Saturday, June 25, 2011

Shaved Asparagus Pizza

ML: "If you had told my 14-year-old self that I would be wanting second helpings of asparagus pizza..."

Well, 14-year-old selves might need to take a back seat, because this is one tasty grown-up pizza. The idea started when our friend KB, who knows about our pizza obsession and was one of the tasters of the breakfast pizza, told us that a coworker of hers regularly makes a pizza with shredded asparagus. We happened to be on our way to a u-pick farm and market, which happened to have enormous bunches of beautiful asparagus. Coincidence? Fate??

To get an idea of where to start, I looked up asparagus pizza recipes and found one on smitten kitchen's blog, which is among my very favorite food blogs. We liked her idea to isolate the asparagus, which certainly deserves a bit of a spotlight, but realized our own pizza ideal involves a more deliberate mingling of flavors and textures. AKA we thought it needed garlic and bacon.

First, we chopped fresh garlic, tossed it lightly with extra virgin olive oil and put it in a little tin foil packet on the pizza stone while the oven preheated.

Then we par-cooked a couple strips of bacon (can be done either in the microwave or on the stove), just enough to make it edible, but not enough to be crispy. (Yet.)  For vegetarians, the pizza would still be delicious without the bacon.

Next there was the matter of preparing the asparagus. I followed smitten kitchen's recommendation to use a vegetable peeler to shave the asparagus into long strips. The result was attractive, but the process was tedious and my vegetable peeler seemed inadequate for the task, so in a pinch I think the right food processor attachment could speed up the job. If you do it by hand, you'll want to hold the asparagus by the tough end of the stalk (the part you would usually cut off), lay it flat on a cutting board, and shave from the base of the stalk to the tip.

We also opted to feature more Parmesan saltiness and less mozzarella gooeyness on this one. The rest of the pizza came together easily and tastily, the perfect springtime pizza. I confess, I might have had third helpings...

TOPPINGS (layered in this order):
  1. par-baked simple crust
  2. drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  3. generous spread of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  4. light dusting of shredded mozzarella cheese
  5. pile of shaved asparagus, tossed with extra virgin olive oil and a dash of lemon juice, and seasoned to taste with salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes
  6. chopped scallions
  7. roasted garlic
  8. chopped, par-cooked bacon (optional; if you omit the bacon, add an extra dash of salt)
Bake at 450° F for about 9 minutes, until the bacon starts getting crispy and the crust edges have browned. Top with an extra sprinkle of Parmesan.

Simple Crust

We know that nothing quite compares to our very best pizza crust ever recipe, but ML was interested in trying out a simpler, egg- and dairy-free recipe. He is the resident pizza crust expert after all, responsible for all of the kneading and stretching and rolling out into a nearly circular shape. He has good dough instincts. This simple New York-style crust has a denser, dryer texture than our original recipe — less like bread, more like a cracker. We always make it with part whole wheat flour, which may contribute to the denseness, but also makes it healthier.

The bread/cracker distinction would be a helpful guideline in deciding which crust to use for which toppings. If you would prefer to eat the toppings in question on a slice of bread, then go with the very best pizza crust ever recipe, but if you'd just as soon pile the toppings on a cracker, this is the recipe for you. Vegans, of course, will want to use this recipe, as would anyone with egg or dairy allergies. I suspect it could even be adapted for a gluten-free diet without too much finagling.

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 1/4 cups cold water
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cups whole wheat bread flour
  • 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups regular bread flour, plus more for dusting

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in lukewarm water. Let stand until frothy, about 10 minutes. 
  2. In another small bowl, combine cold water, 1 teaspoon sugar, salt and olive oil to dissolve the sugar and salt.
  3. Mix together the two types of flour in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center of the flour and add the yeast and cold water mixture, mixing to incorporate as much of the flour as possible.
  4. Knead the dough for 10 to 12 minutes on a lightly floured surface, until soft and elastic. 
  5. Place dough in a well-oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise in a warm location. Let rise until the dough has doubled in volume, about one hour. 
  6. Punch down dough. Separate it in thirds and reshape into balls. Cover again with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes. 
  7. During the second rising, preheat oven to 450 degrees F. If using a pizza stone, place the stone in the oven for preheating. If using a baking sheet, lightly flour it (but don’t preheat). 
  8. On a well-floured surface, roll out one ball of dough until it is approximately the size of your pizza stone or baking sheet. 
  9. Prick the surface all over with a fork to prevent bubbling in the oven.
  10. Par-bake the crust until barely brown and rigid, about 3 minutes.
  11. Remove the crust from the oven and let rest on wire racks to avoid sogginess. Top with your favorite toppings and return to the oven for an additional 5-10 minute (depending on toppings), until the cheese is melted and the edges are golden brown.
Recipe yields three crusts. Dough can be made in advance (through step 6) and refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for up to a month.