Sunday, May 01, 2011

Asparagus and Shrimp Pizza with Leek and Mascarpone

I am usually not an impulsive shopper. In fact, I'm quite the opposite. I deliberate each purchase in painful detail before I part with my hard-earned money, whether it's a piece of furniture or a sandwich. To give an idea, I've been looking for a new dresser for months -- months! -- while an off-the-tracks shelf from my busted current model is sitting on the floor, displaying my ratty old t-shirts to everyone who needs to walk past to use the bathroom. But there is one purchase that I make without hardly any painful mulling at all: produce. And specifically, seasonal produce.

Here in Portland, we have a small chain of local grocery stores with insanely good produce distributors. It's like having a farmer's market just a few short blocks from my house. They routinely sample their staggeringly delicious fruits and vegetables, and chances are good that once I taste something, I can't resist (although I still held back from the sticker-shockingly $2.99/lb Golden Nugget tangerines a few weeks ago, despite them being the sweetest thing I ever tasted). Their other secret weapon against my miserly indecision is a simple plastic sign with four words: Peak of the Season.

This little sign will get me to buy anything. Anything. Sure, I may not have come to the store for (insert seasonal produce of choice here), but it's the Peak of the Season! Time is fleeting! Life is fleeting! Gather ye Golden Nugget tangerines while ye may! And don't forget the asparagus!

Asparagus is the one vegetable that might as well have "Peak of the Season" tattooed on its butt. As soon as you seem them in the store (and I'm talking about the real local deals, not the shipped-from-another-hemisphere knock-offs), the stopwatch starts ticking. You've only got a few weeks to wolf down as many as you can before they're gone, not to return until the calendar has a whole new year on it. Luckily this is not hard.

Asparagus are lovely, lovely, lovely. I eat heaps of them during their all-too-brief appearance. I roast or steam them, eating them plain or with a simple topping of vinaigrette with lemon and sieved egg. I pickle them to eat all year, or mix them with some angel hair pasta, lemon, and goat cheese (and, if I've got it, precious drizzle of truffle oil). For a while, one of my favorites was this pizza, topped with goat cheese and briny anchovies, and brightened up with a sprinkling of lemon zest. But fickle me, I have a new favorite asparagus pizza. And oh, is it wonderful.

I found this combination on the amazing craftacular blog Posie Gets Cozy. Leeks are sauteed up with butter, and mixed into creamy mascarpone. After you spread your pizza dough with this rich and savory spread, you top it with shrimp and a pile of thin spring asparagus. I'm someone who tends to insert a tangy edge into every meal, and was tempted to replace the mascarpone with cultured creme fraiche, or add a grating of citrus zest. But I'm glad I stuck to the original vision, because it's great. I'm including a recipe for two pizzas, because trust me, you want to make at least that many. After all, it is the peak of the season.

Asparagus and Shrimp Pizza with Leek and Mascarpone

adapted from Posie Gets Cozy
yields 2 pies

This recipe is simple, but a few little tweaks (which I learned between making the first and second pizzas) keep the shrimp from drying out: a quick brine in salt water, and placing them on the pizza under the asparagus.

2 balls of pizza dough, ~10 ounces each
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled (if they're very large, slice them in half lengthwise)
1 Tbsp butter
2 leeks, washed and sliced thinly
1 small tub (8 ounces) mascarpone
~3/4 lb thin asparagus, either left whole (dramatic!) or sliced into short lengths (easier to manage!), tossed with a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt -- if you don't have thin ones, simple thinly-slice larger stalks

Preheat your oven, with a pizza stone if you have, to 500 degrees for an hour. If your pizza dough has been refrigerated, let it sit, covered, at room temperature for about the same amount of time.

In a small bowl, place a cup of water, a tablespoon or so of salt, and a splash of oil. Add the shrimp, and place back in the refrigerator while you're preparing the rest of the pizza.

Heat a saucepan over a medium flame. Melt the butter, and add the leeks. Sprinkle with a bit of salt. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are totally softened but not colored. Turn off the flame, and add the mascarpone to the warm pan of leeks, stirring as it melts. Taste and add more salt if needed.

Now assemble your first pizza: Place one ball of 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.

Gently spread 1/2 of the leek/mascarpone mixture over the dough, leaving a 1" rim around the edge. Drain the brined shrimp, and scatter half of them over the pizza, then top with half of the asparagus. Slide the pizza onto the preheated stone in your oven, reduce the heat to 450, and bake ~7-10 minutes, until the crust browns and the shrimp and asparagus are cooked. Remove the pizza from the oven, let cool for a moment, and slice and serve. Repeat for your second pizza.


  1. Do you have a favorite source for your pickle? I just may have to do that...

  2. I don't remember exactly what I did -- I think it was a fairly basic brine, with a bit of cider vinegar, and few dried chilies and garlic. Delish.

  3. I love anything with mascarpone. Shrimp and asparagus go so well together, this sounds and looks delicious.


  4. Made this last night. So good...