One of the downsides of being an inveterate recipe collector is that I'm always captivated by the NEWEST, BESTEST, HOTTEST, TRENDIEST recipes. And so, naturally, some of the old favorites fall by the wayside, cast away in search of The Next Best Thing. That's too bad, really, because I have a huge stash of older recipes, both clipped from newspapers and magazines (back in the Old Times before the interwebs...), and also what I guess you'd call "vintage" cookbooks. And some of those sources have some real gems, that deserve to be revisited. Every so often, I'll have a thought (always a scary time for me...), and think, hey, I should make "that dish from XYZ again". And I'll pull out the book, or the magazine, and realize that by the time I've found the recipe I was actually looking for, I've re-read the entire publication, and also found a bunch of other things that sound good and interesting. And then I wonder, why don't I cook from this book any more? Never do have a good answer, other than there's so much good stuff out there, it's simply impossible to get to it all.
So, I've been trying (trying being the operative word here) to remember to include some of the old favorites, or untried recipes from the neglected books and files, with the new ones I've found in my recent recipe forages, when I plan my menus. And sometimes, I do get that thought about an old favorite, and rummage through the collection to resurrect it.
Which led, last weekend, to Asparagus Pizza...
So, asparagus pizza. Great time of year to be making it, since asparagus is in season, at least in SoCal, and after being exorbitantly expensive earlier in the Spring ($4.99 a pound, yeah, not havin' asparagus so much at that price), it's now back down in the price range us mere mortals can afford. Asparagus Pizza used to be a staple in my dinner rotation, and back in the day, when I made them on *gasp* Boboli crusts, they actually were a weeknight, after work dinner more often than not. Confession time....Boboli's not bad. It's not a homemade crust by any stretch of the imagination, but when I thought "I'm not a baker, I can't handle yeast doughs" it filled a niche. And it's way, way, WAY better than the whack-a-tube-crust-in-a-can.
But, now, I have "A Pound Of Yeast" and I fancy myself *A Baker*, and I make my own crusts. And it ain't hard. It's even easier if you make a crust or two in advance, and stash it in the freezer. We'll talk about that in a bit. With a crust or two stashed in the chill chest (thanks Alton), you really still can pull this off for a quick, after work meal, and be happy that you did.
We'll start with the crust first. I used the recipe from Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice. That was the source for that beautiful brioche I posted last week. Again, I happily sing the praises of that book. It is involved, and not written for casual bakers. But if you care about bread baking, and learning how to bake bread well, it simply must be in your kitchen.
Let's make a crust, huh? Start with the typical flour, only the flour is chilled (what....? Chilled.....???? Are ya nutz?? Faith, Grasshopper), salt and yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer. I used a whisk to make sure they all got combined thoroughly. Then add in some oil (good quality extra virgin olive oil gives the dough a good taste) and ice cold water (hey.......that's way different than usual dough, too. Have faith.) Mix that all together with the paddle attachment of the mixer until it comes together as a dough.
At that point, switch to the dough hook, and knead on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes or until the dough is smooth, and sticky. The dough will come off the sides of the bowl, but will still stick to the bottom.
Sprinkle some flour on the counter and dump out the dough. Take a sheet pan and line it with parchment, then spray the parchment with oil or a non-stick spray. I swear by this stuff....not as nasty as the brand that starts with a "P" and ends in an "am". It leaves no nasty, sticky residue that I've found:
Here's the money shot of the pan with the sprayed parchment:
Yes, the pan looks nasty. It's been well used, that's lots and lots of polymerized grease. It won't come off, and you know what, it don't matter. I gave up worrying about the fact my cookware isn't nice and shiny like Martha's a long, long time ago.
Using your trusty bench knife, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (to be sure they're the same size, use your trusty scale...you want 6 ounce pieces). Dip the bench knife into water or flour to help keep the dough from sticking if you need to. Sprinkle flour over the dough pieces, and flour your hands. Since I was making a half recipe of the dough, I only had 3 equal pieces. Even *I* can do that math.
Then, gently shape each piece of dough into a ball. Cup your hands around the dough, and tuck the under side into the middle as you gently rotate the ball around. If the dough starts to stick to your hands, dust them with a little bit more flour. Once you've got the dough rounded into balls, put them on the prepared sheet pan.
Mist or spray the dough balls with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and put the pan with the dough into the fridge for at least over night, or up to three days. If you want to freeze some of the dough balls, dip the dough you want to reserve into a bowl that has a bit of oil in it, roll them around in it, and put each one in a separate freezer bag. Seal it well, and place the freezer bags in the deep freeze for up to three months. Pull from the freezer, and put in the fridge to defrost the day before you want to make pizza.
The day you're going to bake your pizza, pull the pan of dough from the fridge two hours before you want to bake them. Dust a counter with flour, and then spray with the oil or non-stick spray. Put the dough balls on the counter, and sprinkle them well with flour, then dust your hands well with flour, too. Pat each ball of dough gently out into about 1/2-inch thick circles that are about 5-inches in diameter. Sorta like this:
You can see that they're not perfect circles. I gave up worrying about that a long time ago as well. Somewhere I read a quote that said "never trust a round pizza" and I think those are words to live by. The cattywompus crust shapes show they were made by hand, and not on a conglomerate's assembly line.
That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it.
Note that you will want to do this step on a counter or board you can happily live without for another couple of hours, because those little babies are going to have a nice little rest, and a nice little rise, right there on the counter. For about 2 hours.....
After you've pressed them out, sprinkle the tops again with some flour, then spritz with the oil or non-stick spray, and cover with plastic wrap. Leave them alone for the aforementioned two hours.
About 45 minutes before you want to bake the pies, start preheating your oven to as high as it will go. Mine will crank to almost 600° if I take it past the top temperature on the dial almost up to "clean". Past "broil" even, I think. If you have a little indicator light, like I do, that shows when the oven is heating, take it just to where it will turn off for being too high. Put a pizza stone either on the floor of the oven, or on the bottom shelf. For my oven, the bottom shelf works best. The floor of the oven cremates the crust before the filling gets melty and good. Let the stone preheat as long as the oven does.
Meanwhile (back in the kitchen), make the filling. This is a "pizza bianca" or white pizza. No tomato sauce.
Here's the class picture of the ingredients:
That's ricotta cheese, hard Italian salami, fresh mozzarella, black olives, garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, and yes, of course, asparagus.
Mince up the garlic and slice up the asparagus. Probably between 1/4- and 3/8-inch thick. Reserve the tips for garnishing the pizzas (which *I* forgot to do on the first one....d'oh !). Saute the garlic in some olive oil, then toss in the sliced asparagus. Saute that around for a bit, but leave them crunchy. Remember, the pizza is going into a blazing hot oven, and the asparagus will cook a bit more in the inferno.
Remove the asparagus to a bowl that will be large enough to hold all your filling ingredients. As the asparagus was sauteing, I diced the onion, into fairly large dice. I like to have a bit of definition in the onion, I didn't want it to melt into the background. Drizzle a bit more olive oil into the pan, and saute the onion too, until it's tender.
Add the onion to the bowl with the asparagus and garlic. Then throw in the ricotta and as many dried red pepper flakes as your taste buds can handle. A little salt and fresh ground pepper wouldn't hurt either. Mix that around until it's all combined well, and stash in the fridge until you need it.
Drain the olives in a strainer, and slice up the salami into slivers. Slip samples of the cooked asparagus and slivered salami into the waiting, open mouths of any Vulture Dogs who might happen to be lurking in your kitchen (ROSIE....LULU....lookin' at you both).
Watch as the Circling Vulture Dogs spit out the samples of the black olives....(sorry, that's MY life, not necessarily yours).
Grate up the mozzarella (I used fresh....I certainly would not be about to judge you if you used regular mozzarella, or even pre-grated. I just felt like being fancy-schmancy....).
Slip the Circling Vulture Dogs the ends of the mozzarella block and then kick them out of the kitchen, which is far too small for all three of you (sorry, again, that's MY life, not necessarily yours....I digress).
You obviously can do all the prep in advance, and stash the various components in the fridge until it's time to cook. Which is exactly what I did. My guests and I had a delightful adult beverage (or two...) and our salad, and then it was time to make Pizza-y Goodness....
Generously sprinkle a pizza peel (or the back of a sheet pan) with cornmeal or semolina flour. You're going to shape one pizza at a time. Take the plastic wrap off of the discs of dough and flour your hands again, including the backs and knuckles. Lift the dough off the counter with your bench knife, and very gently, stretch the dough out to about a 9- to 12-inch circle (or an approximation of a circle, see "never trust a round pizza" above). I found, after making these, a slightly thicker crust was more desirable than a thinner one, since the topping is pretty dense. However you find it easiest to stretch the dough is the method you should use. Reinhart suggests draping it over your knuckles, and letting gravity help, then doing the classic "pizzaiolo toss", but I found the dough far too delicate for that. For me, just patting and stretching and pulling worked best. Again, as always, if the dough starts to fight you, leave it alone and walk away for 5 or 10 minutes.
I started working the dough on my counter, then moved it quickly to the peel, on top of the cornmeal. Give the peel a quick jerky shake (hey......I think I dated a guy named Jerky Shake once....but I digress) every so often to make sure that the cornmeal is evenly distributed under the crust so it won't stick. Nice note, see how my peel has measurements on it. Makes it real smooth to see how my crust is progressing...
Once the crust is stretched out, time to top it. I forgot to (D'OH !) and should've, brushed the dough with a bit of olive oil. I usually do that for ALL of my pizzas, but since my memory of making this was on Boboli, it wasn't in the neuronal connections. Next time....next time...next time. On top of the forgotten olive oil, you want to spread some of the ricotta cheese/asparagus mixture.
On top of that goes some slivered salami. (I used a hot "Calabrese" salami this time around. Whatever suits your taste will work, so long as its a "hard" salami.)
Then comes the sliced black olives:
And finally, the grated mozzarella.
Take the peel, and put the lip of it against your blazing hot stone. With the "courage of your convictions" (thank you again Mrs. Child), pull the peel back with a rapid jerk (again, I believe I've dated Rapid Jerk, but I digress.....). If you've got enough cornmeal or semolina under the crust, it will slide off elegantly onto the blistering hot stone, and immediately begin crisping up and getting nice and crusty and chewy. Yummmm, pizza.
Ummmmm, just imagine there's artfully arranged asparagus tips on the top of that bad boy. They were on the next two.....
The ricotta is nice and creamy and mellow, and the asparagus is fresh and green and verdant-tasting. The red pepper flakes and the spice salami give it a bit of a kick, and well, the mozzarella is gooey mozzarella goodness. It could've used a slightly more robust crust (next time I think I'll use the crust recipe in Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything, it's not so thin and tender). It was a great blast from the past, and a forgotten dish that won't stay for gotten any longer.
Here's the proportions for the crust and the filling. You could also obviously use your own, favorite crust recipe, or a commercial, prepared dough.
(adapted from Peter Reinhart's "Pizza Napoletana" in The Bread Baker's Apprentice)
Makes six, 6-ounce pizza crusts
4&1/2C (20.25 oz) unbleached, high gluten, bread, or all-purpose flour, chilled
1&3/4 tsp. (0.44 oz) salt
1 tsp. (0.11 oz) instant yeast
1/4C (2 oz) olive or vegetable oil (optional, but recommended)
1&3/4C (14 oz) water, ice cold (40°F)
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting
Stir together the flour, salt and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer. Stir in the oil and cold water until the flour is all absorbed, mixing on low with the paddle. Switch to the dough hook, and knead on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and sticky. It will clear the sides of the bowl, but stick to the bottom. If it's too wet, and sticks to the sides, sprinkle in a bit more flour. Too dry, and not sticking to the bottom, drizzle in a bit more ice water. The final product should be springy and elastic, sticky but not overly so.
Sprinkle flour on the counter, and dump the dough onto the flour. Line a sheet pan with parchment and spritz with oil or non-stick spray. Using a bench knife and a scale, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces of about 6 ounces each. Dip the bench knife in flour or water to help keep the dough from sticking. sprinkle flour over the dough, and flour your hands. Form each piece of dough into a ball by cupping your hands around, and tucking the edges under while gently rotating the dough. Re-flour hands as needed. Transfer each ball to the sheet pan as you're done with it. Spray the dough balls well with oil or nonstick spray, cover with plastic wrap, and slide into the fridge for at least over night, or up to 3 days. If you want to freeze some dough balls at this point, oil, and place in a freezer zippy-bag. Seal, and stash in the freezer for up to 3 months, pulling the dough the day before you plan to bake it.
On the day you're going to bake the non-frozen dough, remove the number of dough balls you need from the fridge 2 hours before baking. Dust a counter or board with flour (make sure you can spare the space for a couple of hours), and then mist with oil or non-stick spray. Place the dough balls on the floured/sprayed counter, and sprinkle them with flour. Flour your hands. Gently press the dough into flat disks about 1/2-inch thick, and 5-inches in diameter. Sprinkle dough with flour, mist with oil, and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let sit for 2 hours.
About 45 minutes to an hour before you want to bake, preheat your oven and a baking stone as high as you can get your oven to go. If you don't have a stone, you can use the under (flat) side of a baking sheet, but don't preheat that.
Dust a rimless cookie sheet or pizza peel generously with semolina or cornmeal. Making one pizza at a time, gently stretch the dough out with floured hands to approximately 9-12 inches in diameter (cheat towards the smaller, thicker crust for this topping). Use whatever method works for you to stretch it. Mine worked best by a combination of pulling and patting, but you could also try to drape the dough over your hands, or even toss it. If it starts to fight you, cover with plastic wrap and leave it alone for at least 5 to 10 minute. I did my patting/pulling motion directly on the peel, since I found the dough to be very tender.
When it's stretched out, gently place on the peel, and shake it a bit to make sure there's sufficient cornmeal under it so it will release. Top with the filling below (or as you desire), and slide onto the hot stone or pan. Bake until the bottom is nice and crispy and brown (scorched even in a few spots), and the cheese is melty. That should be anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, depending on your oven. Mine takes about 6. Remove pizza to cutting board, and let sit for 3 to 5 minutes before slicing. Mangia !!
The Prodigal Asparagus Pizza Topping
Makes enough for 3, 9-inch crusts, or 4, 6-inch crusts
2 tblsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2-3/4 lb. asparagus, trimmed, tips reserved, stalks cut into about 3/8-inch slices
1/2C finely chopped onion
1C whole-milk ricotta cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp.)
Pizza crusts, or 2, 8-oz. packages Boboli
1/4 lb. thinly sliced dry salami, slivered
2C (8 oz.) shredded mozzarella cheese
1 can (2&1/4 oz) sliced black olives, drained
Heat 1 tablespoon o f the oil in a wide frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until golden and fragrant. Add the sliced asparagus, and saute until just tender. Don't over cook, they'll cook more on the pizzas. Remove asparagus and garlic from the pan, and place in a bowl large enough to hold all the filling. Add the other tablespoon of oil to the pan, and saute over medium heat until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and add to the bowl with the asparagus. Stir in the ricotta cheese, the salt and pepper to taste, and the crushed red pepper flakes.
Prepare crusts as described above, or place Bobolis in a single layer on a baking sheet. Brush a thin coat of olive oil over the crust, taking care to go all the way to the edges. Spread the ricotta mixture over the top of the crust, smooshing it out from the center, and leaving an uncoated edge on the dough crusts. Top the ricotta mixture with the salami, then the mozzarella cheese, and finally the olives. Arrange the reserved asparagus tips on top of everything.
Bake as directed above for the fresh dough crusts, or for Bobolis, for 10-12 minutes at 450°F. Remove and let stand for a bit, then slice and serve.
If it's bread (or made with yeast), the cool place to be is Yeastspotting !