The Italian term al forno translates best into English as 'cooked in the oven' or, more literally, as 'by furnace'. Any Italian restaurant worth its salt will have a lasagne al forno on its menu. Perhaps one of the best-loved of all Italian pasta dishes, this hearty foodstuff is cooked in the oven to create a distinctively baked flavour. However, all sorts of other dishes can be produced with an al forno style, and it is not just restaurants where they can be enjoyed.
The Kitchen Al Forno Experience
Although most domestic ovens in Australia don't generate the high temperatures of a real forno, they can be good substitutes so long as you run them at maximum temperature and raise the heat fully before using them. Since al forno cooking means baking things rapidly, you don't want a medium air temperature in your oven which takes longer to cook. Be prepared to insert your dough or pasta dish into the oven in a matter of seconds so that the door can be closed rapidly without the temperature dropping significantly. When using your kitchen to prepare food in the al forno style, it is important to practice with your oven so you know when to remove items before they burn but without opening the door to keep inspecting them. It takes a few goes to get right, depending on the reliability of your oven, but remember that speed is always the key element.
The Outdoor Al Forno Experience
Although some restaurants have grand forno ovens in them with clay chimneys and a wood burning pit, this is not really practical in most homes. Thankfully, Australians are known for their love of outdoor cooking and a home forno is ideal for installation on a patio or deck of your home. A genuine forno will run on wood and therefore generate very high temperatures. However, gas-fired ones can also be found if preferred. The idea is to raise the temperature of the entire oven so that baking is achieved quickly but also evenly. A pizza baked in a forno should only take a matter of seconds to bake through. Crucially, the topping, base and centre should all achieve the same degree of cooking with a proper forno, something that is harder to achieve with a conventional oven. These days, brick built ovens are often preferred because of their relatively low cost and ability to spread heat inside evenly.