Fresh ingredients, fresh inspiration and fresh ideas on entertaining. It sounds a little like a Papa John’s Pizza slogan. However, there is nothing else to compare your average every day late night pizza source with the real wood burning clay pizza oven found in the backyard of one of EverGreen’s St. Charles clients’ homes. It might be in vogue to eat organic, local and DIY everything from kid clothes to kitchen towels, but Grace and Larry aren’t just being trendy. They found a way to incorporate that local element out of a love of cooking, in a feature that makes for one great dinner party.
It began with an idea Grace said was inspired by a trip to Italy. No matter how authentic a pizza made in a regular oven, it just couldn’t be duplicated without the real thing. That toasted brown outer crust and the soft chewy interior just doesn’t come out the same. The key to any pizza is the fact that a wood burning oven should reach 1300 F and cook a pizza in two minutes or less. Grace contacted EverGreen to bring the idea to reality. The oven was purchased from Superior Clay Corporation and EverGreen brought on Mike Carroll, a mason who has worked with EverGreen on many projects. He was the expert on the actual building of the oven from the heights of the chimney, to the details on the stonework. Below is the finished product.
We started with a discussed location. The most important element is that the oven should be visible from the many french doors out of the house, and far enough away from the house for fire safety. Its location helps to downplay more functional elements, like the shed and becomes a destination point for entertaining guests on the adjacent flagstone patio. The plantings surrounding it also helps to blend it in to the rest of the yard. Grace loves that the feature sits out in the yard because it provides a different vantage point even when she is just out reading on the patio.
Not every client is destined for a pizza oven in their backyard, but Larry, or rather the culinary mastermind behind the finished product, has really spent the time to perfect his pizza masterpieces. He notes that there is patience needed in spending three or four hours preparing the oven and allowing it to heat up slowly. This proves better for the oven as well to ensure it doesn’t develop any cracks. His other advice is to be prepared that some early tries might yield a less than perfect pie. They still taste just fine even if they aren’t completely round. And most importantly, it’s all about the right dough. I’ve included a recipe for Larry’s favorite dough recipe. There was much experimentation in flour types, and rolling techniques. Grace adds that kneading the dough with your fists really helps to allow gravity to keep the dough from bouncing back from its round shape. Check out the below picture of the Margherita pizza completed by Larry. Some of the fresh ingredients were also grown in his own garden beds. They also experimented with toppings that included carmelized onions, roasted red peppers, prosciutto, and any of the fabulous olive oils from the Olive Mill, in Geneva, IL.
Here’s another shot showing the fire building stage. Larry found that a variety in sized kindling worked best for getting the fire started and reaching the desired temperature.
Once the summer is in full swing, the make-your-own-pizza dinner party is a big hit. Grace says they encourage guests to pick their own toppings and everyone gets involved in the process. When the pizzas are transferred to the oven everyone watches and it becomes not only a meal, but the dinner conversation. She is hoping to find time over the next few months to have a family party to use the oven with some of her children who have not yet gotten to try it. Her next experiment is to try other types of food like breads and maybe even some meats.
This outdoor oven found the right people. Larry and Grace use the oven one or twice a month during the warmer weather. Grace explained her satisfaction best saying “It is a great focal feature and I still find myself staring at it everyday”. She has enjoyed having friends over for pizza because the style of cooking “really brings people together”. Not a bad way to use a backyard!
Larry’s Favorite Pizza Dough Recipe
Pulse all dry ingredients in 11-12cup food processor with regular blade to mix. Then with motor running, add oil and water slowly from top hole, finishing all oil about halfway through the water…keep adding water slowly as the dough begins to form…when the dough is a 100% complete blob with no dry ingredients left, stop the motor and let the dough rest in the bowl for 10 minutes. Then process the dough for 25-30 seconds to develop the gluten.
Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface in case it’s a little too moist or sticky. form into a smooth but still moist ball, drop in oiled bowl, turn to oil both sides, cover and let rise for about an hour, no more than 90 minutes.
Punch the dough down, separate into 2 equal size balls and let rest for ten minutes. Flatten each ball into 12 inch rounds, leaving the edges a little thicker.