Regular readers will know that I am a little obsessed with Chef Roberto Galetti’s Bigola Di Spinaci Al Brasato D’Anatra (homemade spinach noodles with a braised duck sauce). I could (and have) had a second portion of it for dinner in place of dessert. There is something extremely comforting, yet indulgent about it. After having played with his braised duck sauce recipe, I have taken to making large vats of it and freezing it in portions just enough for two. However, it has never quite tasted the same when it isn’t served with bigoli, the traditional pasta of Veneto which Chef Roberto pairs with his duck sauce. Traditionally, the long pasta has a thin hole running through the length of it (like bucatini). To make this pasta, one requires access to a bigolo, a hand-operated gizmo which every Venetian home used to have. Perhaps one day, I will get my hands on one. But I was thrilled to chance upon a recipe for bigoli all’anitra (bigoli cooked in duck broth) in Giuliano Bugialli’s Bugialli on Pasta which had instructions for making plain bigoli without the aid of a bigolo.
I loved the idea that it called for lots of eggs and some butter (I’d never made fresh pasta with butter before). Bugialli’s instructions for making fresh pasta alone make his book well worth purchasing. The initial steps are common enough: make a well in the centre of your mound of flour and place all the ingredients in it. For the bigoli, I placed the flour in a large bowl, made the well, and added the salt, butter (which I had diced ahead of time) and milk first. I cracked the three eggs into a separate bowl and lightly whisked them with a fork. Then I added some of the egg into the well and used the fork to incorporate the flour from the inner rim of the well. This helped to prevent the liquid from overflowing. As I incorporated more flour into the dough that was taking shape, making sure that flour was also getting under the mixture so that it would stick to the base of the bowl, I gradually added more of the egg until all of it was incorporated.
Once you are able to gather the mixture into a moist, shaggy ball of dough with your hands, remove it and set it aside. The remaining bits of dough and flour should go into a sifter. Sift the unincorporated flour onto a clean work surface. The bits of dough that remain in your sifter should be discarded. Bugialli says that they will not integrate into your wet dough and will cause lumps.
Next, knead the dough using the palm of one hand, folding the dough over with your other hand while making sure that it absorbs some of the leftover flour on your work surface. (Do not sprinkle flour over the dough.) By gradually incorporating more flour this way, you are better able to gauge just how much flour is needed in the pasta (depending on the flour you use and the climate you’re working in, the liquid to flour ratio can vary). Continue kneading for 2 to 3 minutes, absorbing the flour until the dough is no longer wet and all but 4 to 5 tablespoons of flour have been incorporated. You should end up with a ball of smooth, elastic dough. (It felt like fresh Playdoh.)
I covered the ball of dough with a damp kitchen towel while I set up my pasta machine. It was easiest to work with a quarter of the dough at a time. Flatten the dough portion with the palm of your hand so that it can fit between the rollers positioned at their widest setting. Roll the dough once, gently sweep one side of it over the remaining flour and fold the dough into thirds like a business letter (this means that you end up with a squat rectangle NOT an extremely skinny rectangle). Press down with your fingers so that the 3 layers are melded together. Pass the dough through the widest setting again. Repeat rolling and folding 8 to 10 times until the dough is very smooth and elastic. Next, stretch the dough by moving the rollers to a narrower setting (do not fold anymore). Flour the pasta sheet on both sides by drawing it across the flour on your work surface.
Pass the dough through the rollers once. Move the rollers down a notch then pass the dough through the rollers once and sprinkle with a little flour. For the bigoli, this was pretty quick since the pasta needs to be kept 1/8 inch thick. Cut it using the narrower, taglierini cutter. Traditionally, bigoli is kept 15 to 16 inches long. You end up with a noodle that has an almost square cross section. Let the bigoli rest on clean kitchen towels until they are needed. I must confess that I eagerly cooked a batch of pasta in salted boiling water once I was done with cutting the sheets. I loved the rich flavour and bite of the noodles. Paired with Chef Roberto’s duck sauce, they tasted heavenly.
Bugialli’s book gives more detailed instructions (with illustrations) and has recipes for a slew of different fresh pastas.