The “Kitchen Workshop: Pizza” cookbook is the perfect guide to one of America’s favorite foods, pizza. Sonoma summers practically cry out for pizza, where the bounty from our organic gardens and local purveyors of specialty foods, such as hand crafted mozzarella and cured meats, make tasty toppings. Wood fired ovens have become increasingly prevalent in backyards but are still a luxury. This cookbook will show you how to make thin-crust pizzas right in your home kitchen oven
The “Kitchen Workshop: Pizza” cookbook, by Ruth Gresser, owner of the Pizzeria Paradiso in Washington, D.C., breaks down the mysteries behind the perfect pizza dough and expands the realm of toppings well beyond the limit of traditional cheese and pepperoni. The author starts with simple pizzas, like the ones that originated in Naples, Italy. These very thin-crust Neapolitan pizzas are relatively unadorned, consisting of tomato and olive oil, perhaps with the addition of mozzarella cheese and basil. Mimicking the evolution of the pizza as it circled the globe the ingredients become more numerous and exotic. Chick peas, broccoli rabe, cantaloupe and cherries stretch the definition of pizza but once the creation of good pizza dough is mastered the sky is the limit.
Making pizza dough is not something to be taken lightly and it’s worth paying close attention to the first chapter, “Foundations”. The critical steps are laid out, incorporating feedback from more than 20 field testers. Many of the testers had never made dough or pizza before so home cooks can rest assured that this cookbook is for them. Advance planning is important as the quality of the dough improves if you let it rise for overnight or up to 2-3 days. An easy way to break down the tasks is to make the pizza dough and put it in the refrigerator, then assemble the toppings the next day, and bake the pizza the day after that. For a Saturday pizza party you’d make the dough on Thursday, prepare the toppings Friday and relax on Saturday as you pop the pizza in the oven.
The trick to cooking pizza in a home oven is a technique developed by the author using a heavy pizza stone and the oven’s broiler. The stone is heated under the intense heat of the broiler to replicate the high temperature of a wood-fired pizza oven, and the pizza is initially cooked under the broiler for one minute. After that the heat is turned to the highest bake setting for 10 minutes, rotating the pizza once. Detailed instructions about how to use the pizza stone are provided, as well as how to bake pizza in an electric oven, an oven with a drawer broiler or no broiler, but oddly, no mention of how to cook in wood-fired pizza ovens, which are becoming more common in outdoor kitchens.
After digesting the Foundations chapter the next seven chapters are divided into seven lessons each, covering Pizza Basics (tomato and cheese), Classics (Italian regional pizzas), Pizzzeria Paradiso Originals, Sauces, Proteins, Vegetables and Fruits. One of the best aspects of the cookbook is the variety of ingredients the author suggests, from potatoes, eggs and mussels to black bean or barbecue sauce.
Sonoma is wine country so it would be natural to pair a Sangiovese or Zinfandel with a tomato-based pizza, Chardonnay with a white pizza or even a Rosé on a hot afternoon. But craft beers are popular here too, and at Pizzeria Paradiso they’ve exploited pizza’s affinity for beer, offering a pizza and beer pairing with many recipes. Greg Jasgur, the restaurant’s bar manager suggests a stout beer to cut through the fat of the cheese in the classic Margherita pizza while a lager or pilsner can quench the thirst inducing effects of salty anchovy fillets.
I tested the Margherita pizza (see recipe below) and found it delicious, with a crisp crust, the tangy tomato base balanced by the creamy mozzarella, accented with fresh basil from the garden and a drizzle of olive oil. The pizza, paired with a green salad, made a delectable summer dinner out on the patio. We also tried arugula and mozzarella as well as portobello mushrooms and pumpkin, inspired by some of the recipes with unusual ingredients, all with excellent results.
Recipe from “Kitchen Workshop: Pizza”
Makes one 12-inch (30 cm) pizza
- 2 cups (480 g) drained canned whole San Marzano tomatoes (about one 28-ounce, or 800 g, can)
- 1 ball Neapolitan-Style Pizza Dough
- Cornmeal, for sprinkling
- 1⁄3 cup (75 g)
- San Marzano Tomato Sauce (page 36)
- 8 to 10 large basil leaves, torn in half
- 3 ounces (85 g) fresh buffalo mozzarella, torn into 10 to 12 pieces
- Sea salt flakes, to taste
- Olive oil, for drizzling
- Place a pizza stone on the top rack of a cool oven. Set the oven to broil and preheat for 30 minutes.
- On a generously floured counter, flatten the dough ball with your fingertips and stretch it into a 12-inch (30 cm) round. (See page 13.)
- Sprinkle a pizza peel with cornmeal and lay the pizza dough round on it. Spread the tomato sauce onto the pizza dough, leaving 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 inch (1.3 to 2 cm) of dough uncovered around the outside edge. Place the basil leaves evenly around the pizza. Arrange the cheese on top of the sauce and basil. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with oil.
- Give the peel a quick shake to be sure the pizza is not sticking to the peel. Slide the pizza off the peel onto the stone in the oven. Broil for 1 1⁄2 minutes. Turn the oven temperature to the highest bake setting and cook for 4 minutes. Quickly open the oven door, pull out the rack, and with a pair of tongs, rotate the pizza (not the stone) a half turn. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes more.
- Using the peel, remove the pizza from the oven. Cut into slices and serve
The “Kitchen Workshop: Pizza” cookbook contains everything you need to know to start creating pizza masterpieces in your own kitchen. If you do happen to have a wood-fired oven the cookbook will provide endless inspiration for combining non-traditional ingredients for the toppings.
“Kitchen Workshop: Pizza” by Ruth Gresser
Available at Amazon for $18.63
Disclosure of material connection: I received a review copy of the cookbook in return for an unbiased review.