In Cyprus we still see this tradition with many of the older houses displaying outside (as well as inside) kitchens, communal village bakeries and of course the ubiquitous bbq grill. The domed shaped wood burning oven can be seen all over the island in all sizes. Bakeries will have an array of them.
So, in the spirit of “when in Cyprus” …… we made part of our garden terrace an outside kitchen area with a large brick built bbq and a traditional wood burning oven. One of the huge pleasures of living in this part of the world is the ability to be able to eat all meals outside nearly all year. It only makes sense that the cook can also share in this pleasure!!! Whilst we are all now familiar with bbq cooking even in Britain, most of us have no experience with the delights of the traditional oven. I know Jamie’s got one and is passionate about it but have you seen the price of them???? Thousands of pounds…..
For us the good news was that because all the Cypriots have one, the price in Cyprus starts at about £100 delivered. Wood can be had for the gathering or you can buy it. Of course no self-respecting Cypriot would buy it. All my enquiries of where wood could be purchased met with a look of utter confusion and bemusement, then, outright laughter….. “Just go to the woods” or “Pick it up along the road”. They didn’t actually say “DUH….” But it was right there…. Teetering on their grinning lips, peeking through the twinkle in their eyes. So, we do occasionally buy a load but we also have turned into ardent foragers, stopping the car and filling the boot with dead wood from the roadsides. Somehow this makes it even more fun!
So, what do we use the wood burning oven for? Well, you can use it for everything, even grills. We tend to use it for bread, pizza, roasted meats and casseroles. I can’t tell you how utterly brilliant it is to remove a wonderfully aromatic, garlic studded leg of lamb from the confines of the oven, its meat flaking off in melting lusciousness with just a little hint of smoke in there with the herbs. Or to make fresh pizza in literally 2 minutes and then sit down and eat it poolside. It’s a thousand times better than what you can make in your normal home oven even if you make it from scratch there. Why? Well, the wood burner gets much hotter than your oven ever could and so the pizza base goes crisp almost immediately sealing itself against sogginess while the top melts very quickly, keeping maximum flavour and juiciness. Wait till you see the kids’ faces! And it’s so easy! Best of all, the only slightly difficult bit i.e. building and tending the fire is something that all men love doing. It brings back that caveman thing or something. So….. let them do all that over a beer while the sun sets, you can just prepare the pizzas which is a matter of minutes (or can be) and then….. bish bosh in they go and out they come! After dinner, there is no oven cleaning (not that you’d do much of that on holiday anyway but still…..). Next time He-Who-Builds-the-Fire goes to light it, he just sweeps the ash out and puts it on the garden. Any grease or debris just carbonises to ash in the heat of the oven. It’s genius. See…. That’s the Jamie coming out……
So, how to make your own pizzas for the family and become even more of a goddess than you already are: first, you could make your own pizza bases, it’s easy and fun and delicious and I do that always….. but…. You’re on holiday…. Maybe you don’t want to do that…. So, in the supermarkets they sell pizza bases or sometimes they call them pide bases. They’re the thin and crispy sort. If you’re a deep dish sort of family….sorry….you’ll have to make your own.
Get a selection of toppings you like: sausage, pepperoni, olives, vegetables, leftover chicken, tuna, fresh herbs. You will need some tomato paste (more on this in a minute) and cheese. I tend to use two sorts of cheese because I like A LOT of cheese on my pizza. Firstly, the really melty sort which is going to turn into oozy puddles on top – mozzarella traditionally. Now you can use mozzarella, it’s available but much better is to use the halloumi or hellim from Cyprus. Almost as melty as mozzarella and much, much cheaper because it was made up the mountain, locally. Then I often sprinkle over another cheese on top. It could be grated cheddar but again, when in Cyprus…. So I use the white cheese which is like a cross between goat and cottage cheese and sold in rather anonymous plastic bags in the supermarket. It’s what the Cypriots use in everything from pizza to a cheese roll or pie. They call it White Cheese!
Now about the tomato paste…. You could buy a tin or jar of passata in the supermarket but, hey, we’ve got an electric juicer in the kitchen and tomatoes are just fantastically flavourful and so, so cheap in Cyprus. Honestly, like 10p a kilo most of the year. So, what I do is, I run a whole load through the juicer to make tomato juice which my husband loves and is very good for him. All men over 40 should have a daily tomato juice to keep their prostate gland healthy. The juicer will also produce loads of tomato pulp as a by-product. Don’t throw it away! I put it in Tupperware in the fridge or freezer and then it is the perfect pizza topping. Fresh, flavourful, ready and free! I also use it as the basis for Italian style pasta sauces or in stews or on toasted bread as bruschetta.
So, out with the base, on with the paste, sprinkle over the toppings ending with the cheese and herbs. By now the oven should be heated up (it takes about an hour to get it super-hot for pizza). It should blast your face when you open the door and the roof should show white ash inside. Push all the wood and ash back to the edges of the oven leaving a space in the middle. Don’t worry about any fine bits of ash dust left on the oven floor, they are fine and won’t affect your pizza at all. The extreme heat sterilises it all. The oven will be at about 600-700 degrees F. Put the pizza onto the pizza paddle. Open the door of the oven and slide the pizza onto the oven floor. Shut the door. Wait literally 1.5 to 2 minutes. Open the door and take the pizza out.
Enjoy the rapture!