A New Take on an Old Favorite

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I can’t stop talking about the bountiful, beautiful tomatoes we are getting from our garden right now and I know farmers markets are overflowing with them as well. So, at this time of year, I’m always looking for any way to use the tomatoes before they go bad. I’ve already shared with you our Easy Roasted Tomato Sauce recipe, which is one way to use up a lot of your tomatoes. Another way, that may not use a ton of tomatoes but is definitely a way to show off that prized fruit, is a Margherita pizza. One of the most popular pizzas in the world, the quintessential basil, tomatoes and mozzarella toppings are simple, yet delicious.

According to popular belief, Pizza Margherita was created during a visit by King Umberto I and his wife Queen Margherita of Savoy to Naples in 1889. Chef Raffaele Esposito created a pizza which resembled the Italian flag of green, white & red (basil, mozzarella & tomatoes) and named it after the Queen. Since 2009, Pizza Margherita is one of three Napoli pizzas with a STG label (Traditional Guaranteed Specialty). This labeling is similar to the DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) labels on some Italian food or the DOCG (Controlled Origin/Production and Guaranteed Quality Denomination) labels on Chianti and other Italian wines. To make a true, STG Pizza Margherita, there are certain specifications that must be met:

  1. A 3mm thick disk of dough with a 1-2cm high crust
  2. No other working tools other than the hands of the pizza maker are allowed, no rolling pin or mechanical press machine
  3. It needs to be cooked in a wood-fired brick oven at 485C for about 90 seconds.

That’s a nice thin crust, 3mm is only around 1/10th of an inch thick and the crust would be around 1/3 to a little over 2/3 of an inch. Also, can we talk about that heat! WOW!! 485C is around 905F. We don’t fire our wfo to that temp. As a general rule, the dome is usually around 500F and the floor is anywhere from 500-750F.

Of course, we are not as precise as those rules; however, the traditional toppings of basil, mozzarella and tomatoes are standard when making or ordering a Margherita pizza. That is until my wife decided to shake things up a bit and we found a new favorite way to make Pizza Margherita. The secret? Ricotta cheese!

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Add herbs, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to the ricotta, schmear it all over the crust, top with fresh sliced tomatoes, basil and a drizzle of olive oil. Then pop it into your wfo for a minute or two. The seasoned ricotta soaks up the watery tomato and the flavors all blend well together to make a truly tasty pizza!!

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We prefer to use fresh tomatoes whenever possible, but you could also use our tomato sauce or make a super simple sauce from a can of San Marzano tomatoes and a little salt. Now, I do realize this isn’t really Pizza Margherita since we didn’t use mozzarella, but I won’t tell if you won’t 🙂

Try it the next time you have fresh tomatoes…you won’t regret it.

Mangia!

 

The Big Build…Let’s Dig In

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I began dreaming of having my very own wood-fired pizza oven over a decade ago. My wife and I had “Pizza Wednesday” every week and posted our delicious pies on Facebook. Our friends and family looked forward to seeing our creations each week so much that they would complain when we would skip a week for one reason or another. Due to work schedules, Pizza Wednesday became Pizza Friday and the fun continued as we moved from Arkansas to Pennsylvania. While our pizzas were very delicious baking in our house oven, I knew I wanted more.

After living in our new home for a couple of years, I began a serious search for the perfect wood-fired oven to build in our backyard chill space…we have a shed bar with a deck and enjoy many family gatherings there.

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I looked at kits to build your own oven (meaning a form that you fill with concrete, etc and then build your own arch on the entry…phew! NOT for me), cob ovens on Pinterest (they always make things look so easy, don’t they?)  and kits that came partially or wholly pre-assembled (now we’re talking!). We are good at DIY, but have never really done anything with masonry, so I was intimidated to say the least; however, I knew we wanted to do some of the building so we had some sweat equity in it.

I decided on a company where I could get a partially assembled oven with an all brick dome. This is one of the things that sold me on this company, because I knew it was the best conductor of heat….and all the pictures of the flame dancing across that dome had me mesmerized! I’ll share more about the oven itself and where I got it in future posts, you’ll just have to tune in if you’re curious. I ordered the oven and began digging in…

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…and let me tell you, I got my SWEAT equity in right away!! That huge tree you see in the top right of the picture had massive roots (see below) all throughout the area I needed to dig. I began this first step over the 4th of July weekend, 2015. This alone took three back-breaking days to get our space level enough to add a layer of sand and start compacting it.

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We tarped the space to keep it dry (sort of) and worked on it only on weekends, for the most part. The next step was to put down a layer of concrete pavers and level that whole area.

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We bought landscape bricks at Lowe’s and used landscaping adhesive (Liquid Nails) to keep the bricks sturdy. Then we had to decide how many levels we would need in order for the final surface to be the perfect height for cooking. We knew we wanted to top the brick layer with 4×6 weather-treated lumber to contrast nicely with the bricks. We also knew there would need to be a layer of concrete (we decided on more pavers, see before where I said I’m not a mason!) between the lumber and the oven’s base insulation. Then you would have the insulation and the height of the oven base to consider. After figuring all of that out, we determined we needed to have 8 levels of the landscape bricks. Several weeks and several trips to Lowe’s later (we ended up miscalculating by ONE brick on our last trip!), we had a great foundation for our oven.

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I’m exhausted just writing about all this work! Join me next time for the rest of the build.
Feel free to comment and let me know what you think so far!