It’s hard to have a conversation about food with Nancy Silverton that doesn’t contain the phrase “I was at my house in Umbria.” Once a community oven on the outskirts of Panicale (“my town”), the La Brea Bakery founder’s vacation home has been the source of some of her greatest ideas, a launchpad from which she explores the whole of Italy, seeking out dishes to re-create in L.A. at her trio of restaurants: Osteria Mozza, Pizzeria Mozza, and Chi Spacca. Here, the stories behind some of her most delicious souvenirs.
Focaccia di Recco
“Mario [Batali] said, ‘If you want to have great focaccia, go to Recco.’ So on my next trip, I visited the bakeries there and was very surprised that the bread was so thin. It was good, but it wasn’t great. Days later I was having lunch, and a server told me that if you want to have it at its best, go to a restaurant called Manuelina. I was taken with it—it was so different and fresh. I came back to make it at Chi Spacca. Life lesson: The simpler it is and the fewer ingredients it has, the harder it is to make.”
Pici Pan Cotto
“I was in a restaurant with about ten people in Campagna. All at once we put our forks down, looked at each other, and said, ‘Did you taste the broccoli?’ It was a version of a dish called pan cotto that is made using day-old bread—frying it in olive oil, adding some cooked vegetables along with a bit of the cooking water, and letting the whole thing brown. The textures are amazing. I made a version of it with this fat hand-rolled spaghetti called pici. It’s a great meatless-Monday dish.”
Guinea Fowl on Toast
There’s a little ristorante in my town called Masolino, and its specialty is guinea fowl that’s roasted and topped with sausage and liver sauce—very Umbrian—and set on a large crostone. Visually it’s one of the most unappealing dishes, but tastewise it’s one of the most delicious. Before we opened Mozza, (former executive chef) Matt Molina joined me in my little town and he was able to eat this dish firsthand. We put it on the opening menu.