The Mozza Cookbook, out now from Knopf (buy on Amazon), is Los Angeles chef/baker/restaurant owner Nancy Silverton's eighth cookbook and her second collaboration with food writer Carolynn Carreño. The book tells the story of Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza, the restaurants Silverton owns with Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali (who wrote the book's introduction). Below, Silverton talks Italian food, pizza technique, and what makes a killer cookbook.
You mention in the introduction that the world doesn't need another Italian cookbook. Why write one?
I think if you look at it deeper than just another Italian cookbook, there are some really terrific recipes and some great techniques. But that's for somebody who looks beyond just the names of the recipes. I think that where you see it the most is certainly not in the desserts, because they're very original, and certainly not in the antipasti. But I think more probably in the pasta, where we're not reinventing the wheel. So we're giving a lesson on how to make garganelli and how to make ravioli. There are so many pasta books out there. But I think that that is probably a pretty small part of the entire book.
Italian food is so popular now — Italian restaurants are everywhere, and a number of cookbooks have come across my desk this year. What sets this book apart from those?
Well all the recipes are from the restaurant, so that's different. Some of the books I've seen are just truly beautiful books. One is Colman Andrews' book, Country Cooking of Italy, but those are not recipes from a specific restaurant, you know, he consulted different people on different recipes. It's not as personal, although it's a beautiful, beautiful book.
Yeah, there's a lot of competition and they continue to come out. I know that [Philadelphia chef] Marc Vetri has one called Rustic Italian and Mario [Batali] has one of family Italian cooking right, and Lidia [Bastianich] has a new book coming out, so like you said, there is certainly a plethora of Italian cookbooks that one can choose from. Mozza has been so well received that we have a huge fan base and also our pizza has certainly gotten a lot of attention so hopefully nationwide people will see Mozza and connect it with that place they've been hearing about.
I'm glad you bring up Mozza's pizza, because that section in the book is super technical. I know you changed the recipe slightly from the restaurant recipe. How does one translate a complicated restaurant recipe for the home cook?
The only change that I made in the pizza recipe — the ingredients are exactly the same — it's the timing of the dough is a little different. And I found it was much more successful for the home cook to be able to start and finish the dough at room temperature.
We don't do that at the restaurant — ours is a much longer process, a two and a half day plus process. The reason why I changed that is that the dough works better at room temperature in a home oven, and the other thing is that there's such a variable in home refrigerators that when you have that small amount of dough and then you shape it in a small size anything can happen if it's not cold enough. This was a cookbook that was written for people to succeed at home, so I found that was the most successful method. That's the method that we teach at our cooking class, and everybody loves the pizza.
So do you truly think it's possible to get something that approaches a restaurant quality pizza in the home?
Absolutely. Absolutely. And I hear time and time again that people who use our pizza recipe — I just had someone come up to me at a book signing who said "Let me tell you, I've been making pizza for years, I've probably tried over a hundred recipes, and yours is by far the best." The key is the pizza stone. The pizza stone is going to give you that good bottom heat.
What's your writing process like? I know you worked with food writer Carolynn Carreno, with whom you've collaborated with in the past.
I don't claim to be a writer. I mean I certainly do write, but it takes me a lot longer to be able to write in as clear and concise a way as the writers with whom I've collaborated in the past. Certainly Carloynn. For me it's just so much easier to talk. So I think that the collaboration process is really important when you have a writer and you acknowledge having a writer, that they get your voice. That is something that I have made sure that all of the writers I've collaborated with, they write the way I talk.
So my collaboration is not only in the recipes and given directions, but just having chatter all the time. Every time we get together, whether it's in the restaurant or wherever, it's constantly being interviewed and reinterviewed over not only specific recipes but my take on Italian food, my take on eating, my take on what I consider my likes and my dislikes. And I certainly think that comes out very very clearly in the book. Writing up the directions for the recipes, that's the part that I find the most tedious. I mean, I could write the introduction but man, keeping track of all those recipes is really, really difficult.
So are you interested in cookbooks yourself? Do you collect them?
Yeah, yeah. Earlier on I'd buy a lot more cookbooks than I buy now, only because after awhile a lot of them are very similar. So I don't buy as many as I used to. I'm very specific about what I buy right now. Certainly I buy cookbooks of friends because I want to support them.
Do you have any particular favorites or influences on your own writing?
Besides the classics, the Julia Childs and the Elizabeth Davids and the Richard Olneys which I always turn back to all the time. I think Judy Rodgers is a terrific cookbook writer, I think Suzanne Goin did a great job with Sunday Suppers. You know, I like cookbooks where I really get to know the author. I also like cookbooks where I learned something. That are not just recipes.