Il Forno di Luigi e Giuseppina - Luigi and Guiseppina's Brick Oven
Luigi e Giuseppina have a brick oven. Luigi built it on their property a long time ago, just after he built their house. He is a brick layer, and always gets to do the most difficult tasks at his job because he is so painstakingly precise at what he does.
It takes a person who really knows how to build one of those, or you can forget about using it. So many things can go wrong: if the chimney is not well built the fire may not light, or not stay on, the smoke can come out of the mouth instead of the chimney, it can cook unevenly or very poorly.... the possibilities are so many.
In Italy we were fortunate to have our great uncle who was a master at building ovens, and fireplaces, among everything else. A few years ago we remodeled mom's house in Italy, I made it a point to invite Zio Totonno over (his name is really Antonio) for lunch. one day when we were building a new fireplace.
He is nearly 90 years old now, but he was a great help. Funny thing though, when I asked him to come see what we were doing he thought I was asking him to build it. Kept saying "no no I haven't done it in a few years, but I can tell you how to do it". He definitely gave us the guidance we needed, and it does not smoke in the house!
My sons have been requesting that I get one built on our property since their return from Italy at age nine. They wanted me to make the same roast chicken and roast rabbit, the crispy breads, the pizzas..... all the things grandma could bake in her brick oven that tasted so good.
Because I never learned how to use it, I never looked into getting one built. Another reason was Zio Totonno was not here in California.
I'm thinking of looking at one of those that they make in Italy and export in relatively large parts. I'm going to do some research, and depending on the outcome, I may get one, this summer.
Being in Italy will give me a good chance to learn how to use it with my mother there to teach me. I am very excited, and looking forward to being there this coming summer!
With my mind's eye I can still see my mother taking baking pans out of the oven full of chicken, or rabbit, smoking hot, hearing the swishing, crackling sounds. The delicious smells associated with whatever had been cooking still come back to me so vivid that I wish I could go back to that time.
Below is one of my sons' favorite recipes Grandma makes for them whenever they are in Italy. Although they taste best when they are baked in the brick oven, I have cooked them in gas and electric ovens with excellent results.
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Preparation Time: 50 minutes
Total Rising Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes
Baking Time: 30 minutes
Makes 8 pieces
FOR THE DOUGH:
1-1/4 teaspoons) dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
31/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
In the large bowl of the mixer combine yeast and 1-1/4 cups warm water (about 120 degrees). Stir with a wire whisk until the yeast is dissolved. Let it stand until you have lightly coated the inside of another, larger bowl with non-stick spray. Set aside.
Set the mixer with dough hooks on medium speed over the mixer bowl, add the salt and 3 cups (reserve the other half cup) of flour, and mix for 5 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
The mixture should be consistent and free of lumps. Scrape it out of the mixing bowl into the large greased bowl and spray the dough's top surface throughout with cooking spray.
Cover the top of the bowl with a kitchen towel and let it rise in a warm place (in the oven with the light on) for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until doubled in size.
By the time Mom or Grandma got around to making a new batch of bread, the old was usually hard. Needless to say, we always looked forward to this fresh pizza, because it was the first thing to come out of the oven.
They baked it to test the temperature of the brick oven. If it colored too quickly, it was a sign that the bricks in the oven dome needed another brushing with cold water to reduce the heat for the bread to cook evenly.