"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.
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
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
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
Outside the entryway of a norceria pork-only
butcher shop Norcia
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!
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Step-7: Plate and top with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
or Grana Padano cheese.
Step-8: BUON APPETITO!
Recommended Wine Pairing: Puntay Merlot Reserva
DOC (2008), Erste + Neue, Caldaro (BZ), Italy.
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 | 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) 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.