Time to Cook...
Cobb Oven Pizza
Saturday, July 14, 2012
This intensely hot dry spell we’ve been facing over the past two weeks really put a damper on my last entry about growing tomatoes. No matter how good your irrigation is, there is nothing like steady, moderate rain to keep the ground fertile and the plants happy. So in honor of the return of the rain last night, I decided to throw a party celebrating a food that lives and dies by the quality of the tomato, the pizza.
Taking the lessons of our culinary adventures in Italy, we tried to stay as true to Italian pizza as possible. If there is anything we learned from Italian pizza it’s that less is more, and that a good pizza maker knows when they’ve reached the point of enough. So we kept the dough thin, the cheese modest, and the toppings as refined as possible. It wasn’t an easy task with the bounty of the summer harvest, but we did what we could.
Although I was proud of our pizza, I was even more excited to fire up the cobb oven. Two summers ago, Elisa and a group of teens from a summer program she used to run built the oven as the first part of our future community cooking area. For two days the team built the base of the oven out of stone, and then took off their shoes, mixed a concoction of hay, clay and sand, and stomped on it until it became almost like a mortar. They then molded the cobb over a dense ball of newspaper, and let it dry into a solid form. That is an extremely abridged version of how it was done. I’m not even close to being an expert on cobb so you should explore the web and other natural building resources in the area to find out more. I’m sure our friends at the Eastern PA Permaculture guild may have a recommended book or two.
However, I am getting pretty good at using it. The oven functions by building an extremely hot wood fire inside and letting it burn for almost an hour until it is down to embers. If you let it burn any less, the temperature won’t get high enough. But it takes very little fuel since it’s in an enclosed area with limited air flow, so getting it hot is not a problem if given the right amount of time. The heat of the fire is retained in the oven and once you are ready to put the pizza in, you push the embers to the side to allow for a little crisping. Once you put the pizza in on the stone base of the oven just make sure that there is a good distance between the dough and the embers. Here’s a good picture of how it’s done.
Although I agree with the eco argument of using natural materials to cook with instead of gas or electric, the actual immediate benefit is that the cobb oven can get to a cooking temperature that a house oven just can’t get to. The downfall of pizza in the house oven is that you can never get the crust totally right. It’s always either too hard or too soft. But the cobb oven makes that well cooked, but soft crust that a pizza shop offers. And it’s delicious.
I realize that it wasn’t the most symmetric pizza. The high heat only gave me a few frantic seconds of sticking my hand in the oven to rotate the crust before my skin started to burn and I deformed it a bit. But it was worth the pain because it was darn good. And the oven retained its heat long enough for us to make six more Strombolies. I almost wanted to make bread, but by the time the last Stromboli came out, I was too hungry to keep cooking. So we set the table under the farm’s community kitchen, poured some wine, and celebrated as we listened to the rhythm of the raindrops tap the tin roof.
Time to Harvest: Lettuces!
Monday, May 23, 2011
Have you already harvested your first lettuce of the season? I have cut some mixed red and green lettuce, but just take a look at this beautiful head of red butter lettuce I enjoyed last weekend. A boiled egg, some sea salt, a touch of olive oil, vinegar and dijon mustard - it was perfect! Remember that one you start cutting your lettuce to keep planting every week or so, and you’ll have a steady supply through the Spring.
My first Leeks!
Monday, May 09, 2011
I planted my first leeks last summer, and low and behold, they popped up beautifully this Spring. I had to brace myself, both feet solid, to pull these suckers out, beautiful and gritty. After a hearty few washings, I used them to make the recipe for Dilled Green Beans with Seitan from “Super Natural Everyday,” pictured below. Delicious! What are you cooking with leeks?