – just to the level of the onions. Use a low heat to cook them. Keep an eye on the water and top up a little if it evaporates.
After around 35-45 minutes the onions should be nicely mushy. If there is still water in the pan, turn up the heat briefly to let it evaporate off. Otherwise use a potato masher or a wooden spoon to mash them if needed.
Open the sardine and anchovy tins and chop the fish finely. Retain any oil that’s in the tin.
Add the chopped fish to the onions and stir. Let them dissolve into the mixture.
That’s it. The sauce is ready. Keep it warm on a low heat while you cook your pasta.
We didn’t have any bigoli on hand but we did have some tagliatelle, bought in Venice as a souvenir, in the colours of the Italian flag, which we felt was an appropriate pasta to use.
Cook the pasta. When we cooked the pasta we didn’t add salt to the water because the anchovies are pretty salty, but season to your taste if needed.
Add the pasta to the sauce and mix. We seasoned with freshly milled black pepper and our garnish was some foraged garlic mustard leaves but a green herb like parsley will be fine as well.
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