Saturday, October 4, 2008
Pardus does Pizza...sort of
My CSA is the Huguenot Street Farm (www.flyingbeet.com) Ron and Kate Khosla are the owners/farmers/brains+brawn behind the operation, and they do an incredible job of growing great product and creating great community.
Early this season they constructed a cob oven using materials from the farm itself. The Wallkill River runs through the property and they collected clay and river rock for most of the construction.
Anyway, throughout the summer, on Thursday evenings - Thursday is "distribution day" when members come to pick up their shares - fresh bread and pizzas topped with just-picked ingredients were made and sold to augment the produce.
Apparently, the guy who did the actual baking wasn't very flexible or open to suggestion, he and Ron had a falling out, and the guy quit...6 more weeks in the season...no more pizza or bread....not good.
So, I was recruited to fill in..."Guest Chef"...what a riot!
We got together on Sunday afternoon and brainstormed a plan and divided up the work. Ron and Kate would supply the raw ingredients and wood,Laura, another member, would prep the toppings (cheese,roasted veggies, etc.), I would make the sauce,dough, handle logistics, and work the oven. On the way out, I culled through a pile of soft tomatoes and came up with enough to make 2 gallons of tomato sauce.
On Wednesday I made 20kg. of dough using Ruhlman's 5:3 ratio, adding in some crushed red wheat berries and spelt for texture. Ron and I portioned them into 340 gram rounds and set the produce cooler to 34F to keep fermentation under control over night. Laura, roasted about 15# each of eggplant, and peppers, and a whole bunch of garlic and onions. Kate roasted some cheese pumpkin, sliced a few bosc pears, shredded 4# pounds of locally made smoked mozzarella and some blue cheese, and hand picked her beautiful baby arugula.
The plan for Thursday was for Ron to light the fire at about 1:00 and slowly build it up to baking temp - 600-800F - until I got off work and could start making pies. Service was set to begin at 4:30.
When I arrived at 3:45 it was a gorgeous Hudson Valley autumn day...blue sky dotted with clouds over the mountains, baking-friendly 60 degrees temperature...everything seemed damned near perfect. Except...
Being a farmer on distribution day is like being a cook on Saturday night - you focus on your mise en place and your station and anything else gets done later. Like lighting the oven...the oven didn't get lit shortly before 3:00.If you've ever made pizza, you know that the crucial part is having a hot deck to bake on. Pretty much everything else can be tweaked, but if that deck ain't hot the pizza sticks like glue to the cool bricks.
I stoked the fire with a bunch of small oak logs, got a roaring blaze going - hoping I wouldn't bring the temp up too fast and crack the dome - and went about setting my station, silently praying that the oven reached temp before the customers reached the farm. Didn't so much work out that way...
At 4:30 everything was in place, it looked great.A perfectly set up station under an awning, a wide array of toppings picked from the land we stood on, a wood fire crackling in the rustic oven...and the deck of the oven cool enough to rest my hand on.
I raked the coals to the back of the oven, stoked them with more wood, mopped the deck free of soot, and ran a few test pies - as I feared, they stuck to the cold deck, refusing to be turned without ripping, tearing and leaking sauce and topping everywhere.
Customers were arriving, most, I'm sure, expecting to find a laid back dude, standing in the bucolic field, happily and leisurely making pizzas and chatting about the choices of toppings and the beautiful day. What they got was a frenzied, frustrated cook trying desperately to look cheerful and laid back while explaining that there were "temperature problems" with the oven and that we hoped to be able to start baking soon.
The people were pretty cool about it, it was, after all, a CSA, and they were enjoying the day - "no hurry, we'll just leave our order with you and come back in a little while"...by the time the oven was even CLOSE to being hot enough, we already had a backlog of twenty pizzas, and as I started working down the list, another page was started and the weeds got deeper. Laura had come with the vegetables and helped by taking orders, shaping dough and talking to customers while I worked the oven, face and arms covered in soot, cursing as quietly as I could...
By about 6:00 pm we'd managed a few pies and the deck was finally hot enough to really cook on. The list dwindled quickly,by 7:00 we were pretty much done; night was falling, customers were leaving, happy with their pizzas. We heaved sighs of relief and made a dinner from the left overs...standing out in the field, warmed by the oven, under the starry sky.
Ron apologized profusely, I light-heartedly threatened his life, we all hugged, counted the money (we sold 45 pizzas...) and agreed to do it again next week - with a hot oven - maybe even adding bread to the menu. I'm a glutton.