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Book Review: Mozza at Home

Saturday, November 5, 2016@ 10:57 PM

On first read, Nancy Silverton’s Mozza at Home feels appealing, reassuring, and aspirational.

The recipes look interesting, a mix of familiar foods with nice twists. Silverton reassures readers with a warm, confident tone. And with long descriptions of her seemingly charmed existence, split between rustically sumptuous Los Angeles and Italy residences filled with effortless, large dinner parties, readers can aspire to an equally lovely life.

Cooks who feel hard-pressed to create a menu that both hangs together and provides a balance of quick and more difficult recipes will appreciate how Silverton organizes the book’s 19 menus: Each chapter provides a main dish with a variety of recipes to accompany it, plus (in most cases) a list of recipes in other chapters that would also work. Freed from the “will these taste right together?” question, readers can focus on combining the recipes that fit their schedule and skills. But with all the menus, a flexible schedule, heavy on plenty of time to cook, and reasonably strong cooking skills will make for happier readers.

That’s because Mozza at Home promises relaxed, family-style entertaining—but these are still, more often than not, fairly involved recipes. Cooking skills may be less important than time here, and Silverton’s clear, detailed instructions can inspire confidence—but readers without strong skills may end up exhausted trying to pull off these menus.

And depending on your point of view, the book offers up relaxed-but-beautiful supper parties, or a forced rusticity (rustic+$20 bottles of balsamic vinegar). There’s a lot of tearing going on in this book—tear your bread for croutons rather than cutting cubes, tear your egg whites for egg salad rather than chopping them, have your guests “rip off chunks” of a pork roast to serve themselves. Silverton isn’t shy about telling you how to achieve your artful rusticity, with directions for precisely how to serve each dish. This can make readers uneasy about even casual entertaining comfortably.

Ultimately, though, do the recipes live up to the promise? In limited recipe tests, yes and no. Take the “Saturday Night Chicken Thighs with Italian Sausage and Spicy Pickled Peppers.” Results of this three-page recipe, which requires making the peppers at least a day ahead, tasted like less than the sum of its parts—tasty enough, and not overly technically complicated, but still a long, involved recipe. The companion smashed potatoes require a second oven, given the different cooking temperature, and seemed underwhelming given a full stick of butter, a third cup of olive oil, rosemary and sage involved.

But a roasted pork shoulder takes advantage of the inherent flavor of a fat-capped pork butt so it can require very little effort—an overnight rub plus a nine-hour stay in the oven—for a terrific main dish. Choose from a long list of sides in this chapter—guacamole, with the nice twist of pureeing the onion, jalapeno and cilantro; avocado salsa; charred tomato salsa; quick tomatillo salsa; grilled spring onions; rice; charred peppers; and refried beans with a twist, using white beans. Not quite what you wanted? Silverton points to seven more options in other chapters; this menu does seem easier to pull off no matter what you choose, with solidly flavorful food equal to (or better than) the effort involved.

Like the pork, most of the menus revolve around meat or fish—grilled lamb chops, hamburgers, garlic-rubbed skirt steak, braised oxtails, olive oil-poached albacore, oven-roasted grouper, lamb and chicken tikka kebabs, spicy pork stew, short ribs, with a host of vegetable and grain side options. None of the menus include dessert; Silverton says any of the desserts in the dessert chapter will work with any menu; recipes include polenta cake, olive oil cake, wedding cookies, chocolate caramel tart, chess pie, and chai chocolate chip cookies.

For ambitious cooks with ample time to throw dinner parties with a big spread, Mozza at Home will provide plenty of inspiration.

Mozza at Home: More than 150 Crowd-Pleasing Recipes for Relaxed, Family-Style Entertaining by Nancy Silverton (Released October 25, 2016, by Knopf; 432 pages)

This review first appeared online at the New York Journal of Books.

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