Until this past Thursday, we hadn’t made pizza in a very long time.
Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you just how long, but because I’ve been documenting our food life in excruciating detail for two years now, I can tell you precisely how long: eleven months and nine days.
It was eleven months and nine days ago that both – both! – our pizza stones cracked as they cooled. Kevin had perfected a two-stone system, with one near the oven bottom to cook the pie, and one just under the broiler to finish off the topping, and we’d been using it without mishap for several years. This time, though, we woke the next morning to find that both of the stones in pieces in the oven.
I don’t know what we did wrong, or even differently. If it was cold in the house, perhaps the stones cooled too quickly. Maybe they had simply come to the end of their natural life. Or maybe we’d somehow offended Pan, the god of pizza. In any case, we were stoneless.
But it didn’t matter, because we were this close to finishing our outdoor wood-burning oven, which would make far better pizza than our indoor propane-burning version.
Because I’ve been documenting our food life in excruciating detail for two years now, I can tell you precisely when we broke ground for the wood-fired oven: November 18, 2009. I’d gotten a good start on the foundation that fall, and anticipated finishing the oven in the spring.
So, a year and five days ago, given that I was expecting wood-fired pizza as soon as the ground unfroze, I didn’t replace the pizza stones.
Some of you may know that our wood-fired oven construction didn’t go as planned. When the ground unfroze, I decided that I didn’t like the way I’d built the base, so I tore the whole thing down. I did finally manage to rebuild it in a way that seemed acceptable, but it took me until the middle of the summer. Then it took another few months – and a couple of serious mistakes – for us to get around to building the firebrick deck.
That’s as far as we got last season, and the base and the deck are covered with a tarp as we wait for spring and oven-building season.
Had I known it was going to be that long, I would have replaced the damn pizza stones. But now I feel like wood-fired pizza is truly within our grasp, and I can’t bring myself to shell out the forty bucks to get stones that we’ll only use for a couple of months. But my stepson Eamon was visiting, and we really wanted to make pizza.
Then Kevin had an idea. “Honey,” he said, with that gleam in his eye, “I have an idea.”
I know something about the kind of ideas that Kevin has, so I prepared myself by checking the fire extinguisher and making sure our homeowner’s insurance was up to date.
“So, when the wood-fired oven is done …” he began.
“Or hell freezes over, whichever comes first,” I interrupted.
He rolled his eyes, and started again.
“So, when the wood-fired oven is done, we’ll be cooking the pizzas right on the deck, right?”
“Right …” I wasn’t sure I liked where this was going.
“And we have extra firebrick, right?”
“Uh … right.”
So let’s just arrange the firebrick in the oven and use it like a pizza stone.” He smiled triumphantly.
Astonishingly, I didn’t see a damn thing wrong with that plan.
In fact, we had enough confidence in it to invite our friends Todd and Beth Marcus and their two enthusiastic pizza-eating sons to join us. (We did not – I repeat, not – invite them because they are the owners of Cape Cod Beer and we anticipated that they would show up with a cooler full of their product, plus some ice cream.)
And Kevin pulled it off. The day before, he made pizza dough (we use the recipe from Franny’s, in Brooklyn, and swear by Sir Lancelot high-gluten flour from King Arthur), and he spent most of Thursday prepping toppings – caramelized onions, Italian-style turkey sausage, tomato sauce, and the white sauce for his signature clam pie.
The day of, he found ten of our cleanest bricks and arranged them in the oven. They were too heavy for the oven shelf, so we had to prop it up from underneath, and we probably covered too much of the surface of the shelf so the air didn’t circulate as well as it might have, but he turned the oven on several hours in advance and the bricks got nice and hot.
The Marcus family arrived (with their cooler!), and Kevin started making pizza. When he put each pie in, he turned the broiler on so the bricks would cook it from underneath and broiler from above. And he turned out perfectly cooked pizza after perfectly cooked pizza, with nothing but an el-cheapo Maytag stove and a few firebricks. I can’t wait to see what he can do with a real wood-fired oven. Let’s hope hell waits at least one more season before it freezes over.