Each week on Slice we talk to a Pizza Obsessive. This week, we chat with Diana Horst, whose screen name, dhorst, you more than likely recognize around Serious Eats/Slice. Anytime the topic of making pizza at home comes up, Diana's in there. She was a natural, then, for our own brand of cheesy interrogation. —The Mgmt.
Name: Diana Horst (because of the last name, "Charlie" was out of the picking for baby names)
Location: Liverpool, New York (a northern 'burb of Syracuse)
You're all over the comments here on Slice and in SE Talk, talking about making pizza at home. What recipes do you use? What types of pizzas do you make?
My most basic dough recipe is ...
Hold on, I sense a recipe coming. I'm going to stop you here, and we'll come back to this at the end.... Lemme ask you about your equipment first.... Did you trick out your oven at all or did you keep things simple? Can you share any tips with us all?
I have ancient double-wall ovens; each one has a stone inside. I preheat the ovens and the stones for at least an hour at the highest temperature before sliding the pizzas in. My ovens run hot—screwed up sensors, I believe, and I take advantage of that extra heat. If you don't have pizza stones, just head out to the home-improvement store and get some quarry tiles to line your oven with. When I dust my peel, I prefer to use Wondra flour and a sprinkle of kosher salt or sea salt. I know, weird, huh? But the Wondra doesn't cling to the crust. Also, if you don't feel like heating up the kitchen (or, in my case, setting off the smoke detector), you can use a grill. Sometimes I cook pizza directly on the grate, other times I throw the stones on the grill.
How does your family and/or friends react? (Do I even need to ask this? I'm sure they love pizza night.)
I'm known among my kids' friends for making awesome pizza. Summer nights we often have a pool full of teenagers—and they know that when they get out of the pool between 10 and 11 there will be pizza, hot out of the oven. They think it's funny that I make pizza in my pajamas. And I think I may have mentioned that pizza is a cure for the blues around here.
What type of pizza do you prefer?
New York–style, please, but I do like to play around with different styles. The only type of pizza I don't care for is Chicago-style deep dish. It reminds me of some really bad casseroles my mom used to make back in the '70s. I also am not a fan of deep-fried pizza rolls (aka "fat bags").
The Pizza Cognition Theory states that "the first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes ... becomes, for him, pizza." Do you remember your first slice? Where was it from, is the place still around, and if so, does it hold up? On that note, has your taste in pizza evolved over time?
I do remember my first pizzeria slice. It was from New Haven–style, but with a gas oven rather than coal. They're still open for business, and when we camp in the Adirondacks each summer, I make the 30-minute drive into town for a couple of large pies the last night of our trip and bring them back to camp. The kids love it, and it allows me to break down the camp kitchen ahead of time.
What's your favorite topping or topping combination?
Generally I like just cheese, but when I'm in the mood for veggies, it's usually onions, roasted red pepper, tomatoes, and black olives. In the summer I often like shrimp, tomatoes, kalamata olives, and feta (I heard that groan, dmcavanagh!).
Where do you go for pizza in your area—that is, if you go out for it at all?
We are most likely to order out in the spring when I'm beat from doing yard work all day, and order from Avicolli's in Liverpool. They make a pretty decent New York–style pizza—but I order pizza well-done from them—otherwise their pizza is too blonde for me.
What's most important to you: crust, sauce, or cheese?
Probably the crust, but really I think it's all about the balance between all three components that makes a great pizza.
Anything you'd like to get off your chest?
No pizza-flavored snacks, such as pizza Combos or pizza Goldfish, are allowed in my house or in my car. They are disgusting, and the smell reminds me of my '77 Chevy Malibu that my husband delivered pizza in, back in the '80s. It was brown with four red doors and always had a funky stale cheese odor. The other thing is directed at my husband—if you don't let me build my outdoor wood oven this summer, you will not have pizza for the next entire winter ... and, remember, it does get cold here in Syracuse!
What one thing should NEVER go on a pizza?
Peanut butter—I can't stand Thai chicken in peanut sauce on pizza. Oh, the other thing—ketchup with Italian seasoning masquerading as tomato sauce. If you don't have good tomato sauce, just skip it and go with a bit of olive oil.
Weirdest pizza you've ever eaten?
In London, about 25 years ago, I asked for black olives on a pizza. They came with the pit and I almost chipped a tooth on that bad boy. I think dmcavanagh would say the shrimp, asparagus, tomato, and feta combo is pretty weird, though.
What's the farthest you've traveled for pizza?
The farthest I've traveled for pizza would be around 65 miles on the back of a motorcycle from Stowe, Vermont, across Lake Champlain on the ferry to Plattsburgh, New York for Sicilian pizza from The Monopole. Legend has it that they grate garlic at the same time they grate the cheese. They have really great garlicky Sicilian pizza there.
If you have anything else you'd like to include, feel free to make up a question or questions!
When is the char-o-meter arriving on Slice?
Ha ha ha. That's not a bad idea.
Now: Who would *you* like to see interviewed next?
Well, of course, you, Adam, and my buddy dmcavanagh.
I know, I know. I said I would answer these same questions, too. Lemme get ahead of some stuff I'm working on here and sit down and get to town. Also, I contacted dmcavanagh but haven't heard back yet. DMC, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org!
And now, Diana's pizza recipe ...
Basic Dough Recipe
- 1 1/2 cup body-temperature water (if it doesn't feel warm or cold on your wrist, then you'll have good luck proofing your yeast)
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast
- 1 pinch of sugar or a drizzle of honey
- Around 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 1/2 to 4 cups bread flour
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
1. Combine water, yeast and sugar/honey in mixing bowl. The small amount of sugar/yeast helps to feed the yeast and get those little buggers going. (I use a Kitchen Aid mixer, but this can be done in a food processor or by hand in a regular large bowl.) Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes until slightly foamy.
2. Add the olive oil and mix a touch. Add 3 c. of the bread flour and mix until most of the flour is moistened. Wait 15-20 minutes and then start seriously mixing with a dough hook in a mixer, or blade in a food processor or with your well oiled hands in a bowl. Incorporate the remaining flour gradually until you have a smooth and springy dough.
3. Shape into a round ball and coat with a film of olive oil in the bowl. (I use the bowl I make the dough in—why dirty another dang dish?) Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap or a plate (a 9" Corelle plate just happens to perfectly cover my Kitchen Aid bowl) and place in a warm draft free environment. (If you happen to have a large-ish microwave oven, nuke one cup of water for one minute in it and then place your bowl of dough inside—perfect proof box for your dough to rise in.)
(Alternative rising method if you have the time—throw the covered bowl of dough in the fridge to rise overnight. Pull it out of the fridge about two hours before you want to make pizza.)
4. After the dough has finished rising (if you poke it gently with your finger there should be an indentation left in the dough if it has proofed enough), shape into rounds—I usually figure around 8 oz. of dough=a 9"pie, 12 oz. dough= a "12 inch pie" and a 16 oz. round=a "16" pie.
5. Let the rounds rise for about 30-40 minutes at room temp. Punch down lightly with your finger tips. Dock and shape the round with your finger tips and then gently start to stretch the dough using your knuckles and splayed fingers. (You Tube must have some videos on this if you're not sure what I'm talking about.) Don't use a dang old rolling pin, that's for pie crusts, not pizza crusts!
It's the KISS rule around here. Good crushed tomatoes with a touch of garlic and salt and pepper. I give the dough a gloss of olive oil before applying the sauce.
Balance is key—I like a bit of sauce to show through the mozzarella. I sometime use a combination of mozzarella and provolone. Cheese always goes on before the toppings—unless it's a dusting of Parm-reg or pecorino.
I may add a sprinkle of dried oregano before the pie hits the oven or some fresh oregano or basil right after the pie comes out of the oven. I like red pepper flakes with a veggie topped pie to perk it up, one of my kids likes Frank's Red Hot Sauce on the side in case I didn't make it hot enough that he might cry the next morning...