Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Another Springtime Pizza

Because spring just keeps going here this year, and there's still great asparagus at the market, and this was my first experiment with pizza on the grill, and it turned out really well.

When I wrote the recipe for the
fiddleheads and ramps pizza I said asparagus could stand in for the fiddleheads if you couldn't get them. That sounded so good, I had to try it once asparagus made it to the market (ours is the Midtown Farmers' Market , of course). We've been really lucky this year to have lots of great asparagus in the market, first from new vendor Honey Creek Farm, then from our old friend Alvin Schlangen .

I've always thought the idea of pizza on the grill was kind of dumb, to be honest. Pizza should be cooked at 800 degrees Fahrenheit in a brick, wood-fired oven, or at 550 on a stone in your home oven. Cooking bread dough over the direct heat of a charcoal fire seemed a dubious proposition at best. But I kept seeing references to this peculiarly American dish, and with my various interests in bread and in grilling, I guess it was only a matter of time before I gave it a try.

It made a different sort of pizza, but a very nice one. There's no cheese but the cream cheese in the topping you dollop on to melt slightly at the end. The smoked fish really is purely optional--this was really good with or without. Made ahead and then brought to room temperature, this would make an unusual and delicous brunch dish.

Grilled Pizza with Asparagus and Herbed Cream Cheese
serves three or four
Dough for one 14" pizza--use the recipe from the fiddleheads and ramps pizza , or another that you like. (My dough made a fairly thick-crusted pizza; use less of the dough if you like a thinner crust. For instance, take away a quarter or a little more of the dough, and make a mini-pizza with that after you've cooked the big one. How about a dessert pizza, topped with a little rhubarb compote and some good whipped cream? I like the way you think!)
Shape the dough into a roughly 14-inch circle. Place on a wooden peel dusted with cornmeal or on cornmeal-dusted parchment paper on a baking sheet. Brush the top of the crust with olive oil. Let rise while you prepare the vegetables.

Prepare your coals. (I can't emphasize enough the importance of using natural chunk charcoal, or if you can't find that, natural wood briquettes. The smell of lighter fluid and those name-brand briquettes used to be the smell of summer on suburban Saturday evenings; now when that chemical aroma wafts into our yard I think, You would eat something cooked over something that smells like that?)

8 spears asparagus, about 6 ounces
Toss the asparagus in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill, turning frequently, until just tender and lightly browned, four to five minutes.

10-12 medium sized ramps--or an equivalent amount of spring onions or young leeks, about 3/4 cup, chopped (We still had ramps, the wild leeks, when we made this the first time--the second time, with spring onions, it was even better)

Slice the ramps or onions--use only the whites and a little bit of the greens. Sauté in one tablespoon olive oil over medium low heat until soft and slightly brown. Leave them in the pan but set aside.

The cream cheese topping:
2 ounces cream cheese, at room temp.
¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp cream
Juice of ¼ lemon
Some zest, if you like.
1 Tbsp each chopped dill, chives and/or tarragon.
freshly ground black pepper

Blend the cream a little bit at a time into the cream cheese until smooth. Add the lemon juice, herbs and freshly ground pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Once the asparagus is grilled cut it into 1 ½ inch pieces and toss with the sautéed ramps or onions.

Back to the grill: You don't want the coals too hot. You should be able to hold your hand over the fire and say One-Mississippi, Two-Mississippi, Three-Mississippi, Ouch. Make sure the coals are spread out over the whole area the dough will cover!
Brush the grill grate with oil. Slide the dough off the peel or parchment directly onto the grill and cook for three minutes, standing close by to make sure it doesn't burn (a little charring is fine, and to be expected). Flip it over and cook for three minutes more.

Note: If the pizza is getting too brown (i.e., burnt to a crisp), you can place a sheet of aluminum foil between the dough and the grill.

Take it off the grill--put it back on the peel or baking sheet. Add the toppings: Scatter the asparagus/onion mixture evenly over the surface. Dollop teaspoons-fulls of the cream cheese topping around. Return to the grill. Cook with the lid down for about 5 minutes until the dough is done and the toppings are warm.

(Oh, and I mentioned smoked fish above: We had some smoked salmon in the fridge, the odds and ends of smoked sockeye from Whole Foods. We brought that to the table as additional garnish--good but not required.)

With the pizza we had a salad of Honey Creek spinach from the market:
Wash and drain well the spinach.
Render some lardons of good bacon reserving the fat.

Put 1 Tbsp of the fat in a bowl, add 1 tsp buckwheat honey (or other well flavored honey of your choice), 1 tsp grain mustard, 2 tsp red wine vinegar.

Toss the spinach in the dressing, top with the lardons. You can make this a warm salad by using the fat right away, or you can let it cool to make a regular vinaigrette.
The pizza turned out better than I expected. I was quite prepared for the dough to fall right through the grate, or for the pizza to come out half burned and half raw. Mine did get a little charred, but once it rested, even those parts were tasty, and very crisp! The wood coals imparted a pleasant smokiness. The asparagus pieces bathed in that slightly melty, creamy, herby topping were absolutely delicious.

I would actually classify this as more of a tart than a pizza. Or maybe a flatbread with toppings...which pretty much defines a pizza, come to think of it.... Call it what you like, it's worth adding to the summertime rotation. Other vegetables could take the place of the asparagus as their season arrives: summer squash, eggplant, even green beans, and later maybe winter squash roasted in the coals before being diced to top the pizza? Grilled apples and honey on a dessert version? We'll certainly try it with heirloom tomatoes from our garden.

That will depend on summer arriving, as it is currently reluctant to do. That's okay. For the time being we'll say, Vive le printemps!

Text and photos copyright Brett Laidlaw 2008

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