Pizza Obsessives: Donna Currie, Slice Pizza Pro
You may know Donna "dbcurrie" Currie from her kitchen detective work in the Slice column Pizza Protips or by her Bread Baking recipes on Serious Eats. This week we put the long-time baker/recipe tweaker and Cookistry blogger in the hot seat.—MS
What type of pizza do you prefer?
Thin crust, red sauce, with Chicago-style Italian sausage and mushrooms. Sometimes additional toppings.
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 don't remember my very first slice of pizza, but for the pizza-formative years of my life in Schiller Park, IL pizza always came from a place we called "the pizzeria." It was a dumpy little place with a neon sign that said "Pizza." It probably had a more descriptive name on its business license, but when it's the only game in town, you don't need to say much more.
It was a basic thin crust pizza with red sauce. I still like that type of pizza, but over the years I've been edging towards using less cheese. Some of those early pizzas had a pretty thick blanket of cheese. Oh, and pizza was always cut into squares. Always.
What's your favorite topping or topping combination?
Real Chicago-style Italian sausage and mushrooms are the must-haves. After that, I like onions and green peppers. I'll eat other combinations, including weird ones, but I always go back to the classic. If the sausage isn't Chicago-style, then I prefer a vegetarian pizza. I'm not fond of pepperoni at all.
Where do you go for pizza in your area?
There's only one place that makes Chicago-style pizza that we've found, and that's Nicolo's. I'll eat other pizza if someone else is buying, but so far Nicolo's is the only place I'd willingly give money to more than once.
Since I started making pizza, we haven't ordered out much, so in the intervening years it's possible that better pizza has surfaced. But the first few places we ordered from when we moved here traumatized us so much that we're a little afraid to try.
Obviously we know you make your share of pizza at home. Would you remind us of the methods and ingredients that you use?
Like everything else I make, I'm constantly tweaking the recipes, but my basic dough these days is 70% hydration with an overnight rest in the refrigerator.
My sauce is either straight tomato (a good brand of crushed tomatoes is my preference, if I have it) with a little salt, or I add Penzey's pizza spice. I got a jar as a freebie with a purchase, or I probably never would have tried it. Surprisingly, it's pretty good for no effort at all.
That sounds like an ingredient worth checking out. So what do you think should NEVER go on a pizza?
Ew. Yeah, that's probably true. That said, where have you ventured in the realm of weird-o toppings that others might not dare to go?
Sauerkraut pizza. It had all the usual toppings, but also a layer of sauerkraut. Surprisingly, it was pretty good. Weird, but good.
I think your mid-western roots are coming into play there. What's the farthest you've traveled for pizza?
From Colorado to Chicago. And on the way back, there was a cooler of Chicago-style sausage, among other things.
It sounds like you might stockpile Chicago sausages. Do you have a go-to source?
My favorite place for sausage in Chicago is gone. On that trip, I just went to a bunch of different stores and stocked up.
There's actually an Italian deli here in Colorado that has decent sausage, but it's a bit of a road trip. I go there a couple times a year, but I also make my own when I'm in that mood.
Other than the sausage, what makes a good Chicago-style pizza?
When people talk about Chicago-style pizza, they're usually referring to the pan pizza from Lou Malnati's or Unos or Nancy's. Yeah, that's a Chicago creation, but the pizza I think of when someone asks about my hometown is the thin crust pizza that evolved naturally all over the city and suburbs, rather than the thick-crust pizza that was suddenly invented and marketed.
Chicago pizza, to me, will always be thin-crust. And cut in squares.
Anything else you'd like to get off your chest?
I'm all for pizza innovation, but when you have a pita bread topped with lettuce, feta cheese, olives, and a squirt of lemon juice, you've left pizza-land far behind and you've got a pita sandwich. Or a flatbread salad. I'm not saying I wouldn't like a flatbread salad, but it's not pizza.
What do your family and/or friends think of your pizza madness?
Some people think I'm a pizza snob because I dislike just about all of the local pizzas. I'll eat 'em, but I'm not impressed with them.
My husband doesn't think the pizza madness is any different than the bread madness or the cookie madness or the gadget obsession or the cookbook collection. For him, the result is the same. He eats pretty well.
Now: Who would you like to see interviewed next?
I'm sensing a square theme. Thank you for sitting in the hot seat, and we're all looking forward to seeing more Pizza Protips from you!