In the Beginning…
My fascination with wood fired ovens began in Italy.
In the early seventies my parents decided to move from the island of Capri to a Tuscan farmhouse. They had lived a very social life in Capri due to their work responsibilities and longed for a bit of solitude. It was on the island that I was first introduced to wood-fired pizza, Neapolitan style, with lots of tomatoes and the famous local mozzarella cheese.
My parent’s plans for the move was considered crazy because they had chosen a location that was quite isolated (and definitely lacked the jet-set sophistication of Capri) to bring up a family, but it had breathtaking views and was surrounded by tranquil olive groves, vineyards, oak and chestnut woods. The stunning landscape celebrated by so many painters definitely made us forget we lacked a proper heating arrangement in the winter!
The house was nestled high on a hill with a handful of other buildings dating back to the 1400, a time when the local bandit had built a look-out tower on the site as a defense from the valley towns (who understandably were out to get him in the wake of his many raids on their lands). Eventually the town folks got the upper hand, got rid of the robber and converted the fortification into a tiny cluster of farmhouses now called Oliveto, which translates to olive grove.
We moved in what used to be the main tower, although the only remnant from that time was a very large doorway in the basement (not counting the ghosts who took great interest in us newcomers). We were lucky that Oliveto still had two working wood-fired ovens, since so many of the old Italian brick ovens had been destroyed during the II world war. Although my parents had welcomed the newfound solitude among the Tuscan hills, thankfully they didn’t totally let go of their love for big Italian parties with lots of family and friends, and the larger outdoor pizza oven was put to use often.
On those feast days the food would be a communal undertaking, everyone pitching in to help. A piglet or a small boar would often be the main course, because the Italian porchetta is traditionally best cooked in a wood burning oven. Crostini di fegatini (roasted bread with chicken liver pate) would definitely show up as an appetizer, the main course would be served along with many seasonal vegetables, and dessert would always be a cake and cantuccini which were dipped in vin santo, the local “end-of-a-good-meal” wine.
I am sharing here some photos from that time, you can see from the size of the pig that it was indeed a big oven. It would take us more than 6 hours to heat it up! You can also judge by the length of the table how many were eager to partake of the food! I am sharing with you as well the recipes for porchetta and cantucci. Mmmh, you are going to love it, just click under the Italian Recipes section for printable directions.