When it comes to pizza, there are them that crave tomato sauce and cheese and them that want fancy schmancy. I live in a house divided.
We have come close to dinner wars over this schism. Man of the House reaches for the phone to speed dial the local pizzeria if word gets out that the pie di giorno will be devoid of tomato or pepperoni. College Boy, on the other hand, demands more panache. After all, he held me hostage to five foods for two decades, and he is ready to break out. Big time.
Now twenty years is a really, really long time to cater to a picky eater. (Please, let’s not get into an argument on that subject right now. You do what you can with finicky children, it’s best just to move on when it’s over.)
Opportunity knocked when an exploration of the refrigerator yielded little besides a few bundles of asparagus and a bit of smelly cheese leftover from the weekend’s indulgence. I usually reach a point in the afternoon where I will simply not get in the car and drive to a market, which is why I better have a dinner plan early in the day. Except that I almost never have a dinner plan early in the day. So on this particular occasion, the following asparagus pizza was born.
Frankly, on the face of it and pretty as it may be, a tangle of shaved asparagus piled high on a bit of dough did not seem like it would work. But after discovering Smitten Kitchen’s recipe online, I decided it was indeed a bonne idée, so I present you with my interpretation. College Boy was very happy and Man of the House did not have time to react until he came to the table and grudgingly admitted enjoying it quite a lot more than he anticipated.
I used thick stalks of asparagus for this, but I suspect you could also use very thin ones without shaving them. Just break off the tough bottom end of the stalk and pile the asparagus on the pizza. As for the cheese, you could use almost anything that sounds good to you: mozzarella, goat cheese and fontina are just a few suggestions. I used Morbier, a mild semi-soft cow’s milk cheese that smells stronger than it actually tastes. I have also made this pizza with a sharper Swiss Vacherin cheese. Fancy schmancy it may be, but it is a paragon of simplicity.
Makes two 12-inch pizzas (enough for 3 to 4 people)
I have my methods for making pizza and one of them is this: Bake the pizza on a stone or a baking sheet in a very hot oven on the bottom shelf. After about 10 minutes, the dough will have baked to a degree of firmness that makes it possible to move the pizza to the top shelf. Literally. Set the pizza directly on the top rack without a pan or stone under it. This allows the bottom to become deliciously crisp and also gives you a chance to start baking the next pizza on your list. Note that I used a little more than a pound of dough for 2 pizzas. If you make a full recipe of pizza dough (below) you can make more pizzas or freeze the extra dough for another night of pizza making.
1 pound asparagus with thick stalks
1/2 pizza dough recipe (see below)
7 ounces (195 g) Morbier cheese, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Truffle oil if you have it
1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Adjust the oven racks so that one is near the bottom of the oven and one is closer to the top. If using a baking stone, place it on the bottom shelf.
2.Trim about 1-inch from the bottom of the asparagus stalks. Use a vegetable peeler to shave the stalks into ribbons: Grasp the bud and work down to the bottom of the stalk. Keep peeling until you can peel no more. You may have one thick-ish piece, but not to worry, it works out just fine. Break off the asparagus tips when you can shave no more.
3. Divide the dough in half (that means, 1/4 of the whole piece of dough if using the recipe below.) Shape into two balls and flatten the balls by dimpling them with your fingertips. Let rest for a few minutes to allow the dough to relax which will make it easier to roll.
4. Dust a pizza peel with cornmeal. On a well-floured countertop, roll one piece of dough into a 12-inch circle and set it on the peel. Cover with half the cheese and top with half of the shaved asparagus. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Slide the pizza onto the baking stone and bake for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the second pizza in the same way.
5. After the first pizza has baked for 10 minutes, use a wide spatula (or two) to transfer it to the top oven rack. Continue to bake for another 5 minutes, or until the crust is golden. Remove from the oven and set it on a cutting board.
6. As soon as the first pizza is on the top shelf, slide the second pizza onto the stone. Bake as you did the first pizza.
7. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, or truffle oil if you like.
Note: If you don’t have a pizza stone and peel, simply bake the pizza on a cornmeal dusted baking sheet. Read and follow the instructions above. After ten minutes, the pizza should be firm enough to transfer to the top shelf of the oven. Set it directly on the rack (without the pan) and continue baking in the same way.
Makes four 12-inch pizzas
Ever since I started making Jim Lahey’s bread, I have revised my dough-making method: Instead of kneading the dough, I discovered that you can simply mix it and let it rise for anywhere between 3 hours to a couple of days. If you are not using it within a day, refrigerate it, covered with a piece of oiled plastic wrap, until you need it. You will have to deflate the dough from time to time to keep it from spilling out of the bowl.
This dough is very sticky and requires a generous amount of flour to roll out, but it is easy to work with once you get the hang of it. If you prefer, you can add a bit more flour to the dough when you mix it, but don’t overdo it. Once you have mixed the dough, it is much easier to bump up the flour than to add water.
If you have refrigerated the dough, remove it from the fridge to warm up about an hour before you want to use the dough for pizza. To freeze it, double-wrap the dough in portion-size pieces in a heavy plastic freezer bag and store for up to a month. Defrost it at room temperature (about 3 hours) before shaping and baking it.
4 cups (500g) unbleached bread flour or all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast (aka “rapid rise”)
1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
11/2 cups (350g) water
Food processor method: Add the flour, yeast and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse for a few seconds to mix the dry ingredients. With the machine on, rapidly pour the water through the feed tube (this should take no more than 6 seconds). Continue to process for a few more seconds, just until the dough comes together. Scrape the dough into a bowl and press an oiled piece of plastic wrap on top of the dough. Let rise for 3 to 8 hours at room temperature. If not using within 8 hours, refrigerate the dough.
Stand mixer method: Measure the flour, yeast and salt into the mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for a few seconds to combine. Add the water all at once and mix on low speed until the dough comes together. Press an oiled piece of plastic wrap on top of the dough. Let rise for 3 to 8 hours at room temperature. If not using within 8 hours, refrigerate the dough.
By hand: Mix in the same way as above in the stand mixer method, but use a wooden spoon and some elbow grease to thoroughly mix the dough.