Q & A With Nancy Silverton: The Mozza Cookbook, The Problem of Gelato + Doing One Thing at a Time Very, Very Well
A. Scattergood Nancy Silverton and her new cookbook at Mozza
Nancy Silverton, who is an over-achiever in much the same way as is, say, Malcolm Gladwell, has had a productive summer even by her standards. Mozzas in Newport Beach and Singapore recently opened; Amy Pressman's burger project, Short Order, which Silverton consulted on, is coming next month; and her new cookbook is due out next week. The Mozza Cookbook is not your ordinary restaurant cookbook as much as a translation of technique and ethos, and a testament to attention. Written with Mozza executive chef Matt Molina and Carolynn Carreño, a Beard-winner who also co-wrote Silverton's A Twist of the Wrist, the book is a collection of the recipes, or most of them, from both the Pizzeria and the Osteria. Pizza dough! Gelato! That famous Butterscotch budino!
A little backstory for those of you who haven't spent the better part of the last decade or two on the bench between La Brea Bakery and Campanile, a sourdough boule beside you. Silverton grew up in Encino, went to college at Sonoma State ("I started cooking in the dorms") and dropped out in her senior year to cook somewhere outside of her dorm room. She went to Europe, cooked some more in the Valley ("pseudo-French bistros were very popular at the time") and then attended Le Cordon Bleu in London before coming back home and beginning her cooking career at Michael's, where she worked behind the cash register, of all places, before moving to the pastry kitchen. From Michael's to Spago to Campanile, with a few stops here and there, and thus to Mozza. For more about that, turn the page.
Nancy Silverton: Well, remember that the difference between a restaurant cookbook and a non-restaurant cookbook is that the restaurant already has a lot of recipes in its repertoire. You'd think, Oh, this book is going to be really easy because I've got all these recipes. Then when you try and break them down and write them up, it's really hard. This book was pretty much on time. They [the publisher] will probably say no, but once we signed the contract I don't think they gave us more than a year to do it. And then corrections, didn't come in a timely form -- just because it's daunting. They cut out... I have probably a whole other book that didn't make it into this one.
SI: Very cool. Mozza, Part 2.
NS: So it took probably a year and a half. It never seems like enough time.
SI: It's all the recipes from both Mozza's?
NS: Yes, recipes from the Pizzeria and the Osteria. But not all of them, because it would have just been too big.
SI: How did you decide?
NS: What went on the cutting room floor? Some recipes were a little bit repetitive. For example, we do this bucatini alla Amatriciana, right? Which is tomato, guanciale, and black pepper. And then we do this pasta alla Gricia, which is the same thing without the tomato. So it was easy to pick one of them.
SI: In this book you address the issue of things being done differently in a restaurant than they would be at home. Like pesto, which you say you prefer to make with a mortar and pestle. You don't do that at the restaurant.
NS: You could.
SI: If you had elves. Italian elves, maybe.
NS: But certainly it's a lot more difficult, a lot more costly. And so you try to do as little as possible that's hurtful, but in an economical way. You know, the hardest chapter was the gelato chapter. Most Italian cookbooks label their frozen custard section as gelato, because gelato is the Italian word for frozen Italian custard -- but it's made completely differently than American and French frozen custards. It's like when I say we a chapter on biscotti -- which we don't, we have some biscotti recipes -- and in your mind you might think, Oh, I know what biscotti are. But biscotti are cookies, even though it also means twice-cooked. It's the same with panini. Panini are sandwiches, although now we've come to think they're pressed sandwiches. Anyway, back to gelato. I set out to try and make sure that the mouthfeel of that frozen dessert was as close to gelato as possible without what gelato makers use, which are emulsifiers and some stabilizers.
The key differences between a gelato and a French ice cream are that there's far less butterfat in an Italian gelato. So if you look at Italian cookbooks, the gelato recipes they're giving use the French technique: half milk, half cream. There's much more milk than cream in all gelatos. Gelatos don't have to contain egg yolks, so we have some that have them and some that don't. But if there aren't egg yolks, your frozen dessert is going to taste a lot icier. So how do you get away with that without using commercial emulsifiers? We found using cornstarch to be a huge help. There were some gelatos that, no matter what we did and no matter how hard we tried, they didn't taste right. So we didn't include them.
SI: You don't use cornstarch at the restaurant.
NS: No. But we also use emulsifiers to help bind it together. The other thing is that they don't all contain eggs. So we use milk powder. Well, we use milk powder anyway. You hate to get too technical. You want to give a little information, but you don't want too much. If you don't make a gelato correctly, especially a sorbetto, it just falls apart. If anything is out of balance, it just won't work. So this was a really difficult chapter, and Dahlia [Mozza pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez] worked really hard on it.
SI: What about pizza dough? Because the recipe in the book isn't the same as the one you use in the restaurant.