Out­door ovens heat­ing up the Prairies

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - COLLEEN ZACHARIAS

CHEST­NUTS roast­ing on an open fire, Jack Frost nip­ping at your nose... This hol­i­day sea­son, a grow­ing num­ber of out­door cook­ing en­thu­si­asts may be hum­ming the lyrics to this clas­sic song com­posed in 1946 by Mel Torme and Robert Wells, as they pre­pare de­lec­ta­ble dishes in their newly ac­quired pizza ovens on cold Prairie evenings be­neath a star­lit sky. Michele La­Tourelle, an avowed foodie who is also a dis­play ad­ver­tis­ing sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Free Press, fell in love with the idea of hav­ing her own out­door pizza oven while watch­ing Bri­tish celebrity chef Jamie Oliver on the food net­work deftly pre­par­ing one de­li­cious wood-fired recipe after another. The hol­i­days are a time when all of us have a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in food — how it is pre­pared, how it tastes, and above all, how we share it with friends and fam­ily. Does food taste bet­ter when it is pre­pared in a wood-fired oven? La­Tourelle an­swers with a re­sound­ing yes and has ex­per­i­mented with her back­yard oven many times since it was in­stalled in Oc­to­ber by Ja­son Druet, JD In­ter­lock & Land­scapes. For a mid-De­cem­ber gath­er­ing of friends and fam­ily, La­Tourelle served margherita pizza as the ap­pe­tizer. First, she pre­pared fresh home­made dough. Next, she hand-crushed San Marzano toma­toes in a bowl, added 45 ml olive oil, a good pinch of sea salt and fresh, crushed oregano for the no-bake sauce. Buf­falo moz­zarella and fresh basil, which La­Tourelle brought in­doors from her gar­den in the fall, were the fin­ish­ing touches. The pizza was ready to eat in 35 to 45 seconds, a mere frac­tion of the time that it took to pre­pare. La­Tourelle says the taste of food cooked in an oven with an open fire is un­sur­passed. She rec­om­mends us­ing ta­ma­rack wood, a hard wood that holds the heat in the pizza oven for a longer time in cold tem­per­a­tures than another type of wood such as birch, and starts the fire about three hours prior to din­ner. So far La­Tourelle, who is of Ital­ian her­itage, has as­sem­bled a va­ri­ety of piz­zas, one of which didn’t have a speck of tomato sauce, only grilled pota­toes with gruyere cheese, pancetta, and fresh rose­mary on a roasted garlic crust. What else does she plan to try? Fresh­baked bread, steaks, even roast turkey. La­Tourelle is de­lighted with the over­all ef­fect on her av­er­age-sized ur­ban land­scape, which has been trans­formed with the ad­di­tion of the oven, so use­ful and aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing at the same time. “The oven is the first thing that vis­i­tors see when they step into the yard,” says La­Tourelle. In a mat­ter of hours, Ja­son Druet, JD In­ter­lock & Land­scapes, as­sem­bled the kit onto an ex­ist­ing con­crete pad with easy ac­cess to La­Tourelle’s deck. Wayne Pa­tram, prod­uct de­vel­op­ment man­ager for Bark­man con­crete, says a solid base is es­sen­tial. The oven kit weighs more than 4,000 kilo­grams and stands ap­prox­i­mately 2.4 me­tres high. To cre­ate a con­crete base, Pa­tram rec­om­mends ex­ca­vat­ing about 23 cm be­low the grade and about 15 cm larger than the oven’s di­men­sions in or­der to pro­vide support beyond the foot­print di­men­sion. “Fill with 19 mm down lime­stone and com­pact firmly, then add a 2.5 cm layer of sand on top,” says Pa­tram who de­scribes the Bark­man oven as a Lego-style DIY kit, one that comes on three or four pal­lets so it can be moved into the land­scape with­out the need for heavy ma­chin­ery. Are out­door pizza ovens go­ing main­stream? Pa­tram, who has plans to in­stall one in his own back­yard next spring, be­lieves they are. Cer­tainly, he says, the list of back or­ders is an in­di­ca­tion of their pop­u­lar­ity. “Cook­ing is a so­cial ac­tiv­ity,” adds Pa­tram. “Peo­ple like to gather in the kitchen when a meal is be­ing pre­pared. It’s the same thing out­doors.” Mario and Silvia Aiello, south Win­nipeg res­i­dents, plan to in­stall a Mug­naini Medio 110 wood fired oven in their small back­yard. After com­pletely ren­o­vat­ing the ex­te­rior of their home, Aiello has spent the past year ready­ing his land­scape for a model of oven that traces its ori­gins to his birth­place, Italy. Aiello, owner of the Wood ’n’ Stone Shop, is a cer­ti­fied in­staller for Mug­naini wood-fired ovens that are avail­able ei­ther as a ma­sonry oven kit for build­ing from scratch or as a pre-built fac­tory-as­sem­bled model. The ovens have a terra cotta shell that can be in­di­vid­u­al­ized de­pend­ing on the home­owner’s pref­er­ence. “Love your grand­mother’s set of dishes?” asks Mario. “Break them and dec­o­rate your oven.” Mario is a master craftsman with a pas­sion for authenticity and plans to cover his oven in the same K2 stone he ap­plied by hand to his chim­ney. He also plans to in­stall a Rum­ford­style fire­place in his out­door space, which thus far has seen the new ad­di­tion of a re­tain­ing-wall planter, brick pa­tio and wood per­gola. A kitchen gar­den planted with oregano, pars­ley and other in­gre­di­ents for cook­ing will go into the re­tain­ing wall, in­ter­spersed with dwarf bar­berry shrubs. Like the La­Tourelle fam­ily, the Aiel­los love to cook and en­ter­tain. Mario’s mother was a chef at the late, great Ve­su­vio’s restau­rant and has in­stilled in her fam­ily a love for good food. “A wood-fired oven,” in­sists Silvia “is not about the speed with which food is cooked. It’s about the ex­pe­ri­ence of mak­ing, en­joy­ing, shar­ing and savour­ing food. It’s about the de­li­cious mar­riage of flavours and the im­me­di­ate sat­is­fac­tion.” Mario de­scribes the Mug­naini oven as a dif­fer­ent sort of an­i­mal. The shape, for ex­am­ple, is that of an igloo that has been flat­tened on the top and has a solid re­frac­tory clay base that is lay­ered with clay ag­gre­gate. More im­por­tant to Mario than even flavour is food safety. The fire­brick floor made of re­frac­tory clay has been fired to 1,649 C to burn out all of the par­tic­u­lates. The mod­u­lar oven was patented in Italy in 1946 by Sil­vio Valo­ri­ani. The North Amer­i­can distrib­u­tor is Mug­naini Im­ports in Cal­i­for­nia ,which is also the site of a cook­ing school taught by An­drea Mug­naini. Both Silvia and Mario are plan­ning next year to reg­is­ter for the cook­ing classes, which are held in a ren­o­vated farm­house in Mug­naini’s vine­yard in the heart of Sonoma wine coun­try. An­drea Mug­naini and John Thess are co-au­thors of The Art of Wood Fired Cook­ing (2010, Gibbs-Smith). In a re­cent phone con­ver­sa­tion with Thess, he pointed out that only nine of the 100 or so recipes con­tained in the book are for pizza, un­der­scor­ing the wide range of dishes that can be pre­pared from roasted pork loin with fig sauce or roast turkey with thyme to oven-poached eggs with braised sum­mer vegetables. “No one wants to stand next to you when you are us­ing a smoky bar­be­cue grill,” says Thess, “but guests move in closer if you are pre­par­ing a meal in a wood-fired oven.” As the out­door land­scape evolves to in­clude a wider range of lux­u­ri­ous but at­tain­able ac­ces­sories for the home­owner’s en­joy­ment, there is one wood-burn­ing oven that hear­kens back to a much ear­lier time. Ur­ban Eatin’ Gar­den­ers Co-op has built cob ovens us­ing clay, sand and straw, one of which is owned by Wheat Song Bak­ery, lo­cated in Mor­den. Owner Lynette Froese re­calls the dance party where ev­ery­one stomped and mixed the clay, sand and straw by foot on a tarp. Ur­ban Eatin’s Paolo Riva (now with Root Fire) moulded the mix­ture into the shape of the oven body. Field­stone, sourced lo­cally, was used to cre­ate the plinth or base of the oven, which also fea­tures a brick fa­cade and chim­ney. Riva ex­tols the ben­e­fits of this an­cient art form and con­tin­ues to of­fer cob oven work­shops. “They ex­cel at bak­ing bread be­cause of the high lev­els of ra­di­ant heat and also the con­duc­tive heat from the hearth.” Froese says it takes about three hours to heat up the oven. Be­cause it re­tains heat for sev­eral hours, Froese bakes pizza and buns ini­tially, then in­serts other food such as squash, some­times even a roast. She has also used it as a slow cooker overnight. Froese’s favourite recipe for pizza dough is an ar­ti­san sour­dough recipe sourced from Healthy Bread in Five Min­utes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Fran­cois (2009, Thomas Dunne). Sam­ple her bread at Mor­den’s farm­ers mar­ket or check out the recipe at www.fru­gal­fam­i­ly­times.com. Bon ap­pétit!


Out­door wood-fired ovens such as this Mug­naini model are de­signed for year round cook­ing. Start your fire slowly and bask in the warmth and flavours of a mid­win­ter feast.

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