My first memory of pizza is of a pepperoni pie from a local tavern in the town I grew up in. The smell and taste of that pie is forever etched in my mind -- the chewy, herb-flecked crust, stringy cheese, and the little pepperonis, browned and spicy, cupped into little bowls of goodness. I think it was one of the first meals where I ever cleaned my plate -- a task so daunting for me as a kid.
Since that first pie, I have always loved pizza. Even through my vegetarian days, pizza was always a welcome comfort, a satisfying and delicious meal. It wasn't until I moved to New York, though, that I realized its full potential. Innovation and creativity shattered my perception of what "defined" a pie. The components that constituted a good pizza -- the crust and the sauce -- still rang true, but there was also a complexity that I had never known pizza to have. Drizzles of honey, truffle pates, housemade cured meats, crushed nuts, clouds of homemade ricotta, hot chiles -- each and every ingredient elevated the pizza to something more than what I had always known it to be.
This Saturday, I stopped at the farmers market without much of a plan, but with pizza on my mind. I headed home with a bag full of asparagus, radishes, and loads of herbs. An unlikely assortment, but one that ended up working more beautifully than I could have ever anticipated. Here's to breaking convention and, in turn, making something great. Here's to my take on "pizza".
asparagus, pesto + radish pizza
Bright and herbacious, this pizza has quickly become one of my favorite Springtime meals. Pair it with a crisp, cold Pinot Grigio, and a lightly dressed salad for a delicious lunch or dinner. And, please, do yourself a favor and make your pizza dough. It is SO simple and it makes all the difference.
pizza dough, recipe below
1 pound asparagus stalks
1/4 cup creme fraiche, plus more for garnish [optional]
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
basil almond pesto, recipe below
roughly chopped fresh mint, for garnish
1 radish, sliced very thinly, for garnish
First, prepare the pizza dough and pesto [recipes below]. On a lightly floured surface, roll [or stretch] 2 balls of the prepared pizza dough until paper thin, forming 2 rectangles [for reference, my rectangles were about 6-7-inches by 11-12 inches]. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Wash the asparagus stalks and remove the tough ends [I find if you bend each stalk, one at a time, it will snap where it is meant to]. Chop the stalks into 1-2 inch long pieces. Toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and coarse salt and arrange in one layer on a baking sheet. Roast until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
Place a large baking sheet in the oven and increase temperature to 500 degrees F. [Since this recipe calls for very thin crust, I find that if you preheat your baking sheet, the crust still gets very crisp without a pizza stone, but you can definitely use a pizza stone if you have one].
While oven preheats, in a small bowl, mix together the creme fraiche, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese, and 1 tablespoon of the extra virgin olive oil. Set aside.
Once oven is preheated, carefully remove preheated baking sheet and drizzle remaining 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over the sheet. Swirl to spread evenly.
Roll each rectangle of dough onto a rolling pin and unroll onto the preheated, oiled baking sheet [don't try to transfer the dough without a rolling pin; it will rip]. Working quickly, spread each pizza with the creme fraiche and Parmesan mixture [spreading all the way to the edges]. Drizzle both pizzas with a few tablespoons [each] of the pesto and sprinkle the roasted asparagus pieces evenly over top. Sprinkle both pizzas with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.
Place in the preheated oven and bake until edges of dough are golden brown and pizza is bubbling, about 12 minutes. Remove from oven, and sprinkle pizzas with chopped fresh mint. Arrange radish slices over top and sprinkle with coarse salt and drizzle with more pesto.
Slice pizzas into triangles and serve with dollops of creme fraiche [optional] over top.
Makes 2 small pizzas; 2 - 4 servings
for the pizza dough [recipe from Food & Wine]:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
1 envelope active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon salt
extra virgin olive oil
In a large bowl, mix the water with the yeast and sugar. Let stand until mixture starts to foam, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and salt and stir until a raggy dough forms. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
Lightly oil the bowl and return the dough it, turning the dough to coat it in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
After 1 1/2 hours, punch down dough and divide into four equal balls. [You'll need two of these balls for this recipe, and can reserve the other two for another use. Remaining dough can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated overnight or frozen for up to 1 month. Thaw dough to room temperature before rolling out].
for the basil almond pesto:
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup packed fresh basil
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Heat a small, dry saute pan over medium heat. Add almonds and toast, shaking pan frequently, until almonds are golden brown and fragrant, about 5-7 minutes.
In a food processor or blender, add toasted almonds, Parmesan cheese, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Pulse or blend until combined. [If using a blender, you may need to add some of the oil to get everything going]. Add basil and with the motor running, drizzle the oil into the machine, and process until everything is finely ground and combined.
This recipe makes more pesto than you will need for the pizza. Store remaining pesto in the refrigerator with plastic wrap directly touching the top [to discourage browning].