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Pizza Obsessives: Damian Barneschi
Today's obsessive is a pizza-lover from the Boston area who makes some very fine contributions to My Pie Monday, which I have even been lucky enough to try! (I once got to attend one of his epic pizza parties in Cambridge.) Let's get to know our fellow pie enthusiast Damian a little better as he spends a little time in the ol' 'hot seat'.—MS
What type of pizza do you prefer?
While I enjoy Neapolitan-style pizza and a good Sicilian slice, I have a special place in my heart for New Haven-style apizza. I grew up in Connecticut and I remember taking trips down to New Haven and standing in line with my parents for what seemed like forever. I still make a few pilgrimages every year to Pepe's, Sally's, Modern and BAR.
Now that's some pizza pedigree. So in terms of the The Pizza Cognition Theory, which, to refresh your memory, states that "the first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes ... becomes, for him, pizza" you had a pretty high bar.
Even though my family enjoyed New Haven-style pizza, our Friday night go-to spot was a Greek pizzeria in our town. For me, the Pizza Cognition Theory does not hold up. I really should give Greek-style another try sometime. It's been forever.
What's your favorite topping or topping combination?
I'm totally in the camp with those who believe that the better the pizza is, the fewer toppings it needs to have. Sally's plain pie showcases this idea better than any other pizza I've tried. It is truly a thing of glory. I also love a good New Haven-style clam pie. Margheritas with fresh, high quality ingredients are always fantastic.
Where do you go for pizza in your area?
Pizzeria Posto makes my favorite Boston-area pies. I think it's fate that I live a stone's throw from New England's only VPN certified pizzeria. Their marinara almost rivals Sally's plain pie. Pinocchio's in Harvard Square makes fantastic Sicilian-style pies. I absolutely love their spinach and zucchini squares. Galleria Umberto in Boston's North End is also amazing. Their goopy, oily squares remind me of what school cafeteria pizza would taste like if it were made with love.
I know you make pizzas from your contributions to My Pie Monday. Care to share your methods and recipes?
I've been making pizza for a while now and my pies have slowly been getting better and better. I've found that the Pizzamaking.com website is a fantastic resource for people who are really serious about stepping up their game. Members like Slice contributor TXCraig1, along with many others, have been so generous with their knowledge and expertise.
Recently, I started using an Ischia starter, which gives the dough a nice sour flavor and aroma. I've also traded in my pizza stone for a steel plate. The plate is a chore to bring in and out of my oven, but it gives the pies much better charring on the undercarriage. Right now I'm making my pies in a tiny electric oven and it does a pretty respectable job. I'll be super excited when I one day get a place with a back yard so that I can step it up to a wood fired oven.
Now about that steel... Your oven was the first steel setup I ever saw, and that pre-dated the Baking Steel. In Kenji's post about the Baking Steel you went into some detail about your own experience obtaining and prepping the hot rolled steel plate that I'd like to share here:
I love it how so many people are suggesting to "just go out and buy an A36 hot rolled steel plate - it's so much cheaper." Sure, I went out and bought an A36 hot rolled steel plate a few months ago. This meant calling two dozen metal shops before finding one that would actually sell me a reasonably priced sized plate for under $100 (I paid $75 for my 14"X18" plate), going to some god-forsaken location to meet some guy who was ticked off to be doing me a "favor," getting home and first sanding the plate with a rotary sander and later scrubbing the plate with a steel brush and vinegar, only to find that a good amount of the oxide was still left on the plate - and that much of it that came off permanently stained my concrete balcony, and then lugging this 30 lb. plate in and out of my oven every time I wanted to make pizza. Awesome.That'll make a great tale for the grandkids. And what would you say should NEVER go on a pizza?
The Baking Steel is a godsend. I wish I knew about it four months ago because I definitely would not have gone through the trouble that I did. In fact, I might still go out and purchase one. The piece of mind of having "food grade steel" is reason enough for me. Plus, that carrying case is pretty nifty. My hardwood floors aren't big fans of my current plate.
There are a lot of things that shouldn't go on a pizza but unfortunately do. Those $1,000 pies with lobster and caviar make me especially angry.
Most unusual pizza you've ever eaten?
Many people outside of the tri-state area might think that putting clams on pizza is weird, but those who have tried it usually beg to differ.
What's the farthest you've traveled for pizza?
I've been to a number of pizzerias in Chicago, but when I think of taking epic journeys for pizza, my trips to DiFara and Tottonos come to mind. If you live outside of the city and you're planning on going to either of these places, you should reserve a whole day for these outings.
What do your family and/or friends think of your pizza madness?
Both my friends and family have been incredibly supportive. They are a joy to cook for and always give me honest feedback. With that said, my dad and my girlfriend have been especially helpful to me. Aside from being adventurous partakers in my journeys to pizzerias both far and near, they have supported me in so many ways.
In addition to being a pizza obsessive, what are some other things you are into?
I am a huge craft beer fan and a member of BeerAdvocate, where I have nearly 700 beer reviews. I also love working on my bonsai trees and throwing boomerangs in my spare time.
Now: Who would *you* like to see interviewed next?
I would love to see another interview with TXCraig1. Beside the fact that his pies look better than those made at some of the country's best Neapolitan-style pizzerias, he is such a smart and generous contributor to the pizza blogosphere.
Ha!There is a lot of Slice love for TXCraig1. There's more than one way to get a man to answer questions. Maybe he would consider doing a "Ask TX" Slice column. For now, Damian, I'd like to thank you for being such a trooper and sweating it out through this grilling Q&A. Look forward to seeing and trying (had to slip that in) more of your pies!
About the author: Meredith Smith is the Slice editor. You can follow her on Twitter: @mertsmith.