Monday, 27 July 2009

Update from Cassius

Cowie's pizza oven

Cassius is going from strength to strength. The summer rain and sun has widened his cracks, but he doesn't care. We've tried to add coats of protective clay but he isn't interested. He just shrugs them off and demands to be used. If we cook in the Aga he starts sulking like a moody teenager. Our efforts in Cassius to date have been great. But we are constantly trying to improve our technique.

So in preparation for a party in Somerset, I bought a cast iron rectangular skillet to act as a DIY pizza stone. So far we've been using upturned baking trays, but in light of the fact that we have ruined 3 of Cowie's parents' pans, I thought it would be worth the small investment.

The other area we've been keen to improve on is the dough. We've been following a Jamie Oliver recipe that demands semolina flour, but have always cheated and used plain flour. The bases have been tasty but lacking the authentic bubbles that you get at places like Franco Manca. So we visited At the Chapel in Bruton who have a pizza oven and to our delight they gave us not only a bag of their semolina but also a small pot of their sourdough starter! To say that I was excited would be the understatement of the century. (More on "Simon the Sourdough Starter" another time)

The combination of using dough made with semolina and the cast iron "pizza stone" resulted in our best pizzas yet. The skillet got so hot in the embers that it had the pizza base dancing and bursting. The pizzas cooked in around 3 minutes flat and tasted of Napoli!

 Pizza being baked

A simple parma ham and mushroom pizza kicked Christened the new skillet...

Glowing pizza

mushroom and parma ham

The "La Reine", excusing the lack of olives, put Pizza Express's version to shame.

Tomato and mozzerella

A plain, tomato and mozzarella pizza was simply brilliant. Some torn basil and a twist of black pepper had us shouting with greedy delight.

Fully loaded pizza being cut

And a fully loaded beast with mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes and chilli that we've named "Arnie".

Eggy pizza

Our Eggy Pizza was a triumph as well. The yolk oozed across the plate and acted as a fantastic dipping sauce.

Cassius is loving life. He's just getting better and better. The combination of semolina and skillet has made a huge difference to the bases. They've become much lighter and are developing the bubbles we've been hankering after. For our next trick we're going to make our bases using "Simon the Sourdough Starter" that we're lovingly nurturing... If you've got any suggestions for awesome toppings let us know.

20 comments:

Ollie said...

These are simply fantastic. If you started an underground restaurant, you'd rival Franco Manca.

Chris Gornell said...

Wow! Those photos are making me so hungry - especially the egg pizza.

Dan said...

Words cannot express how jealous I am of your pizza oven. Fantastic work.

Browners said...

@Olli - That's not a bad idea. I've been toying with the idea of building a mobile clay oven so I can sell proper pizzas at lunch time to office workers or people on the common at the weekend. Could be awesome.

@Chris Gornell - Glad they are doing their job! The eggy pizza was awesome. Felt quite naughty.

@Dan - Cassius is a legend. You've got to build one. It might well change your life!

Dan said...

Browners - if I could feasibly get one of those in my garden - I would. But right now, I'm coming to the end of a year long garden landscaping project which is all white modernist clean lines, raised planters etc etc - the thought of building something else just as I'm almost finished is a non starter right now. I'll just admire yours instead.

I was thinking - awesome toppings. One topping I really like is sliced Italian Luganega sausage with Red Peppers, Fennel Seeds and Basil. (You can get the sausage in Gazzano & Sons in Farringdon Rd). Supposedly, you can freeze it and just slice bits off to add as needed.

Also - Nigel Slater has an interesting Potato, Taleggio and Thyme Pizza in the recipe book Appetite. If you need the recipe let me know.

Browners said...

@Dan - Your landscaping project sounds extremely stylish. Maybe a pizza oven could make an appearance in phase 2 or 3? There are some very atractive examples if you search in Flcikr groups for clay ovens.

Your topping sounds ace. I'll give it a bash next time I am down in Somerset. And Nigel Slater's sounds pretty good too.

Thanks so much for the ideas. I'll keep you updated on Cassius so you can enjoy him vicariously.

Dan said...

Browners,
Forgot to add - Mozzarella and Tomato sauce base is obviously a given with the sausage, red pepper and fennel seeds.

Hahaha Phase 2 or 3 - be nice to get phase 1 finished!
Thanks for the tip - I'll have a look at those on Flikr

Helen said...

As always, loving Cassius. Seriously though dude, Simon? What kind of name is that for something as exciting as a sourdough starter? ;)

Browners said...

@Dan - Here's one of the groups: http://www.flickr.com/groups/pizzaovens/pool/

Browners said...

@Helen - Let's not be mean to Simon! He has had a shocker so far. I made him into a beautiful loaf and then got Cassius cranked up to Nuclear temperatures, took a shower and burnt my loaf to buggery! Nightmare. I could smell the charcoal from the shower and may have shed a small tear!

Manggy said...

Oh no, Dan is missing out on an opportunity :( Meanwhile, we don't even have room for one! In my next house! (or, next lifetime, whichever...)

I'm a little frightened for Cassius. I would've thought the tempering would have prevented such problems. Good idea on the cast iron pan, very durable and safe. Gaah, I can't wait to make my pizza (the pork belly I'm curing for the topping still has 3 days to go!)

Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

Cassius is performing very well so far, it seems! Those pizzas look stunning. You'll never need to go anywhere else for pizzas with Cassius by your side...

Browners said...

@Manggy - very impressed that you are curing your own bacon. Good work. I'm pretty keen to give that a bash as well. Don't worry about Cassius. He'll be fine.

@Helen Y-P - we love Cassius as a son! I am determined to make the perfect pizza before the end of the summer.

TC said...

I'm so jealous, but I don't think our petite Battersea garden is ready for a pizza oven. It will have to wait for the next house!

The Happiness Project London said...

My boyfriend will be soooo jealous - every time we walk past Franco Manca he comments on how he wants an outdoor pizza oven! I'm new to this site - where did you get it from?

Sasha @ The Happiness Project London

Paunchos said...

@The Happiness Project - Glad you like Cassius and the site. We built Cassius oursleves out of clay...

ry webb said...

hi to the owner of cassius i am in the process of building a clay oven as well but weather has put it to a holt until it warms up. i was thinking rather than using the metal tray for a more authentic base i sure this might have been said already.
i think i read that your girlfriend could not enjoy the pizza because of the wheat. my girlfriend also has celiacs but she loves pizza and so after much searching i found that french and italian are processed diffently the husks are taken off the wheat and this is what irritates the stomach. my girlfriend can eat the pizza and pasta and bread i make with no problem. i foun that secretts farm shop sells this flour. the co-op shop also does a french flour range of fresh bakery things which is fine for her thought you might like to know worth a try if you can both enjoy cassius to the full. really enjoyed your site .

ry webb said...

i ment to say cook on the oven floor for a more authentic base cheers

Paunchos said...

@ry webb - Glad you like the post and thanks for the advice about flour. We tried cooking on the base (see previous posts) but it worked so much better on a cast iron slab.

vidiz said...

all looks great i just hope you have fireproof bricks not just concrete as concrete can explode when heated!!! :)

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