During the Covid-19 pandemic I’ve been guilty of some pretty silly impulse purchases (largely made between 1am and 3am). Did I really need 30 different pouches of herbal tea? Or 60 strawberry plants? Probably not. But one thing which made it into my virtual shopping trolley without regret was a wood-fired pizza oven. To be fair, I did discuss it with my (half asleep) husband and he grunted back at silly-o-clock in the morning he also thought it was a good idea. Fab!
We’d been deliberating for months over which type and size we’d need for our garden and, sensing summer slipping away, I put my order in for an Igneus Pro 600 from the Pizza Oven Shop (which has one of the largest ranges in the UK).
And do you know what? It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Come rain or shine, heatwave or snow shower – we’ve fired up our matte black beauty almost every week since its arrival last August. Fully justifying (in my mind anyway) a price tag stretching over £1,000.
Heating up in just 15 minutes, and taking around 90 seconds to cook two large pizzas at a time, it’s a cook’s dream. But there’s so much more to wood-fired ovens than pizza pies. As the embers die down, and the heat recedes, there’s an opportunity to take advantage of the long-lasting warmth for cooking other things.
At around 400C potatoes will sizzle and crisp.
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Get it down to 220C with the door shut and cook a joint of pork, beef or chicken.
At around 190C to 200C you could bake a cake, again with the door shut.
And, as we do very often, you can double foil wrap a joint of meat in a cast iron or stoneware dish, add a splash of liquid and herbs, and cook it slowly in the residual heat overnight.
This month I’m sharing with you my favourite pizza-making tips, as well as two other recipes you can cook afterwards. I’d love to see what you’re whipping up in your pizza oven. Follow me on Instagram @charliejarv and tag me in your recipes and foodie photos.
The best pizza hacks ever
As lockdown rules have eased, our garden has become a (socially distanced) hub for small parties – involving pizza, of course. I don’t know about you, but I find pizza making for a crowd (any group of over four people) a huge chore. You’ve got to keep the temperature right. You get covered in flour, dough and sauce. And inevitably you end up with the worst pizza at the end because you can’t be bothered. No more. Here are two tips which will ensure everyone eats well, and you can still be the life and soul of the party.
Pre-cook your bases. So simple but this will make a massive difference to your gatherings. Make your dough as usual. Then split into portions, roll and press into oiled pizza trays. Bake in a fan oven at 220C for eight to 10 minutes. Then flip onto a piece of greaseproof – uncooked side up. Repeat with all your dough, layering baking parchment between. You will end up with a pile of bases ready to be topped and finished in the pizza oven when your guests arrive. With no compromise on taste or quality. They’ll cook quicker too. Bonus.
Don’t faff about making your sauce. Try my go-to pizza topping. It will cover six to eight 20cm pizzas. Add one tin of chopped tomatoes with Mediterranean vegetables to a food processor or blender with a generous pinch of dried basil, 1tsp garlic powder, 1tbsp tomato puree, plenty of freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste. Blitz until smooth.
(Makes 4 large pizzas)
We have a pizza menu at home (yes really) which we’ve sent out to friends so they can ‘order’ a couple of days before coming for dinner. By far top of the list for meat eaters is The Whole Hog (sausage, bacon, ham, bacon jam and Frazzle crisps). And our most popular veggie options are The Rachel (named after our friend and topped with halloumi, charred onions and chilli jam), and this one – The Cinderella.
Combining sweet, charred squash, toasted seeds, salty blue cheese and ribbons of caramelised onion, it has a moreish, umami taste that my mates can’t get enough of.
For the dough:
600g strong white bread flour
1tsp fine sea salt
1 sachet dried yeast
1tbsp olive oil
Hand hot water (cooled from the kettle)
For the topping:
1 portion of my go-to sauce (see notes)
1 small butternut squash, peeled and roughly cubed
1 large red onion, halved and sliced
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
Oil for cooking
2 balls mozzarella, chopped
100g strong blue cheese, chopped
2tbsps pumpkin seeds, toasted in a pan
1 bunch spring onions, thinly sliced
Make the dough first. Place the flour, salt and yeast in a bowl. Add the oil and rub in until it ‘disappears’. Now, add warm water gradually, stirring with a knife, until it comes together into a slightly sticky dough. Around 300ml should do it, but the amount of absorption depends on the quality of your flour. A slightly stickier dough will give better results than a dry dough.
Leave, covered, for 20 minutes, then knead until bouncy and smooth on a floured worksurface. Made the day before, and left covered in the fridge, the dough will develop a richer flavour so try this if you have time.
For the topping, place the squash, onion and thyme in the oven with a glug of oil and roast at 200C for 35 to 40 minutes until softened and lightly charred.
To prepare, get your pizza oven up to 600C. Cut the dough into four equal pieces and roll out on a floured surface. Place one of the pizzas on your peel and spread with the sauce. Sprinkle over a quarter each of the cheeses and mixed vegetable topping. Slide into your pizza oven and cook until the edges are charred and raised, and the cheese is melting and bubbly. Repeat with the rest of the dough and toppings.
Finish with a sprinkle of fresh spring onion and pumpkin seeds.
(Makes 4 large pizzas)
Hawaiian pizza is probably outlawed in Italy, and it’s not the go-to for many people, but I like to think my poshed-up version is worthy of a place in your wood-fired oven. Shredded ham (the best quality you can buy) is baked onto the top, with a final flourish of spicy pineapple salsa. Don’t ask me why, it just works. Try it yourself. The leftover salsa is dreamy over tacos or spooned over grilled or pan-fried white fish.
Dough as The Cinderella
For the topping:
My go-to sauce (see notes)
100g smoked cheese, chopped
2 balls mozzarella, chopped
4 slices of the best ham you can get your hands on
1 small pineapple, chopped into small cubes (under 1cm)
1 large red chilli, deseeded
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
½ red pepper, finely diced
Prepare the dough and sauce as for The Cinderella pizza.
Shred the ham.
In a bowl, combine the pineapple, chilli, onion, red pepper, lemon juice and seasoning. Set aside.
After spreading the dough with sauce, top with a quarter of the cheeses and ham. Cook until bubbling.
Garnish with a couple of spoons of the salsa.
Slow, slow, quick jerk chicken and cauliflower
You need to put a bit (just a little bit) of advance prep work for this easy tray bake, which takes full advantage of the gorgeous smoky flavours conjured by a pizza oven. If you’re not making pizza first, use the initial high temperature of the oven to cook flatbreads for mopping up the juices of this dish.
It is melt-in-the-mouth good and best served with a big dish of Jamaican-style peas and rice.
1 large chicken leg and drumstick or 2 large chicken drumsticks per person
1 large cauliflower, cut into large chunks
2 peppers, deseeded and roughly cut into large chunks
2 red onions, peeled and roughly sliced
1.5tbsps jerk seasoning
1 small punnet cherry tomatoes
Par-boil the cauliflower in a pan of boiling water for five minutes. Drain.
Now, add the chicken pieces, peppers and onions to a slow cooker with a splash of water and cook on high for five hours. Alternatively, place in an ovenproof dish, cover well and bake at 120C for the same amount of time.
Remove the veg and chicken carefully to a cast iron or earthenware dish and add the cauliflower and tomatoes. Cool and pop in the fridge. Reserve the cooking stock which is so delicious and can be frozen to use as a base for a sauce or soup.
On the day of cooking (up to two days later), remove the chicken from the fridge and rub in the jerk seasoning and honey – do this about one hour before cooking.
Let the pizza oven die down to between 250C and 300C and push in your tray almost to the back. Cook for around 15 to 20 minutes (turning halfway) until piping hot through and charred in places.
S’mores cookie dough traybake
Be still my beating heart. This one really is a chocolate-lover’s dream and certainly attracts a bit of attention as it comes out of the oven. It can be prepared a couple of days in advance, and popped into the wood-fired oven around half an hour after you’ve used it to make pizza. Dessert sorted.
230g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
200g dark brown sugar
120g caster sugar
4 large eggs
230g self-raising flour, sifted
160g plain flour, sifted
100g cocoa powder, sifted
1tbsp baking powder
Large pinch bicarbonate of soda
1tsp fine sea salt
350g chocolate chips (white, milk, dark or a mix)
8 chocolate digestive biscuits broken into pieces
12 large marshmallows
Place the butter and sugars in a large bowl (or electric free-standing mixer) and beat. Add the eggs and continue to beat until thick and creamy like ice cream. This beating is what helps the dough develop a nice crispy crust and gooey centre (use the same method when making brownies). Sift in the flours, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate and sea salt and carefully mix to fully combine. Fold through the chocolate chips.
Dollop the mix into a double lined (with greaseproof) standard roasting dish. It can be quite rough. Just plonk spoonfuls here and there, ensuring it’s level. Once the pizza oven is down to about 250C – place the tray in the centre and leave for five minutes. Now, push in the broken biscuits and marshmallows. Cook for a further five or so minutes. What you’re looking for is a crispy crust, bubbling golden mallows, and a molten underneath. Serve hot with plenty of vanilla ice cream.