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Making Bigoli With Dad

 When it comes to kitchen heirlooms, I’ve inherited more than my share of cool stuff that was used by my ancestors, both here and in Italy. I’ve got hand-carved wooden spoons used by my paternal grandmother to stir kettles of tomato paste and melting lard; an anolini cutter that my maternal grandmother in Italy employed when she made the traditional pasta of her region; and a 75 year-old enormous wooden pasta board that belonged to my mother-in-law. But the niftiest of all is this gadget called a torchio that my mother handed down to me decades ago when she was still alive. When she was growing up in Italy, it was mounted on the kitchen wall in her home, and her mother made pasta with it, extruding the dough through the heavy brass dies. For years it sat covered in cloth in my basement cabinet, until one day several years ago when my dad offered to make a bench for it.  

These are the brass dies that extrude the pasta – some are round for spaghetti, another is flat for linguini, and the one with the larger holes churns out pasta that’s tubular, called bigoli, not unlike bucatini.
A die is affixed to the end of the brass tube, and then the dough is inserted. The rotating head with the selected die is pushed down over the dough. It’s not as easy as it seems because getting the right consistency is crucial and it takes a lot of muscle to turn the crank. I found that using half semolina flour and half “00” flour from Italy works best. If you can’t find “00” flour near where you live, it’s available online from King Arthur Flour, a great website to peruse in any event.  Humidity also plays a part in the amount of flour to use, and you might have to add more or less wet ingredients depending on the day. I always find it easier to set aside some of the dry mixture and get the dough a little wetter initially, then add more flour. It’s a lot easier than having dough that won’t stick together and then adding more water.

It should come out of the machine like this. If it’s sticking together, your dough is too wet. This dough has to be drier than most pasta dough, making it harder to knead than most. I put a little semolina in the bowl beneath the pasta to help keep the strands separated.

You cut them off at whatever length you like.
Here’s a short video of my dad turning the crank. As I mention on the video, my 91 year-old dad had more strength than both his wife and I put together.

This pasta recipe below makes enough for about six people.

It takes a little longer to cook than most fresh pasta, partly because of the thickness, and partly because semolina is a “hard” flour. That also means it retains its “al dente” characteristic even if you cook it a little longer.
We served it with a duck ragù, the traditional sauce for bigoli. Making the ragù was a two-day, intense effort that started with inaugurating my brand new oven with the fat that splattered out from cooking a whole duck. It was worth the effort, but I don’t plan on making it again anytime soon. Save that duck fat because it’s great for roasting potatoes. However, boiling the duck might make for easier cleanup next time.
Toss the cooked pasta with some of the ragù in a pan.
And sit down to eat a plateful of one of the most flavorful, intensely rich pastas ever. Memories not included. You don’t really need a torchio machine to enjoy this ragù. Use any sturdy, artisanal pasta from Italy like rigatoni or pappardelle.

But if you’re yearning for your own torchio machine, fear not.  They’re for sale in stores in Italy, but here in the states you can buy one online, including at this site,  if you’re willing to plunk down close to $400. Of course, it won’t have the nostalgia factor mine does, but you can create your own future heirloom.
Incidentally, here are a few more kitchen “heirlooms” I thought I’d show you.

The knives were made by my grandfather, who carved pieces of wood for the handles and ground files for the blade (the kind you buy at a hardware store, not the kind you use for your manicure). Some of the blades are quite thin, because whenever I would ask him to sharpen them, he would sit down at his grinding wheel in the basement and sharpen them so vigorously that most of the carbon steel he used would be ground away. The forks in the photo have a special memory for me too. Whenever my grandfather visited anyone in the family, he pried open a kitchen fork to widen the tines, probably so he could get more food in his mouth. Even though he died in 1978, I still use these forks — not for eating, but they’re a great tool when you’re cooking and want to separate things that are sticking together.

Pasta dough for bigoli (makes enough for six servings)
300 grams semolina flour
300 grams 00 flour (or all purpose flour if you can’t find 00)
4 eggs
1 T. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
enough water as requiredMix the flours and salt, (reserving about one cup to add a little at a time after you’ve added the other ingredients.) Put everything in a bowl, or on a board, making a “well.” Put the eggs and olive oil in the well, and start whisking with a whisk or a fork, grabbing a little of the flour into the egg mixture. Keep mixing until it gets too hard to use a fork or whisk, then use your hands and blend all the ingredients together. If it’s sticky, use some of the reserved one cup of flour. Keep kneading until it becomes smooth. I warn you though, it’s not an easy dough to knead and because of the semolina, it won’t be as smooth as regular pasta dough. This dough has to be really dry to work in the torchio machine.

Duck Ragù  (This will make enough to serve with about two pounds of pasta)
 
1 whole duck, about 5 lb. , roasted (preferably the day before so it can cool enough for you to take the meat off the bones and make stock).Strip the meat from the cooled duck, getting rid of all the skin and fat under the skin. You should have about 2 cups of duck meat. Set the meat aside in the refrigerator while you make the ragù.

Take the remaining bones and make a stock from them, by adding them to a pot with water, onion, carrot, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cook it down for about 1 hour, letting it simmer. Remove bones and place liquid in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, skim off the fat and use the stock in the recipe below.

2 slices pancetta or bacon
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, minced (about 3/4 cup)
2 stalks of celery, minced (about 3/4 cup)
2 carrots, minced (about 1/2 cup)
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
the giblets, liver and heart from the duck, trimmed and chopped in small pieces
1 cup red wine
1 23 ounce can of tomatoes, broken up with your fingers or a spoon
1/2 of a 23 ounce can of tomato sauce or tomato puree
1 sprig rosemary, leaves stripped and minced
2 or 3 sage leaves
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup duck stock

Cook the pancetta or bacon until it gets a little color on it. It doesn’t need to be crisp. Add the olive oil and sauté the onion until limp. Add the celery, carrots and garlic and cook with the onions a few minutes. Add the giblets, liver and heart and sauté them until they’re browned. Add the red wine, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and the rest of the ingredients and let it simmer for about an hour. At this point, I removed the sage leaves and bay leaf, then took a stick blender and purèed the sauce. Then I added the reserved duck meat that had been sitting in the refrigerator, and I cooked the ragù for another two hours at very low heat. The longer you cook it, the better, so if you have more time, cook it for even three hours longer.

Serve over the pasta, with pecorino cheese sprinkled on top. (You need something more assertive than parmigiano cheese here.)

This Post Has 38 Comments
  1. Che pasta stupenda.. che momento di qualità. Tenerissimo.. quel torchio è fantastico e i bigoli devono essere usciti di un buono inimmaginabile! Un bacio a te e al papà 🙂 Buon lunedì!

  2. Devo ammettere che hai catturato tutta la mia attenzione con questi Bigoli fatti in modo tradizionale. Che bello poter avere questo strumento e che bello aver un papa' cosi' disponibile!! Brevissimi.

  3. Linds ~ your torchio is something to be treasured. But the even bigger treasure, of course, is your dad! My mother just gave me her chitarra, which was given to her by her mother, but I'm afraid to use it. The wires seem too delicate so I think I'll just be hanging it in my kitchen. I think it's great that you are putting the torchio to use. The bigoli look absolutely delicious.

  4. Oh Linda! What a treasure! Even more so is to see your dad being able to turn the torchio! It makes wonderful pasta! My daughter has been seaching all over Colorado for her favorite pasta shape–bucatini–as she loves to make as simple white sauce out of ricotta for it. I think we will ahve to seach out a cheaper pasta machine and make our own as Colorado sadly does nit have mnay Italian specialty markets.

    Your duck sauce looks amazing! I wonder if a rabbit ragu would also be as good for this pasta shape? Less messy!

    I was admiring your stove in the photos –is it a 6 burner? I told my husband that I love my new kitchen, as it is bigger than my Brooklyn one, but I now need a 6 burner stove. I don't think thta will happen any time soon..lol!

    You are fortunate to have so many family heirlooms and know the stories behind them.

  5. You have so many treasure heirlooms Linda with so many special memories attached, you need to write a book about all of it. I have to say how blessed you are to have your dad, with his great big smile, sitting on a bench that he created making pasta in your kitchen, that's the best memory ever! That pasta looks darn good btw!

  6. That has got to be the coolest pasta-making gadget that I have EVER seen! Love the bigoli too! I'll have to try and locate that pasta shape or keep using bucatini! What a wonderful labor of love from your dad, Linda! Cherish him! You are so fortunate to have a father so willing to share your Italian heritage!

    Hugs,
    Roz

  7. Make lots and lots of bigoli with your dad. That opening photo just spelled joy. You are the perfect person to entrust these heirlooms to – because you get it, know it, love it.

    And the food just delights.

  8. Linda, I always love your posts and this one with your Dad is gorgeous and nostalgic. Beautiful! Your Dad is so strong and "in gamba" (this is the only phrase I really want to use and you will know what I mean). I am feeling very mellow after watching and reading your post.

  9. aw, the video of your dad is too cute! what a painstaking process, wow. it really makes you appreciate the meal i bet. such unique treasures! the bench AND your father, i mean. 😉

  10. aw, the video of your dad is too cute! what a painstaking process… you'd really appreciate the end result i bet! such unique treasures. the bench AND your father, i mean. 😉

  11. I came across this article when researching bigoli after reading about the shape in my Italian grammar book. Thank you so much for sharing this process, recipe and family history with us all.

    Even though you posted this a while ago, I'm going to include it in the weekly link round-up on my blog. Love it!

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