Asparagus Pizza (with Lahey crust, of course...)

Yesterday, I read that innBrooklyn was starting a feature called "The Virtual Veg of the Month", in which they are are looking for seasonal vegetable submissions for photographs and recipes. Asparagus is first on the list, and fortunately for me, I had some on hand.

It seems like spring has been on fast forward this year in my neck of the woods. In less than 24 hours, the Maple tree out front has budded out completely, and the Forsythia in the back is showing off his bright yellow. Both are clear signs that this early warm spell indeed signals the end of the cold. I don't know about other cold-dwellers, but I almost go into denial when the weather warms up - forgetting that I don't need to grab any of my growing knitwear stash, or bundle up the Boy-O when we venture out of doors.

When I read about innBrooklyn's challenge, it made me more than happy to realize that asparagus season is finally here after all, and that I had a challenge to attend to. Moments after reading, I googled "asparagus pizza", since I knew I wanted to make a pizza today. I like to have a jumping off point, but this is dangerous, since it does lead to link saving most of the time. Fortunately for me, I ran into another amazing blog: A Chow Life.

Not only is this a really lovely blog, full of amazing photography and effortless writings, here was an asparagus pizza, exactly as I could imagine one to be. Needless to say, RedMenace instantly gained a follower, and I knew that I would have no chance at making my pizza look as wonderful as hers! But that is OK with me, since there is a lot to learn from viewing beautiful photographs, and there are many, many of them there to choose from.

While A Chow Life photos of asparagus pizza are ethereal and light, mine remind me of an abstract Pollock's - hard and vivid. I know I'm starting to take myself too seriously, when upon waking to a dark, thunderstorming sky this morning, my first thoughts were "how am I going to get great photos of my pizza this evening?"...

While at the moment, photography takes a back seat to my learning of Spanish, I'm more than content to focus still of the making of a pizza. And the eating of a pizza, since this one was really delicious and used up some Easter leftovers. It was actually one of two pizzas, since I had unexpected company from Frankee and her two girls. Let me also note that if you happen to have some leftover frozen meatballs in your freezer, they too make a delicious pizza...

The beauty of pizza is always that you can use as much of each ingredient you like, however, I will note the amounts I used below.

Asparagus, Ham and Roasted Red Pepper Pizza (on Lahey Crust)
  • 1/2 lb. asparagus, blanched in boiling water for 2 minutes and plunged into ice water. (Then carefully slice each in half lengthwise. I used extra thin asparagus, if you use thicker, you may need to boil for an additional minute or so.)
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, sliced as thinly as you are able
  • 1 1/2 roasted red peppers, sliced into strips (I had some in my freezer from last fall, but you can also use jarred or roast them yourself.)
  • 1 c. diced ham (prosciutto or Serrano ham would also be great substitutions)
  • grated cheese, 1 cup or more to your taste. I used a Wisconsin Munster (made just down the road from my Parents' house), and a little mild provolone, since I was using up what was in the fridge.
  • drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with black (preferably Tellecherry) pepper.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Arrange your toppings, except for the cheese, on the pizza dough (recipe below). Bake for 10-12 minutes until the crust begins to look brown along the edges, and center appears cooked. Remove from oven, and sprinkle with cheese. Bake an additional 5-8 minutes until cheese is melted and browned to your liking.

Lahey Pizza Dough
You have to buy this book, since it is the greatest! He includes the weight measurements that I use in addition to the conventional measurements listed below.
(makes 2 half sheet pans, use a half recipe for a single pizza.)
  • 3 3/4 c. bread flour
  • 2 1/2 t. active dry yeast
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 3/4 t. sugar
  • 1 1/3 c. room temperature water
Stir flour, yeast, salt and sugar together in a medium bowl. Add water and mix until blended. Cover the bowl with a towel, and let rest at room temperature until dough has more than doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

Scrape the dough from the bowl out onto a floured surface and form it into a rough ball. Divide it in two pieces, place them apart from each other, and cover with a damp towel to rest for 30 minutes.

When oven is hot and you are ready for making the pizza, liberally oil the pans. Place a ball of dough in the center of the pan, moist side down. Pull, press and stretch the dough to the size of the pan. It will cover the entire thing. It is now ready to top!

You, too, can join in the fun of the Veg of the Month Club! I love a challenge, especially, since sometimes I get sidetracked by what I want to make and not by what needs to be used up. The freezer is still very, very full and countless meals could be produced here without leaving for a store. Augmented by seasonal veg, I think I'll see what I can come up with in the next few weeks as a way to make space in my freezer and make room for strawberries. Last year, I froze 15 pounds in quart jars, and that takes up some space! I'd also wager that I could eat pizza, especially with the Lahey crust, every day for at least a week. And I never thought I'd say this, but I could almost do it without the cheese! You know then for sure that Lahey crust must be a great recipe.

Brussel sprout lunch.

brussel sprout lunch, originally uploaded by Rcakewalk.

Last night I decided to make some steak, since I have to make way in my deep freeze for the new grass fed beef shipment that is coming shortly. I love having a properly stocked freezer now, and there is nothing better than not knowing what to have for supper and then coming up with something fantastic without leaving the home. I also love that I finally figured out that gas grill, so that even though I was grilling in the dark, it was a snap.

I, of course, am not really ever able to finish a whole steak. I saved it for a lunch, and added it, cubed, to a salad with lots of beets. I intentionally made too many garlic mashed potatoes with high hopes of a Shepard's pie in the next day or two. I haven't eaten brussel sprouts in years, and got some in the Harvest Share CSA box last week. Does this seem like a rather large lunch to you? It was. Lately I've been hungriest at the mid-point of the day, especially if my morning includes a walk. In fact, yesterday I didn't know how I'd have room to have steak for dinner after too large a bowl of leftover Rancho Gordo bean soup garnished with about half a mango. Yet, something miraculous happens each day at sunset (now hovering ridiculously overhead around 4:30), I do get hungry again.

I love that I signed up for the Saveur magazine's once a week online newsletter. It's emailed and loads quickly on the iPod touch, and always has a week of interesting meals to choose from. It was here I found a base recipe here for last night's sauteed brussel sprouts:

(In which you first boil them for about 3-5 minutes until mostly tender, and then drain and cool them to room temperature. When they are cool enough to handle, slice in half. Saute an onion in a bit of butter and olive oil until golden, about 5 minutes, then add in the halved brussel sprouts and saute until beginning to brown, about 5 more minutes. Then toss in a handful of toasted pecans, or any nut really.)

My Husband liked them! I think "not bad" was the actual quote, but the plate was suspiciously cleaned of them, so I'm taking it as a win. I think if bacon was involved, I could have gotten a better quote. Either way, I'm going to try and make these forgotten vegetables more often.

Looking for someone to eat beets with...

Today I decided I had to make pasta with beets. Nevermind that I am the only one in my house that will actually eat beets...I really just had to make this pasta.

This bright pink, cling wrapped ball is all natural!

Since the onset of football (and fantasy football) season, I've found myself basically cooking for 1: Me. Boy-O has newly entered the "cereal stage" and insists on eating cold cereal for 2 meals a day. Maybe I lack the parenting skills needed to insist that he should eat something else, but for breakfast and lunch, I just don't sweat it. And my Husband, since he's been busy with fantasy football drafts and pre-season games for the beginning of September, (somethings that I completely avoid - like all sports) has been eating out or just needing something quick...partially why I've been making all kinds of sandwiches lately. (Tuna Salad with a layer of the Roasted Red Pepper Salsa is really good!)

It's kind of nice to have a break from dinners, I guess, but I do need a reason to be in the kitchen, or I end up knitting. I have to be careful with that since I think I'm a tense knitter and end up with very sore hands for several days after completing a project. I have to work on being a relaxed, mellowed-out knitter. Any non-drug or alcohol related tips on that would be appreciated...

Since I've been trying really hard to cut back a little on the dessert faction of my life, when I saw a recipe for beet pasta in the Outpost Exchangethat came this month, it's kind of been nagging me that I'd have to try it. I've been making pasta since 1996, I think, when my Mom gave me her Atlas pasta machine that she wasn't using. For many years after, I never bought any pasta, I just made it when I needed it - since after having it the first time, no boxed stuff could really compare.

It does make a mess of your kitchen, but it really is worth it. I never really make any flavored pastas, after reading Marcella Hazen who firmly states that pasta itself should never be flavored, and all flavors should be added on top of the pasta. I've really basically held true to her doctrine, and only made a spinach pasta once from a Saveur recipe for a really delicious Bolognese Lasagna. But bright fuschia pasta from farm market beets? Yes, please. Now I just need someone to eat it with.

Clean workstation, before the flour flew...

The Exchange recipe used no eggs and semolina flour. But if I'm going to go through the trouble of making pasta, I'm going to use eggs. Nothing compares to fresh egg pasta. So, I used

Mario Batali's Roasted Beet Pasta recipe

. Since I am really going to try and find someone to eat this with, I am going to experiment with freezing fresh, dried pasta. The Exchange recipe did say to refrigerate or freeze, I think due to the addition of a vegetable, since dried egg pasta will stand quite awhile if well dried beforehand.

I love Mario Batali. When I used to watch more Food Network, I liked to watch him. He is always so passionate about whatever he is doing, and it seems to me that he really WANTS you to try it too. His recipe for pasta worked well, but it was extremely sticky even more so after it rested for 30 minutes. I probably worked in about another 3/4 cup of flour while rolling it through my maker. It did make a mess, but for some reason a crazy, pink flour mess didn't really upset me too much. I did taste the raw dough, and it did taste faintly beet-y, but I'll have to wait and see how it tastes boiled up.

The Exchange recipe also served the pasta with a blue cheese sauce with walnuts, kind of a riff on a classic roasted beet salad. I think this is how I will serve it, when I make the big batch. Usually when I make pasta, I keep the little ends and unattractive noodles to eat for lunch, and this beet pasta was no exception. So tomorrow, I think I'll cook up my little batch of seconds and just mix it with s&p and olive oil, maybe a few nuts. I'm sure a picture with be forthcoming.

Meanwhile, just look at the natural color of the beet pasta below!

So, now, who wants to eat some beets with me?