My effort to cook seasonally is a relatively recent project. Attempting to be mindful of cooking with what is in season has made me realize that there are many fruits and vegetables that I have never even tried, let alone learned to cook with. The standard North American diet, as I tend to refer to the foodways of my childhood, consists of a shockingly limited variety of fresh produce. This limitation is especially unfortunate when we consider the emphasis that nutritional guidelines increasingly place on the general principle of variety. Learning to work with unfamiliar produce has come more easily for some seasons than for others and I have found spring to be the most elusive. This year, I wanted to tackle spring produce and I have started with this asparagus pizza with spinach and beet green pesto.
With the exception of a few grilled asparagus sandwiches M made for me in the early years of our relationship, I have never really eaten asparagus. It was too unfamiliar and too pricey to find its way onto my childhood table and by the time I was an adult I certainly did not know what to do with it. For this recipe I used early season, relatively thin asparagus. Had they been bigger I would have shaved them into ribbons and piled them on the pizza for more appealing visuals, but they tasted great chopped as well. At the moment I have another batch of thicker asparagus in the refrigerator with my vegetable peeler’s name all over them. They will be going into a spring vegetable carbonara I am making tonight for the second time.
In addition to the asparagus, this pizza involves another step outside of my cooking comfort zone - the pesto-like green base. This is the first time I have made, or eaten, a pizza without a red sauce. Granted, the pesto was not quite as “saucy” as a tomato-based sauce might be. However, it is delicious and makes for a great way to amp up the nutritional value of a pizza. The 3 small pizzas this recipe makes contain 2 ½ cups of greens. The “pesto” was made, not with herbs, but with a mixture of greens. I used beet greens, spinach and arugula, but any combination of greens would work. Around my house, greens have been known to find their way into the trash before being used up, so I am always looking for a good way to incorporate them into meals. My other go-to “quick use up these greens” dish is this cardamom chicken.
The two other main components of this pizza are the crust and the balsamic reduction. For the crust I used this recipe by Peter Reinhart. It is the dough recipe that I have been using for a few years now and it makes an amazing thin and crispy crust. Of course, any store-bought crust would work and would certainly save time. However, I prefer to make a big batch of this dough and freeze the leftovers. This also saves some time, and results in homemade freezer meals. Balsamic Reductions are something I was introduced to via an Ottolenghi cookbook and I have since used them on a variety of roasted veggie sandwiches and salads. The reduction adds both a tartness and a sweetness and prevents the pizza from feeling too dry.
This recipe makes about 3 9” pizzas for us and is enough to feed two adults with leftovers for lunch the next day.
For the Pesto:
1 Cup Beet Greens
1 ½ Cups Spinach/Mixed greens*
½ Cup Almonds
½ Cup Parmesan, grated
3 Cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tb olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
For the Balsamic Reduction:
½ Cup Balsamic Vinegar
¼ Cup Sugar
For the Pizza:
½ Recipe Peter Reinhart's Napoletana Pizza Dough or store bought dough
½ bunch of asparagus, chopped or shaved
4-5 strips of Prosciutto, torn into small pieces
¼ Cup Goat Cheese
About 45 minutes before you plan to bake the pizza, place a pizza stone into the oven and heat to 475. If you are not using a pizza stone, there is no need to heat the oven so far in advance. As the oven heats, prepare the pesto and the balsamic reduction:
For the pesto: in a small pot, blanch the greens in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Remove the greens from the pot with a slotted spoon and set them aside to drain. Blitz the almonds in a food processor until finely ground, add the parmesan cheese, garlic, and mixed greens. Blitz the mixture, adding olive oil until the pesto reaches desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.**
For the balsamic reduction: place balsamic vinegar and sugar into a small saucepan, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer till the mixture thickens.***
Assemble pizza: tear off a square of parchment paper, about the desired size of your pizza, and place on top of an overturned cookie sheet****. Roll or stretch out the dough with the backs of your knuckles as thinly as possible and lay on top of the parchment paper. Spread the pesto over the pizza dough in a thin layer. Sprinkle the asparagus on top. With a small spoon, break the goat cheese into clumps and distribute evenly across the dough.
Transfer the pizza onto the baking stone by sliding the pizza, and parchment paper, off of the cookie sheet and onto the stone. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the dough is crisp and browned at the edges. Remove the pizza from the oven, sprinkle on the prosciutto and drizzle the balsamic reduction on top.
* You can substitute any combination of greens you have on hand
**I used the leftovers of this pesto for an avocado pasta, but the remainder can be frozen in an ice cube tray and then popped out into a freezer bag for later use.
***This reduction can be kept in the fridge for a long time and tastes great on roasted veggies and sandwiches.
****You could also use a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal, if you have one. I do not, and the cookie sheet with parchment paper works just fine.