Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blazin' oven, Slow Food

The other morning I woke up and drove to a farm to make bread in an outdoor wood fire oven with a french baker apprentice named Johan and a 46-year experienced baker named Monica.  You know, just your average hum-drum Sunday.

The oven

The fiyuh

The masters

Monica had started the fire in the oven the night before, and the oven was still heating into the early morning as the doughs were prepared.  "Whenever the oven is on, it's like Thanksgiving," Monica explains.  "The heat runs all day, so why not take advantage of it all?"  

I read the line-up of all the baked goods that were planned to enter the fire hearth throughout the entire day; staggered according to prep time and desired baking temperature.  Since the fire is built in the actual oven (not below the stone) the burning wood is removed when baking commences and consequently the oven slowly loses heat as the day goes on.  You would think the concept of losing heat would be disheartening, but it is far from it.  All this means is that breads are first, then baked sweets like cupcakes, scones, and brownies are second when the scorching heat has passed, and stews are last to sit in the oven overnight in the low, residual heat.  The result?  A continuous flow of baked goods being made, baked, and removed from the oven all day long.  
Thanksgiving?  Sounds more like heaven to me.

Cornmeal Schiacciata dough (similar to a focaccia).  Walnuts to be added later

Mound of part white and part whole wheat dough for pizzas, loaves, and baguettes

View from the oven

The work station

The essential tools.  The canoe paddle was my favorite...ultimate multi-tasker

The cooks need a treat too...prep for the mushroom and pepperoni pizzas, with homemade tomato sauce and a touch of cream

Go Johan, go!

Not only was this opportunity special because it made me feel like the luckiest person to see all of this production go down, but a large portion of the breads made were going to a Slow Food fundraising event later that day.  It was an event to raise money to send Mark and Katie from Thistle Whistle farm (read more about them in An Unbeetable Meal) to Italy for the international Slow Food Terra Madre Conference this fall.  They were one of the few chosen to participate in this conference representing the United States, and their selection is undeniably deserved.  

Schiacciata almost ready for the oven

Nestled baguettes

Yes! The paddle put to good use, perfect for baguette transportation

Tasting a baguette 20 minutes after leaving the oven is something I hope everyone can experience in their lifetime

Bread pillows?

A mile high with an unbelievable crust

These were rising in their pans just as I was leaving for the can imagine the torture.

Not only this, but all of the food for the event was being catered by my good friend Megan.  Megan, a recent graduate from the Culinary School of the Rockies in Boulder, came for the first time to Paonia in May during her class' Farm to Table segment of their curriculum.  She fell in love with the area so much that she packed up her things after graduation and came back to live and work here!  An extreme testament to the impact this area has on the food world, and its rewards are having people like Megan come in and create even further masterpieces with the fruits of its land.  

The menu included:

An assortment of Haystack Cheeses from the front range

Our breads!

Our Cornmeal/Walnut Schiacciata topped with The Living Farm's braised greens

Desert Weyr bratwurst and thinly sliced roasted potatoes (from Mark) with Megan's homemade sweet, spicy, and addictive mustard.  If that's not a power team I'm not sure what is.

Mark's zucchini blossoms, stuffed with Haystack cheese, breaded and fried, to be dipped in the most summer-time, light tomato basil sauce you'll ever try.

Mark's red cranberry beans with sweet corn, cucumbers and herbs.  I could eat it every day.

Megan's handmade mini-empanadas, shaped with care

The traditional filling of beef, hard boiled egg, raisins, spices, enveloped in her handmade flaky crust....  Yes please!

Also the Living Farm's green salad mix and a delightful sesame vinaigrette

I seriously had a crush on this bean salad.

And finally, the pièce de résistance, Megan's Apricot Tartlettes; handmade crust, followed by a layer of pastry cream, topped with an apricot honey compote, and finally Cedar's chocolate mint to bring in the homerun.  Let's just say the last one was literally auctioned off.

The food artist herself!  Cheers to a successful event

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