When I moved to Los Angeles 20 years ago, the city was a food wasteland. There were very few restaurants serving food I could truly enjoy and, trust me, with my expense account I tried them all. Italian food in particular was dismal: large bowls of over-sauced pasta, New Jersey style pizzas, chicken parmigiana and a whole smattering of dishes that never originated in Italy.
Slowly, things started to change and now LA has one of the most varied and most interesting food cultures in the whole of the US (and New York, our Mexican still kicks your ass. Sorry).
There are many Italian eateries that could give a run for their money to many restaurants in Italy. When people first meet me and find out I originally hail from Italy, typically the first question is “Why do you live here?”, and the second “What are your favorite Italian restaurants?”.
There are very many I have enjoyed over the years, too many to mention, but two stand out for authenticity. The first is Angelini Osteria, where chef Gino Angelini, who hails from a coastal town near Bologna, serves refined Italian food with the best ingredients California has to offer.
The other one is Osteria Mozza, which is owned by Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Nancy Silverton. Not one of them is Italian. Mario Batali, from Seattle, did train in a restaurant on the Apennines above Bologna, and his grasp of that local food is outstanding. On my first dinner there I spotted cardoons on the menu, a vegetable so rare to find here, and it arrived prepared exactly like my mother makes it . The pork roast, cooked in milk, also could have come from my mother’s kitchen – I was blown away. If someone had blindfolded me, I could have sworn both dishes had been prepared by my mom. So, if you can stand the loud rock music and the harried pace that come with the meal, the food is worth it (not a fan of the pizza at Pizza Mozza next door though).
While I hardly ever cook from a cookbook, there are a few dishes from Osteria Mozza I do make, or versions of them. This particular one is featured in Nancy Silverton’s Mozza at Home.
There is something so natural in the pairing of chicken and lemons, maybe because chicken meat is pretty flavorless and dressing it up with lemon and herbs is the simplest way to make it delicious. I cooked the chicken in a cast iron pan, as the recipe instructs, but it can be done on a grill too, which would probably add another layer of flavor. I used breasts but the original calls for thighs.
I served it with corn on the cobb and a kale salad. Because it’s California after all.
3 T Thyme
1 T Parsley, chopped
1 T Sage, chopped
3 Garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 ts Chili Flakes
A/N Olive Oil
2 Chicken Breasts, skin on
- Marinate the chicken a few hours before cooking it. Make the marinade by combining the herbs, garlic, chili flakes, lemon peel strips from one lemon and 2 T of olive oil. Put the chicken breasts in the bowl and turn them over in the marinade. Refrigerate.
- When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the marinade and salt aggressively on both sides.
- Transfer the chicken, skin side down, to a cast iron skillet. Put it over high heat and weigh it down with another cast iron pan or other weights (if you don’t have a cast iron skillet use an oiled frying pan). Once the chicken is sizzling, lower the heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes, without moving it.
- Once the chicken is browned, remove it to a plate. Cut the remaining lemon in thin slices and place them on the bottom of the skillet. Put the chicken on top and place the skillet in the oven and cook at 450F (230C) for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked.