Recipes for a wood-burning oven: make restaurant-quality meals in your home.
Many people with time on their hands are rediscovering the joys of cooking at home doing traditional dishes and relying on locally sourced ingredients to organise dinners as a way to spend quality time with family and friends.
Passion for cooking can mean drawing on the national gastronomic heritage or cross-pollinating it with exotic cuisines to bring non-native ingredients and seasonings to the fore.
To make great dishes, different cooking tools would be needed but often you have to make do with the plain gas-fired or electric kitchen oven. In a perfect world, everybody and their mother should use the wood-burning oven that can reach very high temperatures and imparts food that extra smoky flavour. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not only the best for baking bread and pizza but also for first courses, mains and desserts.
All you need is to acquire some skills in lighting and managing the fire to create an awesome full course meal.
In this article, we will give you some valuable tips to make the most of your wood-fired oven, we will explain how to use it according to the dishes you want to cook, focusing particularly on the techniques to perfectly bake pizza, and finally we will suggest some recipes through which it can unleash its full power.
How to get the most out of recipes cooked in a wood-burning oven.
The wood-fired oven is a great cooking machine both in terms of versatility and in terms of quality. It harks back to ancient traditions and peasant food, the sight of the fire and its mastery, the preparation of dishes are such powerful magnets for people that smart restaurateurs have embraced the open kitchen trend by installing a wood-fired pizza oven at the forefront.
Characteristics of wood-fired oven cooking
The wood-burning oven has thermal and structural features that enable it to reach very high and constant temperatures. Furthermore, the use of firewood as a fuel imparts a unique aroma to food. Here, we highlight some of the main advantages of the wood-fired oven:
- Stable cooking chamber temperature.
- Conduction cooking.
- Radiation cooking.
- Convection cooking.
- Special aroma because of the firewood.
These features make the wood-burning pizza oven particularly suitable for baking leavened doughs because they absorb more the aromas coming from wood combustion and favour the formation of the open crumb structure.
• Stable cooking chamber temperature
The steep increase in temperature occurs by burning enough firewood to make a bed of red-hot embers. For this reason, in wood-fired ovens it takes some time to reach high and stable temperatures but in the same way they cool down just as slowly. The thermal properties of refractories and the embers’ residual heat allow the oven to keep a stable temperature for a long time.
• Conduction cooking
The oven floor is made of a thick refractory slab that retains heat and makes for an even cooking. You can bake directly on the floor as for pizza or using equipment such as trays or grills for other dishes.
• Radiation cooking
The open flame cooks with direct heat and hot air flows around the oven. In this way, the food is cooked to a turn with its yummy golden crust.
• Convection cooking
The combustion that results in the open flame gives off a hot air flow inside the cooking chamber that, channelled by the shape of the dome, moves from the sides to the centre to smoothly distribute heat and cook evenly.
• Special aroma because of the firewood.
Using firewood as a fuel imparts a very special taste to food. Choose the type of wood according to the flavour that best suits your dishes. After all, wood-fired pizza is the only way to go if you aim for pizza perfection.
Here are some tips on how to cook pizza in a wood-burning oven as per Neapolitan tradition.
How to cook a pizza in a wood-burning oven
The pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven is rich on top, crispy on the bottom and soft in the centre because it cooks very quickly at very high temperatures. Pizza usually bakes at 450 °C (840 °F) in a mere 60-90 seconds. Thus, the dough doesn’t have time to dry to a crisp as it happens in home electric ovens that need more time to bake.
Here are some pointers to cook a superb pizza in a wood-fired oven:
- How long to heat the oven before baking pizza?
- How close should the pizza be to the fire and where to place it in the wood-burning oven?
- How to clean the wood-burning oven and why?
- Why is it important to choose the right firewood?
Let’s break them down.
1. How long to heat the oven before baking pizza?
To stabilize the oven temperature before baking pizza, raise it past the desired level and then let it drop slowly. To prevent the floor temperature from decreasing after the first batches, move the fire all over the floor so that the heat is evenly distributed.
2. How close should the pizza be to the fire and where to place it in the wood-burning oven?
Sliding pizzas into the oven and away from the fire lengthens the cooking time but the opposite is true as well, so turn the pizza 180° halfway through the baking time to avoid an uncooked pizza. This is especially the case for large-sized models when it comes to respecting cooking times and rotation inside the oven.
3. How to clean the wood-burning oven and why?
Using a perfectly clean wood-burning oven will keep you from eating a pizza with a bitter taste coming from burnt flour or ash. To clean the floor, use the brush before baking, sprinkle as little flour as possible and shake off the excess of it.
4. Why is it important to choose the right firewood?
The choice of the type of firewood is very important to have an aromatic yield that makes the difference. There are plenty of interesting species for the wood-fired oven such as the citrus family, the beech or the oak that have great value for money. Instead you should avoid evergreens that smell bad and produce great amounts of soot.
Let’s have a look at the myriad of recipes you can cook in a wood-fired oven.
Which dishes to make in a wood-fired oven?
The wood-burning pizza oven is not only for baking pizza or bread but also to cook main courses, vegetables, meats, fish and even desserts.. so virtually anything. You will just need to get to know a thing or two about the temperature control. First of all, we recommend that you heat the oven at full whack to bake dishes that need a high temperature as it’s easier to control a dropping temperature than the other way round. So, if you want to bake pizza, bring the oven up to 450 °C (840 °F) and then put in the bread when the temperature is down to around 300 °C (570 °F). We can then continue with a pasta casserole, a roast chicken or fish or some veg.
How to make great grilled dishes in the wood-fired oven with BBQ 500.
You can use the wood-burning oven with some accessories that allow you to expand the range of possibilities. One of the most innovative tools offered by Alfa Forni is the BBQ 500 that turns your wood-fired oven into a barbecue. Just put the meat on the grill and then over the hot embers. BBQ 500 grills more evenly than an open grill as it cooks by convection and radiation inside the oven. Besides, it reduces burn risks and removes smoke by channelling it to the chimney flue. So, beef up your pizza menu with tasty grilling recipes thanks to BBQ 500.
Wood-fired oven recipes: some inspiring cooking ideas.
Let’s continue by showing you some recipes to make with your wood-burning oven. Take a shufti at our blog which contains heaps of recipes. For instance, for a four-course meal you could make:
- First course: Pasta casserole
- Main course: Pancettone with Mediterranean herbs.
- Side dish: Beans and pancetta baked in a clay pot
- Dessert: Cinnamon apple pie.
Here are four recipes to start from.
First course: Lasagne with white mushroom ragù.
Lasagne is the ideal dish for a wood-burning oven as it requires two separate preparations, the pasta and the sauce which are combined and finished in the oven.
To make the mushroom ragù, heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the onion and various types of meat (the more, the better) such as minced beef, sausage, bacon or diced speck. Brown and add the mushroom strips until the water has evaporated. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to the boil and cook the lasagne for two-three minutes. Place them in a basin of cold water so that they don’t stick and to stop the cooking process and reserve them. Now prepare the béchamel sauce and reserve cheeses like diced mozzarella previously drained and grated parmesan. Grease a high-edge pan with béchamel sauce and put the first layer of pasta, spread the ragù, the cheese and the béchamel then sprinkle with parmesan and repeat 6-7 more times. Let the dish rest at room temperature if you will bake it in a short time or put it in the fridge for later use taking it out at least an hour before cooking. Bake at 200-250 °C until a brown crust forms on top.
Main course: Sweet and Sour pork ribs
This is a really tasty, easy recipe that is just made for the BBQ 500.
In a bowl, combine the balsamic vinegar, the raw sugar and the extra virgin olive oil in a very fine stream and stir, even with a hand blender. Season both sides of the ribs with salt, pepper and olive oil and bake the full rack on the BBQ 500 grill bone-side down. During cooking, brush it regularly with the sweet and sour sauce to allow it to glaze. After about ten minutes, remove the rack and trim the spare ribs with the help of a sharp knife. Put them back on the grill, continue to moisten them and turn the BBQ 500 from time to time. Allow to rest some minutes and serve with a spoonful of sauce and a sprinkle of pepper.
Side dish: Pan Roasted vegetables
Roasted vegetables are an ideal accompaniment to sweet and sour pork ribs. You can use just about any veg in a pan seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper. Just cut them into rather different pieces according to their water content to make sure that they cook at a similar rate in the wood-burning oven.
Dessert: Strawberry and custard tart
If you like home-made desserts, this tart works a treat!
Serves 8. For the sweet pastry: 1 egg, 1 egg yolk, 100 g icing sugar, 150 g cold, roughly cubed butter, 600 g of plain flour and grated lemon peel.
For the custard: 6 glasses whole milk, 6 egg yolks, 6 tbsp. sugar, 6 tbsp. plain flour and flavour of your choice like lemon peel, cinnamon or vanilla.
For the pastry, combine the ingredients and mix to form a dough, then shape it into a rough ball, wrap it in cling film and chill in the fridge for an hour. Roll out between two sheets of parchment paper to form a disc about ½ cm thick. Line a tart tin with the pastry and let it rest in the fridge. On top of the pastry, add a generous layer of custard and the coarsely chopped strawberries previously seasoned with sugar and lemon. Bake for 20 minutes at 150-180 °C not to close to the fire rotating the tin during cooking. Leave it to cool and sprinkle with icing sugar.
We have offered you some recipes with cooking tips to increase your familiarity with the wood-burning pizza oven. Very soon you will develop great culinary skills and make food taste ever so good. To speed up this learning process, nothing beats choosing an Alfa high-performance wood-fired oven. Our products are technological gems that combine the qualities of the best refractories with the properties of stainless-steel.