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Man builds wood-fired pizza oven in his yard

Man builds wood-fired pizza oven in his yard

May 31, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

It was love at first bite for Hagerstown resident John Cangemi.

The scene was Italy, where Cangemi and his wife, Joan, were visiting family years ago. The thief of 54-year-old John Cangemi's heart was the oven-baked Neapolitan pizza he tasted there.

No American version could compare, he said.

Cangemi was so obsessed with the pizza that he built his own wood-fired pizza oven in his backyard, off Howell Road. The oven was completed about three and a half years ago and took him around four months to build.

The front of the stove has a scene in mosaic tile of Teatro Greco in Sicily, with a view of Mount Aetna and the coastline. It's a place he and his wife visited on their trip. He said that part of the tiling only took about two weeks. He plans to add mosaic tiles on the sides and back.


Cangemi, a graphic artist, is doing the tile work himself.

"Once you get all the colors in and you've got the design already laid out, putting the tiles on the mesh is pretty easy," Cangemi said.

As for cooking, pizzas only take about two minutes to cook in the oven, which is heated to somewhere between 800 and 900 degrees.

"The great thing about a pizza oven is, too, that when you're cooking in an oven outside, it's drawing in moist air from the outside," Cangemi said. "You can roast a chicken in two and a half hours and the breast meat and everything inside is completely moist. There's no dryness whatsoever."

Friends and family have benefited from Cangemi's passion. He fires up the oven every weekend. "Rain or shine, snow, whatever - doesn't matter. I'm out here," Cangemi said.

He was willing to share his Neapolitan pizza with The Herald-Mail. But to do it right, the cook must be willing to do the leg work - make the trek to an Italian market to get imported ingredients. He has adapted a recipe that you can make in your kitchen oven.

Cangemi grew up in Rockville, Md. He met his wife in high school and has been married 35 years. They have three adult sons. Cangemi comes from an Italian family and was visiting a cousin in Italy when he was introduced to pizza ovens.

The quest to build the perfect outdoor pizza oven began the moment Cangemi returned to Hagerstown.

"I was at Border's books and they actually had a book called 'The Bread Bakers' Apprentice,' or something like that, and inside were plans to build one of these ovens," explained Cangemi. "And you wouldn't believe it. On Yahoo - hundreds of people have done this and they even have their own home-built-pizza-oven users group. So, it's like, resources aren't hard to find. No matter where you go."

On the hot afternoon of The Herald-Mail's visit, Cangemi already had the oven fired up and was ready to talk pizza and what is and what isn't an authentic Neapolitan pizza. Don't get him started on the "fake" Neapolitan pizzas.

And if you ask him why he won't simply order a pizza, he'll laugh in your face.

True Neapolitan Pizza

For the dough

2 cups bottled water
5 cups Caputo type 00 flour
2 packages active dry yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons fine sea salt
Cornmeal, enough to sprinkle over a pizza peel

For the toppings

14-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, blended until smooth
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, sliced to about a 1/4 inch
3 tablespoons fresh extra virgin olive oil
Several leaves of fresh basil


Round pizza stone, at least 13 inches in diameter
Wooden pizza peel

To prepare the dough, heat the water in the microwave for about 40 seconds. The water should be at about 85 or 95 degrees, warm to the touch. Sprinkle the yeast over the water. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then stir to dissolve.

In a large bowl, combine the salt and flour. Pour in the water-yeast mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until all the flour is just combined. Empty flour mixture onto a well-floured countertop. Knead for 30 minutes, folding the dough toward you, then pushing away from you with the heels of your palms. Rotate the dough a quarter turn and repeat.

Do this for 30 minutes as this type of powdery flour requires lots of kneading in order to build up gluten. If dough is sticky, add flour a little at a time.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl with enough room for dough to double in size. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and put it into a turned-off oven for 4 hours.

Empty bowl onto countertop and knead dough for a few minutes to force out the air. Divide into 6 12-ounce pieces and put into a large, flat, plastic container with a lid. Place dough balls about 4 inches apart. Put the lid on and let the dough rest for another 4 hours on the counter.

Place a pizza stone on the lowest shelf in your oven. Preheat your oven to its highest setting. Take a wooden pizza peel and sprinkle lightly with cornmeal. Take the dough ball and gently stretch and ease it into a 12-inch circle. Lay dough on the wooden peel and put a small amount of sauce on the dough, spreading it with the back of a large, metal spoon.

Put on 2 to 3 ounces of soft mozzarella cheese, 4 to 5 fresh basil leaves and drizzle approximately 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on each pizza. Add the rest of the toppings to the pizza as you'd like.

Jostle the peel back and forth to ensure the dough won't stick. Then open the oven and, with a gentle snap of the wrist, slide the pizza off the peel onto the stone. Bake for about 5 to 8 minutes, watching carefully as time might vary between ovens.

Remove when the crust is turning dark brown.

Cook's note: The flour, tomatoes, mozzarella and olive oil can be purchased at Juliet's Italian Market at Market and Church streets in Frederick, Md.

-- Recipe courtesy of John Cangemi of Hagerstown

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