Ever wonder why your favorite pizzeria can make a perfect crust one time and disappoint you the next? It might be the fickleness of the dough, says Nancy Silverton, whose Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles ranks as one of the best. You might have just picked the wrong time for it.
"That's the life of the dough," explained Silverton, the woman behind La Brea Bakery and the restaurant Campanile. The longtime baker sees pizza through the lens of a bread maven. "When you bake bread, you make the dough and choose the ideal time to shape it and put it in the oven. For pizza, you make the dough and use it over several hours. It changes constantly. It behaves differently at noon than it does at 6 o'clock.
"It's best around 5 o'clock," Silverton said, leaning forward as if imparting a deep secret. "Some of the regulars know it and that's when they come in." Mozza is open from noon to midnight. They make two batches of dough a day. The second batch arrives from La Brea Bakery, where it's made, around 7 o'clock.
For a story I'm researching on pizza, I visited her at Mozza, which she opened in 2006 in partnership with New Yorkers Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. I happened to be there at 5, and I sat at the counter to try a few pizzas. Darned if they weren't even better than the ones I had when I reviewed Pizzeria Mozza in Wine Spectator ("Mario Batalai Goes West," Dec. 15, 2007). When I was there for lunch then, the crust had a distinctive chew with a vaguely sourdough-like flavor, but it struck me as too regular (good pizza is uneven) and the rim too wide and thick.
That was at noon, and the dough was fresh. This time, when the dough had had five hours to relax, the crust seemed less chewy, its topography considerably bumpier and more interesting. It was blistered unevenly, the rim almost flat in spots. Glorious.
This time the topping that impressed me the most was the one with wild nettles, cacio di Roma (a semi-soft sheep's milk cheese) and finocchiona (salame flavored with fennel pollen). It feels like the kind of thing you might find in Italy, because the ingredients are so common there, but at Mozza, it's been filtered through a chef's sensibility.
The pizza maker first tossed the greens in a bowl with some of the grated cheese and olive oil, like a salad. Then he layered the greens on the flattened dough, along with paper-thin slices of the Tuscan-style salame made by Batali's father in Seattle, and topped it with a another light strew of the cheese. When it came out of the wood-burning oven, the tangy leaves had collapsed around the salame into a layer no thicker than the crust, and they had the crisp fragility of fried herbs. Just before serving, he sprinkled the finished pizza with some fresh fennel pollen.
Very highly recommended.
John Osgood — New York, NY — February 28, 2008 4:58pm ET
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