Several times a year our friends Diane and Jeff host a highly anticipated pizza party in their backyard and thankfully we’re on the invite list. Their invitation says “The party happens rain or shine, blizzard or sun.” and they mean it. Last year it snowed and this year we got lucky with highs in the 40’s, but it was still cold! One bite of the heavenly pizza and the cold was forgotten. Aside from the pizza at Mamma Rosa’s* in Italy’s Marche region, this backyard pizza is one of the best we have tasted! The dough has a slight tangy flavor, and is light and fluffy on the inside with just enough crunch to the outside. The Pelot’s go all out with the party preparations to make it fun; the fire pit and portable heater are set to high, and along with the pizza oven they all provide cozy gathering spots to chat and chase away the cold. We can’t help but to overeat at their pizza parties!
The dough is started 3 days before the party, allowed to rise several times and separated into individual balls for easy roll-out on party day. Diane’s stellar recipe is modified from Jamie Oliver’s, and includes the recommended Italian flour; she buys it in 55 lb. bags, enough for just 3 or 4 parties plus some homemade pasta in between! The finely ground flour known as Tipo 00 is her secret ingredient that makes each pizza so special, along with proofing the dough, which develops that extra flavor. Click here for more about pizza flour and here for more about building a pizza oven.
Diane rolls out each dough ball and has plenty of cornmeal-dusted paddles ready so we can start an assembly line going around the topping table, where all of the ingredients are laid out for some serious pie making. Once they grab a paddle, guests can choose from several mild and hot sauces for the base and top it with an amazing array of fresh ingredients. There is a rule (the only one) that you can’t dirty up the paddle with sauce, otherwise you risk being publically recognized by Jeff.
The wood-fired oven, fueled by a thick base of embers, has an optimum cooking temperature of about 920 smoking-hot degrees. The pizzas cook in just 3 to 4 minutes and they get sliced for immediate consumption. Thanks to Jason for humoring me and my camera when I asked him to hold the cooked pizza a certain way in the oven, or place the infra-red thermometer in the HOT oven so I could record the reading (932 degrees!!).
So, what are the secrets to a fabulous outdoor winter pizza party? In my book, they are:
- Great homemade dough, made with lots of love
- All of the food prep and set-up done ahead of time
- A fully-stoked chiminea and portable heaters ( a must in Colorado)
- Fun and interesting guests (yes, of course David and I fall in this category)
- A wood-fired pizza oven (I have it on my birthday list, or perhaps it’s the honey-do list)
- Gracious hosts who love to share a good meal with interesting friends
Many thanks and hugs to Diane and Jeff for firing up their pizza oven and sharing the love! Cheers to you both!
Eat well and share the love!