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Lazy Person's Taste the Salt Pasta

Lazy Person's
"Taste the Salt" Pasta
Story/recipe and photos by Tom Weber

You really haven't experienced Vicenza, much less its regional matriarch – the Veneto in Northeastern Italy – until you've sat down at the table and enjoyed a traditional pasta dish of BIGOLI (BEE-goh-lee) in some sort of fashion.

bigoli pasta noodles

These moist, thick, lengthy strands of pasta noodles – made with eggs and whole-wheat flour – are one of the culinary cornerstones that define Vicenza, its province and the Greater Veneto region. It's not the only star of the kitchen, but it's one of the most popular.

the Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza, Italy
Piazza dei Signori - Vicenza, Italy

Bigoli ranks right up there with minestre (soups), risotto (rice dishes), polenta (cornmeal) and baccalà (salted, dried codfish) as the crown jewels of the tried-and-true, traditional kitchen of the Veneto.

Vicenza's preferred pasta is topped with a variety of different sauces, including: l'anitra (duck meat), ragu' alla bolognese (meat, pork or a mixture of both in tomato sauce), salsa (anchovies and onions) and tastasale (minced and seasoned pork meat).

tastasale or minced and seasoned pork cooking

For this recipe, I've selected TASTASALE to compliment our bigoli, and we'll plate this stellar primo piatto (first course) in under 30-minutes, or YOU DON'T PAY!

Before we head into the galley, let's go inside the tastasale.

outside the entryway of a pork-only butcher shop in Norcia, Italy
Outside the entryway of a norceria – pork-only butcher shop – Norcia (PG), Italy

In the late fall-early winter all across Italy, when all those little piggies go to the market – the lucky ones get to stay home – the freshly minced and seasoned pork that goes into sausage making is sometimes set aside and sold in packets, much like hamburger meat, for use in meat sauces – ragu' – to go into a risotto or over pasta, like our bigoli. That style of rice or pasta dish is called al tastasale: risotto al tastasale, bigoli al tastasale, etc.

A butcher who specializes in pork-only products around the Veneto is known as a Masciaro – I should know; I married the butcher's daughter!

miinced pork for a tastasale

When preparing the fresh pork for processing into sausage or tastasale, the masciaro minces the pork and adds various herbs and spices to make each run slightly different from the previous lots and the ones to follow. Some sausages might be spicy, some sweet, some aromatic, etc. In all the sausage runs, salt is always added regardless of the herb-spice combination, because salt contributes to flavor and firmness, and retains the juiciness and water content of the pork during cooking.

Roughly 2% of the minced sausage mixture should be salt, with a maximum somewhere between 4-5% per 100 grams. An amount above the 5% limit would make the minced pork too salty.

minced pork

To guard against adding too much salt, the masciari are constantly checking the mixtures. Someone along the preparation process will be yelling out to someone else, TASTA SALE! It's from the Italian verb TASTARE – literally, to feel, examine, test – and the noun SALE – salt. So, tasta sale means to check the pork mixture to make sure just right amount of sale is in there.

Put the two words together – TASTA and SALE – and, Voila!, TASTASALE.

Now, let's grab a couple of aprons and head into the galley and get this touchy-feely dish underway.

__________________________________

LAZY PERSON'S BIGOLI AL TASTASALE

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 500 gr (1.1 lb.) pre-packaged tastasale
  • 500 gr (1.1 lb.) pre-packaged bigoli
  • 1/2 medium sized white onion or 1 whole scallion
  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 1 glass of red wine
  • 3 tablespoons of virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of dried spicy red pepper flakes (optional)

Prep and cooking time: 30 min.

__________________________________

Step-1: Dice the celery and onion

diced celery and onion

Step-2: Coat the skillet with olive oil, set on MEDIUM-HIGH heat and introduce the celery-onion mix and sauté until it becomes light brown.

celery-onion mix sauted in olive oil

Step-3: Place the minced pork into the skillet and immediately begin to break it up into smaller pieces. Continue stirring until the pork mixture begins to brown slightly.

minced pork placed into onion-celery mixture

Step-4: Add the wine. Periodically stir the mixture until the liquid reduces down and the pork becomes deep brown and slightly crunchy – approximately 20-min – remove from heat and turn off burner.

pork, onion-celery mixture cooking in red wine and olive oil

Step-5: Place bigoli into slightly salted pot of boiling water. Stir immediately and let them cook for approximately 10-11 min., or until the pasta is al dente.

bigoli pasta cooking in a pot of boiling water

Step-6: Remove bigoli from the water and introduce them into the skillet with the tastasale. Add red pepper flakes (optional). Sauté for 1-min. on MEDIUM-HIGH heat or until the pasta is well coated with the pork mixture.

bigoli added to minced pork, onion and celery mixture

Step-7: Plate and top with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese.

grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese over cooked bigoli al tastasale

Step-8: BUON APPETITO!

finished bigoli al tastasale

__________________________________

Recommended Wine Pairing: Puntay Merlot Reserva DOC (2008), Erste + Neue, Caldaro (BZ), Italy.

Puntay Merlot Reserva DOC (2008)

In the mid 1900s, two vineyards, Erste (first) and Neue (new), joined forces to form Erste + Neue, a highly respected co-operative, overseeing 430 area vineyards and managing their wine economy and trade.

inside the Puntay Cellar, Trentino Alto Adige, Italy
Inside the Puntay Cellar | photo courtesy © Erste + Neue, Lago di Caldaro (BZ), Italy

The E+N co-operative sits along the prestigious Strada del Vino (Road of Wine) overlooking picturesque Lago di Caldara (Caldara Lake) in the Trentino Alto Adige (South Tyrol) region of northern Italy.

Puntay Merlot Reserva DOC (2008)  and bread

Puntay Merlot Reserva DOC (2008) is an intense garnet red (14% alcohol) that overflows with fragrances of blackberries and black cherries with soft touches of vanilla. This delicious dry red has well-defined tannins and a long-lasting finish.

This wine pairs perfectly with roasted meats, aged cheeses and pasta in heavy meat sauces, like our Bigoli al Tastasale.

__________________________________


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Hi Audrey,

Love your lamb shanks.

--- Paul, Scottsdale AZ

Haven't been called Tad for . . .gee, maybe I've NEVER been called Tad . . . guess I'm the only one with chutzpah enough to mention Bourdain. BRILLIANT?

--- Ken, Shutesbury, MA

I think we must have had an entirely different experience in the UK. (Fresh Food and Real Ale – week 1). We were up in Edinburgh and they served something called ‘Neeps & Tatties.’ The items were boiled so long that I couldn’t even recognize what I was eating. Come to think of it… I couldn’t taste them either. Later I found that Neeps’ are Turnips and ‘Tatties’ are potatoes.

--- Lindy, Phoenix, AZ

My mouth was watering as I read some of your descriptions of the fantastic fare of ... England? I had always felt smug about the lowly reputation of British cuisine as this gave us at least one country with a worse culinary reputation than America's. I guess I'll have to change my views. Your article made me actually want to take a CULINARY tour of Britain. Yummy yummy yummy.

--- Sandy Miner, Portland, OR

Thanks for your note. Thanks to Traveling Boy I get to interview a world famous chef this week who is widely recognized as spearheading the Yummy movement in Ireland. Guess I'll have to take yet another culinary tour a little further north and check it out... (I love my job!) --- Audrey

Very interesting, mouth-watering piece by Audrey! (A McDreamy McMeel). Your web site is fascinating!

--- Susie, Victoria, BC

Combining travel, food, and intelligent advice -- BRILLIANT! Your site fills a long-felt need for hungry roamers. Keep it up! It's Anthony Bourdain with reservations and CLASS.

--- Tad, Boston, MA


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