Nancy Silverton—the woman that many call “the queen of bread” and the person I call my boss—is excited. “Have you tasted my focaccia?” she asks. I’m busy setting up the Amaro bar for a busy night’s service. There are four large buckets of ice needed for the well, a long list of wines to pull, and three kinds of citrus I have to hand juice before I can even think about taking a moment to focus on Nancy’s newest bread.
“You need to taste it,” she says. “We’re going to serve focaccia at Mozza to go every Monday. You should blog about this.”
Minutes later, Nancy appears with a thin, triangular slice of a roasted cherry tomato and herb foccia, just pulled from the oven. She watches me lift the focaccia to my mouth with an eagerness usually reserved for children just before they open a present.
“Do you like it?” she asks.
Do I like it? Let’s be honest—one of the greatest reasons for a beginning food writer to work part time at a Nancy Silverton restaurant is to have Nancy Silverton ask you to taste her bread to tell her what you think. Of course I like it, I think to myself. But why exactly do I like it?
The first bite is revelatory. The dough is soft, chewy, and with enough spring to it that its texture is a delight to the tongue. My eyes instinctively close as I focus on the sweet roasted sun gold cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs, roasted garlic and the hint of maldon sea salt garnishing the perfectly cooked bread.
Immediately I recall an afternoon spent in the sea-side city of Recco, a small city in Italy’s Liguria, tasting what one Italian food expert suggested was the world’s best focaccia. On that magical day in Italy, I tasted what focaccia is supposed to be. Alive with playful yeast, Recco’s focaccia was nothing like the stale, dense American versions I had sampled back in the states. Recco’s foccaccia was oily to the touch and salty like the neighboring sea.
Nancy’s focaccia, is equally alive, but covered in generous toppings that made it exponentially more flavorful than any focaccia I had ever tasted anywhere. I mention to Nancy my memories of Recco and my experience with true Italian focaccia.
Her knowing smile tells me she has been to Recco more times than I could even guess. “Well this focaccia is based on something I tasted while I was in Puglia,” she explains. Puglia, of course, is a southern Italian region known for hot sun, big flavors, and spice. It’s no wonder this focaccia is so different. I taste another. Carmelized onion, sun gold tomatoes, olives Tagiassche olives, salt-cured anchovy, fresh thyme and grated parmesan. It’s Nancy’s Italian/American tribute to a French pissadeliere.
“The technique I borrowed from Puglia is baking the focaccia in a cake pan. What it allows you to do is to bake the focaccia with a generous amount of olive oil, so it fries.”
And what makes the dough so characteristically alive? “The dough has a touch of rye flour like our pizza dough, ” she says. “But I wanted the focaccia to be more chewy than our pizza dough. And not as crisp when it bakes.” So though the rounded focaccia may look much like the individual pizzas of the Pizzeria, this focaccia is its own, very special thing. “The dough,” Nancy tells me, “is based on a recipe I developed for La Brea Bakery.”
Mozza2Go: 6610 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 90038; (323) 297-1130
Focaccia is available whole, half, or by the quarter piece every Monday at 12 a.m. and 6 p.m..*
*The dough can sometimes be a little a little temperamental. Be sure to call ahead before you head over for a slice.