Pizzeria Paradiso owner Ruth Gresser celebrated the release of her new pizza-making guide, Kitchen Workshop – Pizza on Feb 1. Chef Gresser has been making pies at Dupont Circle’s Pizzeria Paradiso since 1991. Over the course of 23 years, Pizzeria Paradiso changed homes in Dupont Circle and opened two other outposts in Georgetown and Old Town Alexandria. After more than two decade in the city, the restaurant is a D.C. institution. The local chain receives raves reviews celebrating it as one of the best pizza hot spots in town and frequently tops lists of best Washington Restaurants.
In Kitchen Workshop – Pizza, Gresser provides insight and knowledge on the how-tos for home chefs to turn out flavorful pizza from their very own ovens. All of the recipes—from the dough to a savory pumpkin pizza—have been tested in both the restaurant’s commercial oven and a conventional home oven. This care promises that people who don’t have high-heat, wood-burning, stone ovens (the vast majority of us) can make restaurant-style pizza, right at home.
I attended a media book release party, and indulged in a few tasty treats. Attendees were greeted with antipasto of crostini, cured mozzarella, and a sampling of beers at the restaurant’s Georgetown location. We then feasted on pizzas made using recipes from the book. First, we sampled an asparagus vegetable pizza paired with Stone Brewery’s Enjoy by; a curried chickpea pizza, paired with an Allagash Saison Rye; a fig and prosciutto pizza, paired with Laughing Dog Dogfather Imperial Stout; and finally a dessert pizza with blueberries, paired with an Allagash White Ale. By far, the asparagus vegetable pizza and Enjoy By was my favorite pairing. The pizza, with asparagus, pungent onion, and salty feta paired perfectly with the light and citrusy beer. In addition to savoring the pairings, we also got to bake our own pizzas and take them home. In sampling the pizza and beer, it was evident that each pairing was designed to bring out the flavors of both.
After enjoying the pizzas, I made my way over to the paddles laid out and started my pizza-making sojourn. I opted for the asparagus vegetable pizza and topped it with a healthy dose of asparagus, onions, tomatoes and feta cheese--lots of feta cheese. Gresser came by to make sure we were OK and even offered advice on how to “pretty” the pizzas up. She suggested not being too heavy-handed on toppings and layering the toppings evenly to ensure uniform cooking.
Once my pizza went in the oven, I chatted with Gresser about her experience in Washington and what it was like to put together her new book. It started with a love for pizza, and blossomed into a career. Everybody loves pizza, and she wanted to show home cooks how easy it is to make pizzeria-quality pizza at home. After hearing that I decided to put myself to the test. Armed with Gresser’s gentle guidance from both in-person tips, and from the cookbook, I set out to recreate the orange and fennel pizza from the cookbook.
For starters I love fennel–raw, cooked, bulb, and frond. The bulb has a subtly sweet, sharp flavor, while the fronds are herby. I saw the recipe and was immediately fixed on preparing it. I have to admit one thing though; I kind of, sort of cheated a little. I didn’t have time to prepare the Neapolitan pizza dough, as described in the book. I did, however, make it a point to purchase Neapolitan pizza dough from a local pizzeria.
The sweet licorice aroma of the braising fennel permeated my kitchen, as I supremed some oranges. Once the pizza was topped, heeding Gresser’s advice on not overtopping, I anxiously waited for my creation. I followed the baking instructions, but found that I needed to broil and bake it for a little more time than the book recommended. I also didn’t have parsley, so I topped the pizza lightly with a bit of chopped fennel fronds. All in all, it was a delicious combination of toppings, with sweet fennel and orange, and salty feta and olives. I’ll definitely be cracking the spine on this book to whip up a few more tasty pies.
Pizzeria Paradiso’s Gresser is passionate about pizza, and it’s evident in everything from the diligence in developing recipes for the cookbook to helping readers create the scrumptious pies featured in her restaurant and at home. Whether you prefer a chewy Neapolitan, an indulgent deep dish, or a super-thin New York-style, you're bound to find a perfect pizza recipe inside this book.