If we are friends in real life, then you most likely know that I’m a rather easy-going guy (on most days, I mean). I prefer to roll with those punches, to let bygones be bygones, and accept what the universe presents to me most of the time. I’m fine with just about anything, really.
No, really, except when it comes to pizza.
Far from being a snob, I feel as if I’ve put in my time when it comes to doughy, salty, greasy disks of fast food or chain pizza pies. After all, the typical oil-laden pepperoni pizza of my youth were certainly all I ever knew. That changed in early adulthood as I moved around the country, then years later upon traveling to Italy and making pizza there. I learned that it doesn’t take much to make me happy, and that a real Neapolitan-style pizza is my personal benchmark for how these things should be enjoyed.
Quality ingredients, simple methods, and a great oven. Done.
(And Sorry Deep Dishers, but I just can’t get down with that. I lived in Chicago for several years, I get it).
For the past decade or so, I have welcomed the pizza renaissance in the US with open arms. There’s amazing pizza to be had from the East Coast to the West Coast, and even if LA was just a little bit behind the curve, the horizon sure looks good from here. And yet, no matter how I tried, I just couldn’t replicate my favorite pizzas at home. Sure they were good, and sure I’ve experimented with 20+ dough recipes, but nothing ever came close.
As we began to discuss remodeling our backyard, there was no way I wasn’t going to set aside the space and funds for a dream I’ve had for twenty years: to have my own pizza oven. As I cooked and traveled, I realized that the only way to make the kind of pizza I wanted would involve a wood burning oven. Case closed, no discussion. But a lifetime of apartment renting doesn’t really allow for that, so when I saw my opportunity I jumped at it.
You might even say I bought a house just to have my own pizza oven. You wouldn’t be far off.
After lots of research, I realized it was meant to be when I found Los Angeles Ovenworks, a company that specializes in outdoor wood-fired ovens. We discussed sizes, footprint, where it’d live, and a style we wanted before deciding on the oven of our dreams. The oven, handcrafted in Italy, arrived in pieces and sat for what seemed like an eternity, just waiting to be set up and installed.
I can’t tell you how anxious and antsy I was as I waited for construction issues to pass.
But once they did and permits were pulled, it went up within a day. Consisting of a few pieces, the housing took a bit longer as it had to match the rest of the backyard design. Oh, and once it’s completed, I’ll be sure to share the entire backyard project with you, too. Promise!
Once it was done, it took about a week of daily small fires to cure it and remove all residual moisture inside. It was fun to start fires, but frustrating knowing I wouldn’t be able to cook just yet. Patience, I told myself.
AND THEN THAT FIRST TIME?
That absolute first time?
I can’t even tell you the satisfaction and happiness I experienced that day. From arranging the wood to letting it burn out and moving embers, I realized a dream come true in that moment. The smell of smoke, the sensation of extreme heat, the pizzas that would be made in a matter of minutes, it is all that and more. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, hands down. And when I find myself with an evening or afternoon free, it’s pizza time. It’s restorative, meditative, relaxing and centering. Heck, it might as well be yoga for me. Except I finish with pizza. You can’t beat that.
While I’m far from a pizzaiolo, I’ve learned that the secret to a great pizza is heat. Lots of it. And done the correct way. In fact, even my least favorite doughs seem to come out just fine when cooked in a wood-fired oven. It’s that heat, I’m tellin’ ya. It’s amazing.
It takes about 90 minutes to get the oven where it needs to be for pizza, but waiting is a pure pleasure. It’s the only time I slow down and focus. One must always pay attention with fire.
Brcocolini and mozzarella and sauce
Caramelized onions, sage leaves, blue cheese and walnuts
Shaved Brussels sprouts, bacon, egg, about to go back into the oven
Of course, it’s a real oven and I’ve had a wonderful time learning to cook other things in it. Not everything has been successful, but I’m making delicious mistakes.
Shrimp, chorizo, lots of garlic, olive oil, and pimenton in small skillets then fired. OH MY GOD.
Wood fires and smoke were made for roasting whole fish. It’s simple and perfect.
These things were meant to go together.
The new pizza oven even played a staring role in a photoshoot I did at home.
Next to pizza, roasting a chicken is possibly the most amazing thing to do in a wood fired oven. This chicken will become part of the Zuni Chicken & Bread Salad recipe, something we make all the time now that we can. Heaven.
Once the rest of the outdoor kitchen is completed I’ll make sure to post more, including recipes for my favorite sauce and dough. In the meantime, if you’re ever in the mood for a pizza party, come over. You don’t have to ask me twice.