So you’ve built a wood fired pizza oven in your back garden, but winter’s here and you’re thinking – “No more pizza until April!”. Wrong.
The case for cooking outside
Shorter days, longer nights and colder weather can make it difficult to see the possibilities of cooking outside, but I think this is precisely the time of year that you need to breath fresh air and get your al-forno cook on!
I’m going to give you three tips and five recipes that will make winter your favourite time of year for wood-fired cooking. Any of the recipes work just as well in a conventional oven, so no excuses!
Tip #1 – Plan a weekend around the oven.
Using a clay or brick oven requires a little planning. Typically I like to fire up my oven three hours before I’m ready to cook pizzas in it.
Three hours is about how long it takes for the cooking surface and the dome to absorb enough heat to cook at a consistent 450ºC. However, once you’ve finished making endless pizzas for your family and friends, the oven will remain hot for a considerable amount of time. Plus an oven can always be heated up again by adding to the fire.
A typical weekend plan might look like this:
- 10 am – Light the oven
- 1 pm – Cook pizza
- 3 pm – Bake bread
- Overnight – Slow roast vegetables or meat
Sunday morning – meringues
Recipe #1 – Lasagne
You thought I was going to start with pizza, didn’t you? You can see our go-to recipe for vegetable lasagne here. And the good news is that it can be cooked in a wood-fired or a conventional oven.
Recipe #2 – Focaccia
Focaccia is a simple bread perfectly designed for mopping up thick Italian sauces.
There are simply hundreds of variations on the theme, but the one I cook tends to make use of whatever herbs I have to hand – generally rosemary. Recipe here.
Tip #2 – Make an excuse for an occasion
We love using the excuse of having friends and family over to make our weekends all about food. Firing up the oven is something that requires planning and forethought, so why not make the most of it by turning it into an occasion.
Last Christmas we cooked our boxing day meal in the pizza oven. Was it cold outside? You bet! Did it matter? Not in the slightest. We prepared a memorable three-course meal, with two of the courses coming straight from the oven.
Recipe #3 – Pizza
OK, you can’t have a post about a pizza oven without mentioning pizza. Pizza is as much an Autumnal and Winter dish as it is Spring and Summer. Why? Because the toppings can reflect the seasonal produce you have available.
At this time of year, I like a mushroom and squash pizza. Check out my everyday pizza recipe for instructions on how to make the base.
Rather than the classic tomato and mozzarella, try roasting some slices of squash with some olive oil, fresh herbs and salt. Sauté the sliced mushrooms in oil or butter and season well.
Assemble the pizza but start with a layer of mashed roasted garlic and parmesan. Then scatter some of the mushroom and squash mixed up with some crumbled goats cheese.
Tip #3 – Get your hygge on
Remember all those blankets you’ve accumulated over the years? How about those tea-lights and candles you thought were great value in Ikea back in 2013? Now is the time to get them out.
Sometimes nights like this are a spontaneous and lovely end to a weekend evening, but when you know you’re going to be using the oven this is something you can plan for.
You can use leftover coals from the oven to light a chiminea or fire-bowl. The oven can be used to bake biscuits. We haven’t found a way of making mulled cider in a pizza oven, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying. If all else fails you could heat it on a hob like all those oven-less people out there.
Recipe #4 – Baked camembert
This one hardly counts as a recipe, but it was the first thing we ever cooked in our oven.
It helps if you have a nice little ceramic pot to bake it in, but you can use the round wooden packaging – just be sure to remove the paper.
We like to keep it simple. Make four little slits in the top of the cheese and insert half garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs. Cover and cook for 20-30 minutes or until the cheese it effectively liquid inside. Serve with the bread you’re going to make in the next recipe!
Recipe #5 – Bread
Just as I can’t help but mention pizza, so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention bread. Basically, my reasoning is this: if you’re going to fire up the oven, why wouldn’t you bake bread! Check out my step by step here.
Sourdough is our favourite, but I can promise that nothing tastes better than bread baked in a wood-fired oven.
We all have an oven
So there you go. Any kind of oven, used with a little planning can form the centre of a lovely, warming weekend of food, friends and family. There’s a good reason the Italians make such a big deal about Al Forno cooking!