Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Enough about that blasted oven

You really do need big laborer's arms to build an oven like that.
Saturday, we (sister, brother-in-law, me) insulated the cob oven with mud and straw. Sunday, I lit a fire and let it burn slowly for a while and then I let it rage and then a lot of people (sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew, neighbors Joan and Bill) came over and I pushed all the coals to the back and sides of the oven and we made pizza.

How was it? The crusts weren't as thin and crisp as they should have been and I complained a lot about that, but in fact the pizzas were very successful and the oven did its job admirably. I have some ideas about how to do better in the future and the oven is definitely getting another layer of insulation before I plaster it.

Also, I decided we need a picnic table in the backyard. Half the party was up in the kitchen and half the party was hovering around the oven and it was not exactly restful or communal for the hostess/pizzaiola. Running the pizzas through the bedroom and up the stairs and then down the stairs and then going back up for the welder's gloves and trying to balance a wine glass on the edge of plywood planter beds,  I felt like I was acting in a Marx Brothers movie, except not a very funny Marx Brothers movie.
I think I should have put the pizza in while there were still biggish flames.
I will now shut up about the oven for a while and give you two outstanding recipes.

Since I was using her book to make the pizza dough, I decided to try some new dishes from Nancy Silverton's Mozza. I chose these dishes because looked easy. They were unbelievably easy and unbelievably delicious.

If you can still get figs where you live, make figs wrapped in pancetta right away. Writes Silverton: "I certainly didn't invent the idea of contrasting the sweetness of figs with something piggy and salty: figs and prosciutto is a classic."

That is true, but while I've eaten many tasty sweet/piggy/salty dishes before, this one was special.

fresh figs (they don't have to be soft and perfectly ripe; this recipe will redeem slightly firm figs)
thinly sliced pancetta
your most expensive balsamic vinegar.
wedge of Parmesan

1. Cut off any hard bit of stem and halve the figs lengthwise.
2. Wrap each fig half in a strip of pancetta.
3. Heat a cast iron skillet until very hot and sear the figs, flat side down, for 2 minutes. Turn the figs and sear on the other side for 2 minutes.
4. Arrange the figs on a plate and drizzle very sparingly with balsamic vinegar. Shave strips of parmesan cheese on top. Serve with toothpicks.

Note: Next time I will try putting a shard of Parmesan underneath the pancetta to let it melt a bit. The figs would be easier to eat and you'd be sure to get all the elements of the dish in each bite.

For dessert I made Silverton's Greek yogurt gelato expecting a slightly icy frozen yogurt. What I ended up with was a mountain of ethereal, velvety, tangy, snow-white gelato that I will be making again and again. Silverton says to mix all the ingredients in a bowl, but you can just put them straight into your ice cream machine and spare yourself the dishwashing. I did.

1 quart whole milk Greek yogurt (you can use well-strained homemade)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Scrape all the ingredients into your ice cream machine. Freeze. Serve immediately. Makes 1 quart.

Going forward, I'm wrapping up The Suriani Kitchen over the next week. I have a suspicion most people aren't too interested in this obscure cookbook or obscure cuisine, but I can't quit until I've tried a few more of these dishes, especially some of the rice pancakes and dumplings, the pickled limes and the banana jam. I would be disappointed in myself. After I close the Suriani chapter, I'm thinking Burma.


  1. Woooooohoooooo! You finished the oven! I'm sure it'll just take some fiddling to figure out how best to make a pizza in it. I, for one, am mighty impressed.

    Pretty excited that you're doing Burma next. Amazon keeps trying to get me to buy it, but I'm hesitant to without actually looking at it (which is unlikely, since I now live in Italy.)

  2. Ei -- So you're in Italy now? I have wondered! You might have trouble getting some of the ingredients, but I can tell you that when you eventually do look at Burma, you will want it.

  3. Wow! I am incredibly impressed with that oven, truly! And it even looks good. Be patient, you will figure out how to cook well in it if anyone can. Do you plan to cook any bread in it? By the way, your readers will be happy no matter where your interests take you. We're your readers!

  4. Yep, we arrived in Naples in August and are in the end-stages of acquiring housing. I can't tell you how antsy I am to be reunited with my belongings. Hopefully it'll only be another two weeks.

  5. Fling one smallish chunk of wood on top of the coals, it will look pretty and really helps with the charring of the crust.

  6. My Burma copy arrived yesterday. For some reason, I have high expectations about this book.


  7. This makes me feel like I need to delve into the Silverton book. Barbara Lynch's, too. And, yay, for Burma!

  8. I've always said "it takes a village to make pizza in a clay oven". It does help to have everything right next to it, including the place you are going to eat it. I still find making pizza solo to be next to impossible and just barely doable with two people. Thin crust is a must and go light on the toppings, they tend to add moisture. I'll be interested in your plaster exterior, ours is just cob, but I've thought of doing a veneer of some type to help prevent cracking.

  9. Yeah! Love reading your adventures (including oven building). Lesson learned: Nope, I am not going to do that! Lol! Keep up the good work. Why did your son lose interest? Best, Ida

  10. Thank you for making it so I don't have to figure out a frozen yogurt recipe for myself. The oven looks great, but I too doubt my ability to construct my own.

  11. It looks wonderful. congratulations. If you get a picnic table, won't the goats and chickens try to eat the pizza? and drink the wine?

  12. Burma looks great! they have banana flowers at Hmart :) The oven is fantastic, does it put off heat so you can sit around it like a fireplace?

  13. Yes!!!! for Burma, and any of their earlier books!
    Congrats on oven. Looked way hard.

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