Pasta with Onions and Anchovies / Bigoli in Salsa

I know it’s barely been a couple of weeks since I posted a recipe for a bowl of hearty, comforting pasta that was inspired by domestic goddess Nigella Lawson. While I was sure that the main star of that particular dish (Marmite) would already evoke lots of mixed reactions, today’s post features another recipe for a hearty bowl of pasta inspired by Nigella that contains another ingredient people feel very strongly about: salted anchovies. Oh my!


A couple of weeks ago, Nigella posted her take on the traditional Venetian dish ‘Bigoli in Salsa’ – a pasta dish that is traditionally made with bigoli (a thick spaghetti-like pasta made from whole-, or buckwheat) onions, and salt-cured fish such as anchovies, or sardines. I’m a simple person. I see an easy-to-make pasta dish with a couple of umami-rich and strong-flavored ingredients and I want to eat it. Immediately. Like, right now.

So, after seeing Nigella’s post I immediately did some quick ‘research’ into the dish a.k.a. watching lots videos of Italian grannies cooking said dish (I believe, one of the channel’s I’ve watched was literally called ‘Pasta Grannies’).

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The first thing I noticed was that while Nigella’s version contains a splash of milk and a knob of butter to undoubtedly make the sauce more indulgent and creamy (which is something I can definitely appreciate most times), all of the Italian nonna’s on YouTube seemed to do a more straightforward and uncomplicated version that predominantly contained soft-cooked onions combined with a few anchovies and a bit of wine, or water. 

Now, I always love a creamy, indulgent dinner, but for this one I decided to stick with the ‘onion-and-anchovy-only’ version for now, since… well… I can’t possibly defy the experience and knowledge of those nonna’s, can I? (Neither Nigella’s knowledge. It was a tough decision to make.)


My version here has under 10 ingredients (7 to be precise, one of which is water and one is pepper) and also heavily relies on the slow-cooked, very lightly caramelized onions mixed with lots of melty, salty anchovies to give the sauce that almost cream-like consistency and indulgent savoriness.


Oh. And just a final little note to the anchovies-haters out there: while the number of anchovies in this dish is quite generous, the flavor is actually quite mellow after they melt into the sweet, onion-y sauce and they merely add a nice level of umami without making the dish taste overly fishy (you can always add about half of the suggested amount if you’re hesitant).
Promise. Try it.


Pasta with Onions and Anchovies / Bigoli in Salsa

5.0 rating based on 2 ratings
  • DF
My take on the traditional Venetian dish ‘bigoli in salsa’ made with wholewheat spaghetti, onions, and anchovies.
  • Difficulty:Easy
  • Prep Time:5 mins
  • Cook Time:35 mins
  • Serves:4
  • Freezable:No

Nutrition per portion

  • 3 - 4 medium yellow, or white onions (about 400g)
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 120ml water, or dry white wine
  • 12 - 14 oil-packed anchovy fillets, from a tin/jar
  • 400g whole-wheat spaghetti (or other ‘long’ pasta such as linguine)
  • Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Few sprigs of fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  1. Prepare the onions: Chop the onions as small as you can to reduce the cooking time and make the sauce creamy and smooth.
  2. Sweat the onions: Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large high-rimmed frying pan over medium heat. Add the very finely chopped onion to the pan and sauté until they become translucent and start to soften for around 10 minutes.
  3. Simmer the onion-sauce: When the onions have become soft, add 120ml of water, or dry white wine to the pan. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to medium-low. Cook the onions in the liquid for 20 minutes until they almost fall apart and become slightly mushy and creamy. Stir frequently to avoid burning.
  4. Add the anchovies:Roughly chop the oil-packed anchovy fillets and add them to the pan with the onions. Cook on low heat for about 5 - 10 minutes more until the anchovies have disintegrated and are well incorporated into the sauce. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  5. Meanwhile cook the pasta: When the onions are almost done cooking and you are about to add the anchovies to the sauce, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once the water boils, add the whole-wheat spaghetti and cook until al dente. When the pasta is done, drain, but reserve 100ml of the pasta’s cooking liquid for the sauce later.
  6. Mix pasta and sauce: Add boiled pasta to the frying pan with the onion and anchovy sauce. Toss to coat all strands of pasta with the sauce. If necessary, add some of the reserved pasta cooking liquid to loosen the strands.
  7. To serve: Serve immediately with some finely chopped fresh parsley sprinkled on top.

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