Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Spring = Asparagus

Two recipes for the arrival of local asparagus.

Asparagus Tart with Ramps and Cheddar Cheese
I used ramps in the tart because I found them at a local farm market. Stores such as Whole Foods or Wegman’s also carry them in the spring. You could substitute with a cup of sliced leeks sautéed with 1 teaspoon minced garlic. I used a square tart pan but a 9" round tart pan works just as well.

Tart Crust
For one 9” crust
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter
6 Tablespoons shortening
6 Tablespoons cold water

1. Place the flour and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add  the butter and 2 tablespoons of the shortening to the flour and mix until it forms small crumb-sized pieces. Add the remaining shortening and mix, leaving larger sized pieces of shortening. Add the water and mix until the dough comes together. Remove the dough from the bowl and shape it into a flat round disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour before use. Alternatively, the dough can be mixed by hand using a fork or pastry blender.
2. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the crust dough until 1/8th inch thick. Fit the into a 9” tart pan, trimming any overhanging dough with your thumb. Using a fork, lightly prick the bottom and sides of the tart shell. Refrigerate or freeze the tart shell for 20 to 30 minutes before baking.

For the tart:

12 ounces asparagus spears
¼ pound ramps
3 or 4 strips bacon (optional)
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 ounce goat cheese, crumbled

1. Snap the ends off of the asparagus spears. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the bottom 1” of each spear. Place a pan with ½ cup lightly salted water over high heat. Add the asparagus, cover and cook until tender; test by pressing the point of a knife into the thickest part of the stem. 
Remove from heat, drain in a colander and refresh under cold water. Set aside.

2. Wash the ramps under cold water, removing any dirt. Trim the bottoms and slice the ramps crosswise into 1/8” pieces. Continue cutting, slicing the leafy part of the ramps into thin ribbons. Place the sauté pan back over medium heat. When hot, swirl in one tablespoon olive oil. Add the ramps and sauté until softened and the leaves have wilted. Remove from heat. This may not appear to be enough ramps for the tart but their flavor is strong enough for such a small amount.
3. Cook the bacon until crisp then drain on paper towels. Set aside.
5. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Remove the tart shell from the refrigerator or freezer. Place the tart shell on a baking tray. Line the shell with a piece of aluminum foil. Fill the foil with dried beans, rice or pie weighs. Place the tray with the tart shell into the oven and bake for 12 minutes. Remove partially baked tart shell from the oven; carefully lift out the foil with the pie weights. Return the tart shell to the oven and bake for and additional 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

The custard:
2 eggs
¾ cup half and half
½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

To assemble the tart, mix together the custard ingredients in a bowl until blended.  Keeping the tart shell on the baking tray spread the ramps (or sautéed leeks/garlic mixture) evenly on the bottom of the tart shell. Crumble the bacon into the tart shell; top with the asparagus spears. Spread the cheddar cheese over the tart and top with the crumbled goat cheese. Pull out the oven rack, place the tray with the tart shell onto the rack and fill the tart with the custard mixture; use only enough to fill the shell. Carefully slide the rack into the oven and bake the tart for 28 to 30 minutes, until the custard has set. Remove from oven and let cool before serving. Remove the asparagus tart from the tart pan, slice and serve.  

Asparagus Pizza with Fontina, Prociutto, and Goat Cheese

It is impossible to get brick oven quality pizza out of your home oven but there are some tricks and techniques that will bring it closer. You need to use a pizza stone. I move one oven rack to the bottom of the oven, the hottest spot, and let the stone preheat for at least 20 to 30 minutes. Another trick is one I picked up from baker Jim Lahey of NYC’s Sullivan Street Bakery. Lahey suggests finishing the pizza under the broiler.

While the broiler is located on the top of an electric oven, it’s usually located under a gas oven, which can be a bit trickier. If you choose to go for some extra browning under the broiler, keep an eye on the progress of the pizza under the broiler. You want to look for some nice dark spots like the kind you would get in a very hot brick pizza oven.

Baking pizza in a home oven requires a little extra work. The way I have done it over the years is as follows. I always slightly bake the crust before topping it. After the crust is formed and is on the baking disk (a round pizza tray) I put it in the oven for about five minutes to let it rise slightly and firm up. I pull it before it gets any color and let it cool slightly. Before you build the pizza, make certain the crust is free of the pan so it can slide off the pan and into the oven directly onto the pizza stone. You might want to rotate the pizza during the cooking since all ovens have hot spots. If you decide to finish the pizza under the broiler, remove the pizza when it’s almost finished baking and turn on the broiler. Return the pizza to the oven under the broiler, taking care to watch it as it browns. I have a gas range and the broiler is under the oven so I have to put the pizza back onto the pizza pan and slide the pan with the pizza on it under the broiler. 

Practice does makes perfect, or somewhere close. You could also learn to make pizza outdoors on your grill.

Asparagus Pizza with Fontina, Prociutto, and Goat Cheese
If you don’t like the flavor of raw garlic, you can sauté the garlic in olive oil for a few minutes to soften its flavor.

Needed: one recipe pizza dough

2 cups asparagus, sliced into 1” pieces on the bias
4 ounces Fontina cheese, grated
3 to 4 slices prociutto
2 to 3 Tablespoons goat cheese
1 Tablespoon minced shallot
ground black pepper
garlic oil: 1 to 2 teaspoons minced garlic mixed with 2 to 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place pizza stone into the oven and let it heat for 20 to 30 minutes.
2. Blanch the asparagus pieces in boiling salted water until tender; they should pierce easily with a knife poiunt. Drain the asparagus into a colander and refresh under cold running water. Set aside.
3. Prepare your crust. If you are using my pizza dough recipe, use plenty of flour. Sprinkle your pizza pan with flour and cornmeal. On a well-floured surface, pat the dough out into a circle then lift the dough and continue shaping the dough over the back of your hands; keep your fingers bent under to avoid tearing the dough. The dough should be very soft and easy to work. Shape the dough into a 13 inch circle; exact geometry isn’t necessary. Place the dough onto the pan and bake for 1 to 2 minutes to set the dough. Remove from oven.
2. Turn oven up to 500 degrees. Assemble the pizza: Make sure the crust is not stuck to the pizza pan. Spread  2 to 3 Tablespoons of the garlic oil  and the minced shallot over the bottom on the pizza. Spread about ½ of the grated Fontina cheese onto the crust. Scatter the asparagus pieces over the crust. Tear the prociutto into pieces and drape it over the pizza. Finish with the remaining Fontina and crumble the goat cheese over the pizza. Season with some ground black pepper.
3. Place the pizza directly onto the pizza stone and bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Baking times will vary depending on your oven. Rotate the pizza once or twice as it bakes. If you want to finish the pizza under the broiler, remove it just before it appears to be done, turn on the broiler and return it to the oven under the broiler for a few extra minutes. Watch the pizza as it cooks under the broiler. Remove the pizza from the oven and let stand for a couple of minutes before slicing and serving. 


Pizza Dough

I have adapted this recipe from one by the great baker, teacher, and author Peter Reinhart.  Far be it from me to find a problem with one of his recipes but dough recipes generally need a bit of tweaking. This dough if a softer style dough than what you may be used to. It’s what Reinhart refers to as “Neo-Neapolitan Style,” the type similar to the kind  you would find at brick oven style pizzerias. You may, of course use any pizza dough. Make your dough in advance if you can since a slow rise in the refrigerator gives the dough more flavor.  If you are concerned about working with a soft, sticky dough, you can add a small amount of additional flour to tighten the dough

Pizza Dough
For two 10 ounce dough balls

11 ¾ ounces or 2 ¼ plus 2 Tablespoon King Arthur all-purpose flour
½  teaspoon yeast (Rapid Rise, or similar "instant" style yeast)
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 cup warm water

1. Mix together until the dough comes together and forms a ball. It will be tacky to the touch, even a bit sticky. Scatter about 1 tablespoon flour onto a clean surface. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead the dough in the flour for about 4 to 5 minutes; add a little more flour if necessary. The dough should be smooth but tacky or even sticky to the touch; if you press the dough ball with your finger, the dough should spring back. Divide the dough into two equal (10 ounce) pieces. Oil the dough balls generously and place each dough ball into its own sealable plastic bag. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes then refrigerate the dough overnight or freeze if for a later use. If you want to use the dough the same day, let the dough rise for at least an hour. All dough is best made in advance and allowed to “age” in the refrigerator. Pull any chilled dough out of the refrigerator for a hour or so to warm before use.

Listening: The Wayne Shorter Quartet: "Without A Net" 
The legendary sax player turns 80 this August 25. Here he is from 2003.

1 comment:

  1. I also made an asparagus pizza after visiting the farmers market.