Prosciutto Pizza

How Pizza Should Be

When the brick oven is about 900 degrees F, a pizza like this cooks in a minute. This is Melanie’s favorite pizza, and no one is allowed to make it but her. I have quizzed her on the order of ingredients, as she has her own special process.

Ingredients

Pizza Crust made with Italian “00” Flour

Olive Oil

Pizza Sauce (see Tomato Sauce recipe on this site)–just a little

Prosciutto

Mushrooms and Black Olives

Italian Mozzarella Cheese

Fresh Peppers and Vidalia Onions

Rotate the pizza every fifteen seconds or so, or be ready to say “Don’t eat the burned part.” That also keeps the crust from catching fire.

Like a folk tale, the elements of this pizza must be deployed in the proper order. As far as fiery pizza goes, I had to let the fire cool down from 1083 degrees F before I could make the second one, a pepperoni pie. The rebuilt brick oven is turning out to be a flamethrower.

Brick Oven Rebuild, Part Four–Finished Front Masonry Work

Go Big or Go Home

My friend Torsten Fisch, who has been back in Deutschland for a good decade now, had a way with words, in multiple languages. A typically stiff Mercedes engineer who worked at their manufacturing facility in Vance, Alabama, after shots of Jägermeister he would cut loose with some epic rants, such as the following–

I don’t know what is wrong with you people in Alabama. As of the year 2000, the prostitutes in Germany have more rights than you do. They have social security, free healthcare, and a union.

Herr Fisch

Well said, with a German accent.

He also liked “Size matters. Bigger is better,” which perfectly sums up the Mercedes philosophy. If that is true, oven #2 is far better than oven #1. Here’s the pre-tornado version of the old oven–

The new oven is ornamented with Soldier (upright) and Sailor (ends facing forward) bricks, and a wider facade. The chimney is also taller, which should give me sufficient pitch to install a wood shingle shed roof. The walls of the yet to be constructed new enclosure will be wood shingles as well, which will require partial covering of some of the eye candy ornamentation of the chimney. At least it will then look less like a Mayan temple or a Ziggurat.

Plan for today was to grout the last section of Travertine tile that covers the front apron, but after two and a half inches of rain this morning, it’s off to plan B. Another new addition will be kitchen herbs for the outdoor kitchen, with some choice cultivars.

Roman Reference==see Coliseum

Today, besides transplants, I am sowing pots of Genovese basil and Italian parsley. Maybe I will be done with all the masonry work by the time they germinate.

Brick Oven Salmon with Maple Syrup and Meyer Lemon Glaze

Done

Having a supply of windblown wood that could last at least one lifetime, is not all bad. A case in point is the first dish out of the rebuilt brick oven, some glazed Salmon with herbs. I also took the advice of the authors of a new British book on brick oven cooking, and bought a battery powered infrared digital thermometer. The one I found records temps up to well over 1100 degrees F, which is very helpful, as I will later explain.

Ingredients

1 Fillet of Wild Salmon

Salt and Pepper

Lemon Juice (We have two Gallon freezer bags full of last year’s Myer Lemons)

Maple Syrup to taste

Olive oil

Fresh Fennel, Dill, and Parsley

A good ridged cast iron skillet is the perfect cooking device for this dish. I didn’t even bother mixing the glaze together in a bowl, and just put them on the fish in the order listed above. The cooking is just as simple.

Needs a Clean

I built a stick fire out of long deceased yellow pine limbs, and in no time it registered at 1000 degrees F. The plan was to let the back wall heat up to 250, and then put in the Salmon. I pushed the fire to the back when the temp was reached. Then I roasted the Salmon until the pan hit 200 degrees–the thermometer has a laser pointer, so you know what object you’re measuring. Time for a check (see top picture). The left hand piece flaked well–done!

Should you burn pine in a brick oven? The Brits say definitely no, the Americanos who published the design for the oven I built say burn nothing but pine. Going by the results, in an oven, nothing matters but heat, as opposed to a smoker or smokehouse, where the smoke is a flavoring agent. As long as it is not treated–and I had a relative who built a fire once out of treated wood, and was rewarded with a no expenses paid trip to the hospital–it doesn’t matter. I happen to have a few tons of pine blown down and lying on the ground, so pine it is for the near future. If that hurts anyone’s feelings, I offer my sincere tots and pears.

Brick Oven Rebuild, Part Three–A Rising Chimney, and Concrete Insulation

How about a little masonry humor to start off?

Back in Operation

“You are not of the masons.”

“Yes, yes,” I said; “yes, yes.”

“You? Impossible! A mason?”

“A mason,” I replied.

“A sign,” he said.

“It is this,” I answered, producing a trowel from beneath the folds of my roquelaire.

–EA Poe ,”The Cask of Amontillado”

Roasted salmon this weekend, pizza next–the oven is officially back from the ashes. The soldier row of bricks on the top of the facade is to be carried around on all four sides, and I have a cunning plan for some brick buttresses on the remaining two feet of chimney, that yet have to be added. Insulation makes this thing even better.

380 Pounds of Concrete Later

I have removed the form, and the dome oven insulation still needs more concrete. The goal is a solid layer of insulation about five inches thick. According to the bread builders book, an oven this size could produce 36 loaves of bread with just one good fire. Speaking of baking, I also rescued the old oak baking door for this new cathedral of fire–

Set Loose the Hounds

I will finish this Celtic knot carving as a medallion, brittle splitty Oak notwithstanding. Carving will be a suitable pastime for our too hot summer weather. Morning work outside, afternoon work in the cool workshop. Eat when you’re hungry. I might as well end with a poem about the most famous proponent of the great replacement theory, one Herr A. Hitler.

Adolf Hitler’s facial hair,

Is a very curious affair.

Such a small toothbrush

For such a big mouth.

Bertolt Brecht

Maybe one of our juvenile little Hitlers will replace him in the hottest level of hell.

Brick Oven Rebuild, Part Two–Fire and a Brick Arch

Phoenix

The Romans still rule when it comes to arts, crafts, and architecture, and I include cooking and rhetoric as arts-sorry, Plato and Socrates. The Greeks did bring the idea of brick ovens to the area that is now known as Naples in Italy, but the Neapolitans perfected it, as is apparent from the 33 brick ovens unearthed in Pompeii. I’m just happy to have one back in functional condition.

Speaking of Roman specialties, they were absolute masters at building arches, like the parts of the aqueducts that are still standing. They are amazing examples of engineering and strength, and the door to the domed part of the oven would have been an arch as well in a Roman oven. The angle iron holding up the flat slanted front of this dome is easier, and less expensive as well.

It’s on to building the chimney, re-insulating the dome, and one last addition-

Walls!

The entire enclosure is to be walled in with brick on all four sides, brought about by our 900+ leftover bricks. To use that many bricks on this oven would require a 34′ high chimney like the one on our house, and I am not that tall. Melanie, who has a Degree in Ancient and Medieval History, as well as a minor in Latin, wants this oven to be named Phoenix. I believe the phoenix myth could easily have come from the role of cooking in human evolution, with fire and the resulting heat being the mechanism that creates cooked, and therefore more easily digestible food (see the work of Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham in Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human). I won’t even talk about how good the wood fired pizza is.

Brick Oven Rebuild, Part One–Getting My Soldier’s in a Row

At Attention

The yearly springtime curtain of green is descending in our woodland, and it’s time to get the outdoor kitchen rebuilt and ready for action. Our new smokehouse survived the tornado of exactly two months ago, and as my favorite food writer AD Livingston noted, they usually turn into storage sheds when not in use. It’s time to get the masonry tools out of there and get to work.

The all new left side and repaired back wall (above) is made of reclaimed bricks from the old oven. The left side itself is a “soldier row” of bricks that are stood on end–19 in total–that curve on the front and back ends. We were very fortunate that none of the fire bricks on the cooking surface were damaged, and I only had to re-set two rows, and these beauties are dry laid. No black mortar stains under the fingernails. Yet.

I am not Montressor

The dome is almost complete, and the black mortar is everywhere. The front is to be a flat slope that rests on the angle iron, which also has to be joined to the arched top. I have the masonry blade on my circular saw, so the dust mask will get a workout. If I were as fast a mason as the villain Montressor in Poe’s masterpiece “The Cask of Amontillado,” who walls up his friend not so Fortunato in the cellar beneath his house, I would celebrate with some pizza in a few days. Give me a couple of more weeks, and check to see if anyone has gone missing.

Outdoor Kitchen, Part Catastrophe–Destruction and Reconstruction

Yikes!

On 2/23, Melanie Jane’s birthday, we were hit by a small tornado. Our house had negligible damage, but the outdoor kitchen got whacked by a 60+ year old pine. Notice that the brick oven was strong enough to break said pine in two. Alas, the pine took down the roof and about one half of the oven. All this means is I get the chance to rebuild it even fancier than it already was.

Three weeks later, the scene is different. No pine, except for firewood, and no debris. I have over a thousand new bricks, and literally a ton of sand to make mortar with. I have an unlimited amount of yellow pine to cut into lumber, and the new roof is going to be made of pine shingles, split out by yours truly. I even pulled out my old broad axe to make pieces parts with.

Cross Section of a Brick Oven

I re-laid the fire bricks, and even found a spare one. So this was only a part catastrophe. I’m going to be such a busy man that I should probably make a list–rebuilt oven, new enclosure with pine shingles, and then world culinary domination. Maybe I should relax and read some Walden instead, like the magnificent conclusion to the chapter “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For:”

Time is but the stream I go afishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one. I know not the first let- ter of the alphabet. I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born. The intellect is a cleaver; it discerns and rifts its way into the secret of things. I do not wish to be any more busy with my hands than is necessary. My head is hands and feet. I feel all my best faculties concentrated in it. My instinct tells me that my head is an organ for burrowing, as some creatures use their snout and fore paws, and with it I would mine and burrow my way through these hills. I think that the richest vein is somewhere hereabouts; so by the divining-rod and thin rising vapors, I judge; and here I will begin to mine.

HD Thoreau

Like HD, my head is hands and feet. It’s time to put them all to work.

Axe Me Again Tomorrow

A Bad Axe Swedish Hatchet

I have been blessed and/or cursed with a lifetime supply of wood, and it only took about fifteen seconds. To make it a very short story, I now have around fifty storm damaged trees to work with.

2/23, Melanie Jane’s birthday, a loud WHOOSE sound woke us up around four o’clock, followed by some heavy rain. We had heard the same sound in the tornado outbreak of 2011, and it meant only one thing–blown down trees. Sure enough, there is a leaner on our house right now.

The brick oven got the worst of it, with the chimney knocked off, the dome cracked, and the enclosure destroyed by a mature pine tree. However, Jose and his crew of landscapers are coming by tomorrow to get rid of the two trees, and the insurance adjuster is scheduled for Monday. And as usual, I have plans.

If I were the character from the movie Bull Durham, who had to work on his cliches, I would say I am going to give it 110 percent and make some lemonade, but I don’t even like lemonade. My new pine chopping block came from my driveway, and I have multiples candidates for the second one. Then there is the plan for an even fancier brick oven, with an enclosure with pine shingles, and a roof covered with pine shakes. When life gives you wood, make shingles.

December 16–Pizza al Fresco

Mangia

Yes, winter in the age of climate disruption. Technically this was late late last fall, but with temps in the mid 70’s, it might as well have been late late spring. In this situation, the only thing to do is light up the brick oven, and eat some pizza outside.

Our pizza sauce has evolved over the years, and I will simply list the secret ingredients, soon to be secret no more. Here it goes:

Balsamic Vinegar

Garlic Paste

Italian Tomato Paste in a Tube (like the Garlic Paste)

Homemade Pesto, frozen in an ice cube tray

Home canned local Tomatoes

It is possible to screw up the sauce even with these ingredients, but it can only be accomplished with some difficulty. Go easy on the vinegar and the paste, and all’s well that eats well.

I will resist the temptation to make another bad joke about Al Fresco. I could hurt his feelings.

Smokehouse, Part 1–The Cold Smoke Machine

The Things You Find in the Scrap Pile

The game is afoot, as Sherlock liked to say to Watson. I am finally finishing off my brick oven, AND building a smokehouse to go along with it. There’s some history to go along with this plan.

Back in the day, every farmer in our area had a smokehouse. MJ’s grandfather’s was a beauty. He built a fire right in the middle of it, but only smoked meat during “hog killing weather,” which began in November when it formerly became very cold.. In short, cold smoking was the only smoking he did, which meant that the temps inside the smokehouse never topped ninety degrees.

I’m going for one that will cold smoke and hot smoke. I will be able to build a fire in the smoke house, and one outside of the smoke house, thanks to the steel wood stove that was buried under my scrap pile. Moving it also helped clean out my workroom.

Be that as it may, the foundation is also completed now, and I am ready to frame this thing. Check back in another week or two, as we are about to have some very good weather for working outdoors.

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