California chef, restaurateur and cookbook author Nancy Silverton is known for her excellence in making home-style food that's influenced by her love of Italian cuisine. Her passion for cooking—then pastry-making, bread-making and pizza-making—developed as she worked with great chefs like Jonathan Waxman at Michael's and Wolfgang Puck at Spago, and co-founded La Brea Bakery and Campanile restaurant in Los Angeles.
Today she specializes in Italian cuisine, running Osteria Mozza, a Best of Award of Excellence winner, and Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, with additional locations in Newport Beach, Calif., and Singapore. (Her restaurants are a partnership with B&B Hospitality Group, where she will now be taking on a leadership role in an effort to reshape the company culture following Mario Batali's departure from daily operations.)
Silverton’s latest cookbook, Mozza at Home, presents an abundance of recipes that translate to the family kitchen, whether for entertaining large groups or simply celebrating friends and family in your life as 2017 draws to a close and a new year approaches.
A crowd-pleaser is the juicy skirt steak rubbed with garlic and served with scallion vinaigrette. It's a recipe that celebrates the regional cooking of Santa Maria, a city near the coast north of Santa Barbara. Silverton enjoys Santa Maria's signature barbecue—steak seasoned with pepper, salt and garlic salt and grilled over red oak wood coals, often served with salad, grilled bread and stewed pinquito beans. Tri-tip is often the cut of choice, but the chef opts for the richer skirt steak, one of her favorite cuts of beef.Mozza at Home's recipes need no fancy cooking equipment. “You don’t need to be an expert to cook it correctly,” Silverton writes of the steak. “Sear it on both sides over high heat and you’re pretty much guaranteed to end up with a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak.” Because the cut is thin, a marinade or rub integrates well into the meat's flavor. A simple scallion vinaigrette adds an herbal flavor spiked with heat from red chile flakes.
For the wine pairing, Silverton recommends a single-vineyard Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, the 2014 Château de Brézé Saumar Clos du Tue-Loup. “This is a beautiful Cabernet Franc from the hill of Brézé in the Loire Valley: Fresh black and red fruits with softer notes of earth on the finish, medium acidity … green, slightly vegetal notes pair well with the scallion vinaigrette.” Below, Wine Spectator complements the suggestion with 10 steak-friendly French red wines, all rated 90 points or higher, including Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley and Bordeaux blends.
When considering a side dish, Silverton recommends selections that “seem like something I would find on [a] Central California ranch,” like charred broccolini for vegetables, pinto beans for added umami or skillet corn bread for a buttery, warming treat.
This last recommendation is a recipe that Silverton has been tweaking for as long as she's been making bread—almost 30 years. When she decided to add corn bread to the roster at La Brea Bakery, Silverton went into overtime trying to develop the best version. After countless efforts experimenting with everything from fresh sage leaves to creamed corn, the chef found the answer through a famed Southern cook and restaurateur, Sean Brock.
The secret to strong flavor, she learned, was cornmeal, not the corn itself. Increasing the amount of stone-ground cornmeal, and subsequently using less flour, intensifies both the taste and texture of the final product. Another trick she took from Brock was inverting the bread, so the bottom becomes the top and stays brown and crispy. For a sweet honey butter with the bread, Silverton prefers wildflower honey.
When preparing a large meal, Silverton explains, staying organized is a top priority in the hours before guests arrive. “One of the first things to do after deciding what to prepare is to get out all the platters that I'll be using and place them in the right order with a Post-It note of what will go on them,” she says. “This sounds simple, but I find it really helps get me going and organized.” With Silverton, every detail counts.
The following recipes are excerpted from Mozza at Home by Nancy Silverton with Carolyn Carreño. Copyright © 2016 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
For the Scallion Vinaigrette:
1. Trim and discard the root ends and any wilted greens from the scallions. Finely chop the scallions and put them in a bowl. Add the vinegar, salt and ground red chile flakes. Add the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly.
2. Serve or refrigerate the vinaigrette, covered, for up to 1 day; any longer and the color of the scallions will fade. Bring the vinaigrette to room temperature before serving. Makes about 2 cups.
For the Skirt Steak:
1. Put the garlic in the bowl of a mini food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse to mince it. Add the kosher salt and pulse again just to combine. Alternatively, put the garlic in a small mortar. Sprinkle with the kosher salt and pound to break up the garlic. Or, mince it very fine by hand, adding the kosher salt midway through mincing to help the garlic break down. Stir in the pepper.
2. Lay the skirt steaks on a flat work surface. Spoon the garlic rub onto the steaks, using about 1 tablespoon of rub per pound of meat, and rub it all over with your hands, putting more rub on the thickest parts of the steak. Turn the steaks to coat the other sides with the rub. Set the steaks aside for at least 30 minutes to marinate, or cover and refrigerate them as long as overnight. Bring the steaks to room temperature before cooking them. If necessary, cut the skirt steaks into segments that will fit in the pan you’re cooking them in. You will need a large grill pan (up to 20 inches long) or cast-iron skillet to cook the steaks.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in the large grill pan or cast-iron skillet over high heat until it slides easily in the pan and the oil around the edges of the pan just begins to smoke, 2 to 3 minutes. Drizzle a thin layer of the olive oil on both sides of the steak. Working in batches, lay the skirt steaks in the pan in a single layer and sear each side until it is deep brown and caramelized, 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Remove the steaks from the pan and put them on a baking sheet or plate to rest while you sear the remaining steaks. Add 2 more tablespoons of the remaining oil to the pan and heat the oil for about 1 minute, until it starts to smoke around the edges of the pan, before adding the remaining steaks and searing them in the same way.
4. To serve, transfer the steaks to a cutting board with a moat to catch the juices. Slice the steaks against the grain 1/2-inch thick on the bias. Drizzle the meat with finishing-quality olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and serve on the cutting board, with a carving or serving fork. Serves 8 to 12.
For the Honey Butter:
1. Place the butter, honey and salt in a small bowl and stir to combine the ingredients. Add more honey to taste. Transfer the honey butter to a pretty vessel just large enough to hold it, so it looks abundant. Cover and refrigerate the butter until you’re ready to serve it, or for up to several weeks. Soften it slightly at room temperature before serving. Serve with a small butter or cheese knife. Makes about 1/2 cup.
For the Skillet Corn Bread:Note: You will need a 10-inch skillet to make the corn bread. Because of the number of chiles you will be slicing for this recipe, it's important that you wear thin rubber gloves.
1. Adjust the oven racks so one is in the uppermost position. Make sure there is no oven rack near the oven floor; you’ll be baking the corn bread on the oven floor. (If you are using an electric oven or another oven where you can’t put anything on the floor, adjust one rack so that it is closest to the floor.) Put the skillet in the oven and preheat the oven and skillet to 375° F. Set up a cooling rack.
2. Combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder in a large bowl and stir to distribute the ingredients.
3. Whisk the buttermilk and eggs together in a small bowl. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the buttermilk and eggs into the well, whisking, working from the center outward, until no flour is visible. Add the melted butter and whisk to incorporate it into the batter. Add the chiles and stir with the whisk to incorporate them into the batter.
4. Remove the skillet from the oven and use a wad of paper towels or a pastry brush to grease the inside with vegetable oil, being careful of the hot skillet. Pour the batter into the skillet and place it on the floor of the oven or the lowest rack. Bake the corn bread for 30 minutes, rotating it halfway through the baking time so it browns evenly. Check the corn bread after 20 or 25 minutes. If you notice it is browning around the edges, proceed to the next step.
5. Increase the oven temperature to 425° F. Transfer the corn bread to the rack in the upper part of the oven and bake it for 10 to 15 minutes, until it’s golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, rotating the corn bread halfway through that time so it bakes evenly.
6. Remove the corn bread from the oven and immediately invert it onto the cooling rack. (It’s important to take the corn bread out of the skillet right away; otherwise the crust will soften.)
7. To serve, put the corn bread on a rustic cutting board with a knife for guests to slice the size piece they want and bowls of honey butter on the board alongside the corn bread. Serves 8 to 12.
CHÂTEAU MALESCOT-ST.-EXUPÉRY Margaux 2014
Alluring, with Lapsang souchong notes that weave around the core of gently steeped red and black currant and plum fruit flavors. A strong graphite edge marks the finish, giving this excellent cut and drive. Very suave. Best from 2020 through 2030. 8,100 cases made.
DOMAINE DE PALLUS Chinon Les Pensées de Pallus 2014
Juicy, ripe and still a bit compact, with a solid core of cassis, plum and blackberry fruit inlaid with alluring ganache, singed bay leaf and black tea notes. Shows good grip through the finish, with smoldering tobacco details. There's lots here, just needs to unwind. Drink now through 2025. 3,000 cases made.
CHÂTEAU DALEM Fronsac 2014
Ripe, with a compact, sleek feel, as the core of black currant, black cherry and plum fruit is tightly focused, sheathed within charcoal, tobacco and bay leaf notes. The finish lets everything meld pleasantly, maintaining good drive. Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Drink now through 2024. 4,400 cases made.
CHÂTEAU DE COULAINE Chinon 2015
Lively, with a mix of olive and bay leaf along the edges while bitter plum, dark cherry and savory notes form the core. A light chalky spine pulls everything together nicely on the finish. Drink now through 2024. 2,000 cases made.
CHÂTEAU GLORIA St.-Julien 2014
A grippy style, with a pleasantly rugged edge to the copious brambly tannins that push the core of plum and blackberry reduction along. Lots of licorice snap and tobacco notes show on the finish, which offers persistent grip. Delivers more guts than polish, but will age solidly. Best from 2020 through 2030. 16,665 cases made.
CHÂTEAU HAUT-BERGEY Pessac-Léognan 2014
A solid, grippy-edged style, with a core of steeped plum and blackberry fruit laced with tar and roasted apple wood notes. Picks up needed energy on the finish. A bit brooding in feel, but there’s ample depth of fruit and grip to wait this out. Best from 2019 through 2027. 12,500 cases made.
CHÂTEAU NÉNIN Pomerol 2014
This has grip, with charcoal and dark earth notes running throughout. The ample flesh is balanced by bright acidity, allowing the core of plum, raspberry and cherry preserve flavors to hold the upper hand through the finish. Best from 2020 through 2032. 3,533 cases made.
DOMAINE DE LA COTELLERAIE St.-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil La Croisée 2015
Alluring, with a whiff of juniper leading off, followed by singed bay leaf, pepper, cassis and bitter cherry notes, all pulling together through a sleek, sanguine-tinged finish. Drink now through 2021. 1,400 cases made.
DOMAINE GOURON Chinon 2016
A brisk, fresh style, with a cherry pit note framing a core of pomegranate and red currant fruit. The bright, floral-laced finish is laced up by tobacco leaf and chalk threads. Drink now through 2022. 6,600 cases made.
PHILIPPE ALLIET Chinon Vieilles Vignes 2015
Fresh and pure, with a beam of crushed cherry and damson plum fruit lined with light tobacco and olive hints. The fresh finish has finely beaded acidity and a pretty violet echo. Drink now through 2021. 800 cases made.