The Bitten Word is a blog I love for many reasons, though two stand out the most. First the name — it’s so perfect that every time I read it, I get jealous that it isn’t the name of my blog. (I’m trying to get over that but it’s hard!) And next, because they clearly love food magazines just as much as I do.
I love comparing their opinions on recipes after I’ve made them and I also read their reviews if I’m hesitant about trying something. In fact, their hilarious and clever review of Food & Wine’s General Tso’s chicken was what encouraged me to make it in the first place.
So when I saw that the writers do a cover-to-cover challenge for Bon Appetit’s Restaurant Issue, I signed up immediately. Here’s the low down: submit the form and get an email with your assignment a few days later.
But when the day came and emails were sent out, my inbox remained empty. I anxiously checked my spam folder and still nothing. So disappointed! But I emailed Clay, one of the writers, who apologized and said to pick something on my own that I felt challenged by.
I thought it would be easy to choose but every recipe I looked at seemed fairly simple. I wanted to really push myself so in the end I settled on the Strozzapreti with preserved lemons and spinach. The pasta recipe itself wasn’t difficult, in fact, it’s really simple dish but I decided to make my own pasta, something I had never done before…well, at least not since culinary school.
My husband and my friend DB were equally shocked by this admission but whenever we’ve made pasta as a group, they are usually in charge of the dough while I work on different projects. It’s a bit like trying to remember the directions to a place when someone else has always driven you.
First up was making the pasta, which was eggless, something else that was new to me. I made it all by hand, no stand mixer and no pasta roller, just to up the challenge factor. I didn’t use the fine durum wheat flour and instead stuck to the A/P and semolina blend. The dough was really tough to knead, and with no additional wetness from the eggs it was very dry. But once it had been kneaded for about ten minutes and rested for an hour, it was surprisingly pliable.
Making the strozzapreti was a somewhat tedious task, especially when you add in the worry that they looked a bit wonky. And as the dough dried out, it became brittle causing a few of my strands to break. However I took heart this quote from the Philip Krajeck of Rolf and Daughters (the chef behind the recipe): “Your pasta doesn’t have to look perfect. I fret about it in the restaurant, but that’s my job. At home, it’s just about the experience. If some pieces are weird or thicker or chewier, all the better.”
Sure, my little guys didn’t stay as tightly rolled as I would have liked, but nonetheless I was pretty proud of my efforts.
Once I had the pasta formed, the rest of the dish came together with ease. I made the breadcrumbs — which were fabulous. Garlicky, buttery and full of lemon zest, they were so delicious I actually ate a spoonful (or two) of them while I cooked. Yes, that good.
Then I cooked the pasta to al dente which took just five minutes. Finally it was time to brown some butter and add the spinach, pasta and accompaniments, tossing until everything was hot.
The result was good. The pasta was pleasingly chewy, the preserved lemon added a depth that’s hard to describe (I guess umani would suffice) while the fresh lemon juice and zest kept it fresh. The spinach I was a little less excited about. Half is added early and half goes in at the very end. Next time I think I’d save it all for last as I prefer it more wilted than thoroughly cooked down. But still, as a whole, it was a pretty damn delicious dinner.
What elevated it to the level of amazing? Those breadcrumbs. The crunch was perfect. The garlic came through just enough and the flavor was superb. It’s almost embarrassing at how fast I ate this. Think inhaled.
Will I make it again? You can count on it.