Monthly Archives: July 2010

Shaved Asparagus Pizza

I have a confession: I am incapable of kneading. I don’t know if it’s a character defect, a lack of practice or sheer laziness, but I cannot seem to take a mix of flour and water and yeast and make it into a smooth mass that balloons into a beautiful ball of dough. I end up with something shaggy and ragged and, well, downright ugly.

When it comes to pizza crusts, I have tried to persevere. There have been a few successes (and one colossal failure where I essentially made a giant, pizza-sized cracker), but I was typically undone by my less-than-stellar kneading skills.

And then, a revelation: no-knead pizza dough.

It was a circuitous route that brought me to a place where I realized I too could easily make homemade pizza dough.

It started with shaved asparagus pizza.

Shaved aspargus pizza IV

I stumbled onto the idea on Smitten Kitchen — a popular food blog written by the charming Deb Perelman — and was immediately enchanted. Warm chewy crust, melted cheese and thin shavings of asparagus that would roast on top? Yes, please.

But, as Perelman pointed out, she was not the only one to think this would be a fantastic combination. Indeed, Jim Lahey, who revolutionized bread baking with his no-knead concept, serves a high-end version at his restaurant.

Surely, Lahey must have a pizza dough recipe.

Yes, yes he does. And it doesn’t involve kneading.

Sold!

This time, the dough is intentionally shaggy and ugly. And, after a few stirs and some squishing together of the ingredients (I can’t even bring myself to call it kneading), it only wants to be left alone for two hours.

When finally baked, it has a pleasing crispness with just an appropriate amount of chew. Topped with a tangle of shaved asparagus that had roasted and intensified in flavour, along with the richness and slight salt of the cheese, this is something I could eat over and over.

Shaved aspargus pizza II

My first taste of asparagus came in Grade 10 when my boyfriend made me dinner one night and steamed some to go with steaks. I don’t remember much about that meal other than feeling overwhelmingly shy and excited to have a boy I liked cook for me.

Since then, I’ve grown to love the green-stalked vegetable and I’ll take it just about any way it can be prepared. Roasting, though, is my favourite because I like how it slightly caramelizes the tops and intensifies the flavour.

This pizza takes advantage of that, particularly because you shave the asparagus. None of the stalks shave perfectly, so you end up with varying thicknesses of asparagus strips, each of which cook slightly differently. Some will caramelize, while others will still retain a slight bite to them.

The beauty of pizza is that it is infinitely adaptable and this recipe is no exception.

While I used buffalo mozzarella cut into rounds and a sprinkle of Parmesan, I was tempted to throw on some bits of goat cheese as well and will probably try that next time. A squeeze of lemon would have been nice at the very end. Like it spicy? Toss on some red pepper flakes.

Lahey’s version uses some rather fancy cheese, quail eggs and shaved black truffles.

But even with slightly less-glamorous ingredients, this dish is delicious.

P.S. This crust was so good that I made another batch about four days later. Yes, I have a pizza problem.

Buffalo Mozzarella

Asparagus bunch

Shaved Asparagus

Asparagus shavings

Shaved aspargus pizza I

Shaved aspargus pizza III

Shaved Asparagus Pizza
Crust, from Jim Lahey’s My Bread

  • 3 ¾ cups (925 mL) bread flour
  • 2 ½ teaspoons (12 mL) instant yeast
  • ¾ teaspoon (3 mL) table salt
  • ¾ teaspoon (3 mL) plus a pinch sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups (325 mL) room temperature water (about 72F or 23C)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons (5 to 10 mL) olive oil for pans

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until blended, at least 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the dough has more than doubled in volume, about two hours.
Using a bowl scraper or rubber spatula, remove the dough from the bowl onto a floured work surface. Gently form into a rough ball. Then divide the dough into two halves (to make his two 13×18 – 33×45 cm – pizzas or, do as I did, and divide into three parts for round pizzas) spacing them 4 inches (10 cm) apart, and cover with a moistened kitchen towel for 30 minutes.

Pizza, from Smitten Kitchen:

  • ½ pound (250 g) asparagus
  • ¼ cup (50 mL) grated Parmesan
  • ½ pound )250 g) mozzarella, cut into rounds, shredded or cubed
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) olive oil
  • ½ (2 mL) teaspoon coarse salt
  • black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 500F (260C).
Using the rough end as a handle, hold the asparagus against a cutting board and use a vegetable peeler to make long strips. (I got anywhere between two to five shavings from each stalk depending on how thick they were or how easily the peeler went through the asparagus. They were also of varying thicknesses, which is fine.) After shaving, you should just be left holding the rough end, which can be discarded. Repeat with all of the asparagus.
In a bowl, toss together asparagus, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Roll out or stretch dough to create 12” (30 cm) round. (Lahey calls for it to be stretched by hand, but I used a rolling pin and did only a bit of hand stretching after getting the dough on the pan.) Brush olive oil on pan and transfer dough.
Sprinkle on Parmesan, then add mozzarella. Top with asparagus strands.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until crust is golden, cheese is melted and asparagus is roasted.

This story first appeared in the Real Life section in the Calgary Herald. For more delicious recipes, visit CalgaryHerald.com/life.

French Silk Pie

I love Jason Segel.

He meets most of my criteria for ideal man: tall, not overly thin nor athletic and oh-so-funny. (Or, as my friend once described as “tall, broad, goofy guy.”) You can have your pretty boys, girls. Give me a man who can make me laugh and I’m a smitten kitten.

I know this isn’t really the place for romantic confessions, you know, being a food blog and all. But, sigh. And, I swear, it’s relevant.

Chilled and ready

I missed the first season of How I Met Your Mother because I couldn’t figure out when the program was on. Some kind friends lent me it and season 2 on DVD. I’m not admitting anything but I may have watched them both in just a handful of days. That started a lovely tradition of discussing each episode on Tuesdays over email and getting together for season finales.

My crush on Segal started there and has continued through Forgetting Sarah Marshall and then I Love You, Man. (Even though his hair in I Love You, Man was beyond ridiculous and, unfortunately, spilled over into HIMYM because I guess they were filming bits of both at the same time.) (And, may I add, my love of him has absolutely nothing to do with the full-nude scene in Sarah Marshall. Ahem.)

This year, my friends and I set up the date as soon as we knew when the finale was going to air. I, naturally, offered to bring dessert. But, while Dawn and I are fans of anything lemon, Chris is less than interested in citrus desserts. For him, it’s chocolate all the way. I’m not against broadening my horizons away from lemon and I felt like it would be nice to cater to someone else’s tastes for once. Plus, c’mon, chocolate pie? I’m still all over that.

I thought this would be great with a straight-up pie crust and tried that vodka pastry recipe from Cook’s Illustrated that set the baking world on fire. (It’s a wet, easily workable dough that uses part water and part vodka. The vodka evaporates leaving this stunningly flaky crust without all the fuss.) Yes, it was easy to work with and I think it would have been fantastic if I hadn’t rolled it so thin that the bottom got a little too brown. Not burnt, but brown enough that I just couldn’t bring myself to serve it to friends. Yes, I’m a perfectionist.

So, I then went with a graham cracker crust because
a) I had the ingredients
b) It’s a lot harder to screw up.

I loved photographing how this came together, especially the part where I got to mix in the chopped chocolate to the custard base, watching the cream and brown swirl together.

Mixing it in

The only hitch in all of it was this thing seriously took forever to set. That’s why there are no photos of slices because it was still setting while I was driving over to my friends’ house. I had set the tart tin on a baking sheet on the floor of my car and was freaking out every time I had to come to a stop as I watched the chocolate goo ripple slightly. We immediately put it in the fridge when I got there and let it chill for another three hours. It was perfect when it came time to cut in, but it was far too late for pictures. And, frankly, we just wanted to eat the damn thing.

It was so good.

Richly chocolate, smooth without being gloppy. It slumped ever-so-slightly in that perfectly decadent way. As if it was so full of goodness that it couldn’t contain itself.

I have it on good authority (OK, he was dimed out by his wife) that another slice or two went down after I left before bed time.

Yeah, it’s that good.

Yolks

Weighing the chocolate

Chopped chocolate

Custard and chocolate

Time to chill

Chilled and ready II

French Silk Pie

For crust:

  • 1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup sugar

For filling:

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 5 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

For topping:

  • 3/4 cup chilled heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, for dusting OR a small chunk of dark chocolate, shaved with a grater or rasp

Crust:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Stir together crumbs, butter and sugar and press into 9″ pie plate or tart tin. Bake until slightly golden, about 15 minutes. Let cool on a rack.

Filling:

In a heavy-bottomed pot, whisk yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt until well combined. Add milk in a stream, while still whisking. Over medium heat, while still whisking, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, still whisking, for about a minute. The filling will be quite thick.

Sieve the filling into a large bowl. Whisk in chocolates, butter and vanilla and stir until everything is melted together and fully incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it against the custard mixture to keep it from forming a skin. Let cool completely, about two hours.

Spoon filling into cooled crust and then chill all together in the fridge for at least six hours. (Mine took more like eight.)

When ready to serve, beat whipping cream with sugar until it hold soft peaks. Cover pie and dust with cocoa powder or chocolate shavings.