Summer Pizza 3: Pizza al Fresco

Pizza Peel

This pizza peel is available at or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

The other evening our family made a quick trip to Italy. No pricey airline tickets, just a quick ride around the corner to the home of one of my veggie customers who built an outdoor cement oven. But the food tasted like we were an ocean away.

We received an impromptu call that the oven was fired up and we were welcome to bring a few toppings and come over to make pizzas. We quickly finished our evening garden and farm chores and went over still in our garden attire. (I love invitations that don’t require getting everyone slicked up!)

I brought chopped green onions from the garden, garlic scape pesto and homemade pepperonis to add to the collection of pizza toppings around the table. Each person rolled out a crust that was put on a cornmeal-sprinkled pizza peel and added their own toppings for a truly personal pizza. Our hosts coached us that fewer toppings were better as a thick pile of goodies wouldn’t bake as thoroughly.  So some of us added fun marinara sauces with mozzarella rounds or goat cheese. Others went for the alfredo with olives and red pepper while the kids stuck to more traditional favorites.

Then it was off to the wood-fired oven. Burning at about 900 degrees, our beautifully cooked pizzas were ready to enjoy in just 2-3 minutes. We couldn’t decide what made them taste so good – fresh from the garden ingredients, the high heat that offers a special crispy chewiness to the crust, or those few ashes that land on the top. In any case, for our “bedtime snack,” most of our children each polished off one pizza and were invited to make a second.

While we were eating, we enjoyed seeing pictures of the oven-building process and hearing stories of their other outdoor baking adventures. For a family weekend they did pizzas one evening and the next morning when the oven was still hot, they baked a breakfast casserole and then put in a turkey to slow roast for the next meal.

Build Your Own Earth Oven Book

Available at or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

I was drawn to the idea of keeping the heat outdoors for summer cooking and am thinking our family needs to revisit the idea of building a simple mud oven, like those shown in Build Your Own Earth Oven. For our hospitality-loving hosts, I can see their oven being the center of many evenings of easy entertaining where all they need to do is whip up a large batch of dough and invite folks to bring along some toppings.

If building an oven sounds like more sweat equity than you want to invest, Lehman’s now offers several Fire Pie pizza ovens ready for your back patio. Stop in the Kidron store and see them. Oven-fired pizza is truly a wonderful way to transport your family and guests off to Italy for an evening.