We were lucky enough to attend our friends’ grand unveiling of their home-built wood-fired oven a couple of weekends ago. It was a glorious success to say the least with perfect pizzas, steaks, sausages and sourdough bread all appearing in parade-like procession. It was a wonderful evening filled with great wine, food and conversation. They are reliable for all three of these.
Of course, we spent a lot of time discussing the building process of the oven, the time it required, the type of bricks, type of cement, reinforcement needed, the shape of the oven and all of the key points that went into building the oven. This was all very interesting, but what I found inspiring was the discussion and demonstration on the traditional ways in which the oven has been used for hundreds of years.
With a wood-fired oven, the fire is lit inside the oven, towards the back and brought to a very high temperature, as indicated by a thermometer in this case. The bricks then begin to heat to the same temperature and once the desired temperature is reached within the oven, the wood and ash can be removed and the oven will slowly cool over hours and even days. As the temperature drops, it becomes suitable for different foods, and this is where consciousness come starts to play a role in proceedings.
The Italians have a special sequence of cooking that takes advantage of the range of heats that the oven moves through during this process. When the oven is at its hottest, this is the time that the pizzas are cooked and they are often used as appetisers while the main meal is being cooked. As the temperature of the oven cools a little, then the steaks and other meat and sausages can be cooked.
As the temperature starts to head down towards 100 degrees C, this is when you would put the lamb or pig into the oven and let it slow roast over a number of hours (probably around 3 hours). You can add the vegetables after a couple of hours and once the lamb is cooked and resting, the bread can then be baked.
I personally find this type of preparation, planning and conscious use of a resource very inspiring and rewarding. No wonder the Italians have such a wonderful and healthy relationship with food when they show it such respect and understanding, with recipes passed down through generations and knowledge shared between families and friends.
It must also be said, that with a long lunch / dinner such as this, much wine and conversation would flow and much enjoyment would be shared. I think I will take a leaf out of their book when we build our oven and make a day out of our cooking experiences, sharing with family and friends. In the mean time, our friends have agreed to let me bake bread in their oven next time it is up and running for the weekend (hopefully Easter time) in exchange for a couple of loaves. I am thrilled with that idea but just hope that my bread can be enjoyed with olive oil and salt as intended, and not used as extra bricks for their garden wall.