Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Springtime Asparagus Pizza

I apologize for the "atmospheric" quality of this low-light stovetop shot. There are times when you want to artfully compose a food picture, and capture for all time the best and truest aspect of the meal. And then there are times where you really want to snap the quickest shot you can, because everyone's waiting and ohmygod that looks so good put the camera away and give me a piece already! The pizza didn't stand a chance.

I'll try to get a better picture up here soon. Because I'll definitely be making this pizza again. But as a public service, I felt obligated to get this recipe posted as soon as possible. Because if you have asparagus, you should make this. Now.

Usually I'm of the opinion that it's hard to improve upon the flavor of fresh asparagus. Whether lightly steamed, pan-roasted, grilled, or shaved raw, asparagus don't need much to showcase their flavor. Maybe a drizzle of butter or olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, the lightest shavings of cheese. When it comes down to it, you don't need much more than a pair of fingers to enjoy them. I've tried a variety of involved asparagus preparations, from batter-dipped deep-fried spears at the farmer's market to filled and sauced pastas. But for the most part they just left me hungry for the sweet simplicity of the straight-up vegetable. Until I hit upon this pizza.

This pizza undoubtedly has a lot going on--goat cheese, chili flakes, lemon zest, and (if you dare) anchovies--but it somehow heightens rather than hides the fresh green flavor of asparagus. The earthly spears are perked up by the tangy goat cheese and bright lemon zest, and set on a bed of mellow mozzarella. I realize not everybody is an anchovy lover, but I think the briny fillets add just the right final note.

Springtime Asparagus Pizza

A good quality pizza dough and crazy-hot oven will help you get the best possible pizza. The anchovies, should you desire them, are added after the pizza comes out of the oven (otherwise they bake into dried-out little salt bombs)

1 ball of pizza dough, ~10 oz (I'm currently obsessed with the recipe in Artisan Breads Every Day by the esteemed Peter Reinhart)
semolina or regular flour for dusting
~3/4 lb pencil thin asparagus, cut in half and tossed with a drizzle of olive oil and salt
1/4-1/3 lb mozarella, shredded
~2 oz soft goat cheese, crumbled
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp chili flakes
8 oil-packed anchovies (can be omitted or increased according to taste)

Preheat your oven, with a pizza stone if you have, to 500 degrees for 2 hours. If your pizza dough has been refrigerated (as most good pizza doughs will be), let it come to room temperature for 1 1/2 hours.

Place the pizza dough on a lightly-floured counter top, and press outward into a thick disk (leaving a 1" unpressed area along the edge as the crust). Pick up the disk and let it drape over the backs of your hands, letting gravity help you stretch it into a 12-14" circle. If the dough resists, let it relax for a few minutes, then try again. Place the stretched dough on a peel (or overturned cookie sheet or cutting board) that's lightly dusted with semolina or other type of flour.

Scatter the mozzarella on top of the dough, then the asparagus and clumps of goat cheese in whatever artful pattern you desire. Side the pizza onto the preheated stone in your oven, and bake ~7-10 minutes, until the crust browns and the cheese melts.

Remove the pizza from the oven, and let cool for a moment (I like to move it to a rack for just half a minute, to let the steam escape from the crust while I reheat the peel). Transfer to a cutting board and scatter the lemon zest and chili flakes on top. Add anchovies, if desired. Slice and serve.


  1. This sounds wonderful, and yes, I would add the anchovies. Got a chuckle out of your instruction to add them after the pizza comes out of the oven, otherwise they turn into dried out little salt bombs. Ha! I have a question... preheat the oven to 500 for TWO HOURS? Really? Do you do that for the pizza stone, or even if you're not using one?

  2. I know the long preheat sounds extreme. But delicious Neapolitan-style pizzas cook at around 800 degrees, which is also fairly extreme. The long preheat allows the stone to absorb and radiate a ton of heat, pushing the temperature beyond the normal 500. I think that if you don't have a stone, there's no need to preheat quite so long (since the thin metal walls of the oven won't really hold that much heat). A good half hour or so should be fine.

  3. We made this pizza tonight. It was AMAZING! We did the anchovies and all. Thanks for the delicious recipe!