I had a shaved raw asparagus salad last month for the first time and was fascinated by it. It was tossed and tangled with olive oil, salt, pepper and a gratuitous amount of Parmesan cheese and while all of these things were wonderful, I felt they only interrupted the deliciousness that was the raw asparagus. I decided immediately that I had to make a pizza out of it, where the asparagus could be as uncluttered as possible.
Of course when I came home and Googled my idea — certain that nobody could have ever laid claim to such brilliance, such a stroke of asparagus genius, before me — I learned that I had been beaten to the punch by one Jim Lahey, who has apparently been serving a shaved asparagus pizza at Co. on 9th Avenue for months. Years, even. Foiled again! From Lahey, however, I learned all sorts of fancy-fancy things you can do with my simpleton ideas. For example, he shaves black truffles on to the pizza, and dots it with quail eggs. Lahey only uses extra virgin olive oil and forgoes the mozzarella entirely for knobs of tomme de savoie, a semi-firm French cow skim milk cheese with a gray rind that I have no doubt will raise this pizza to previously unimaginable heights of deliciousness.
But you will be relieved to know that even in the original, plebeian manner that I’d imagined it, this is a great pizza: tangled and grassy, bubbly and lightly charred, and accented with mild bites of scallion, wilted from the heat of the baked pizza. Once you’ve got your dough made (or procured), it comes together in no time, leaving your time free to handle the more urgent matters of a holiday weekend: feet up, frosty drink in hand, napping on a lounge chair in the shade of a tree*. Now get to it.
* [Rather than, say, celebrating a most adorable first toof with a light fever, a cough and some complaints with the management.]
Shaved Asparagus Pizza
Makes 1 thin crust 12-inch pizza
1 recipe Really Simple Pizza Dough or your favorite pizza dough
1/2 pound asparagus
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 pound mozzarella, shredded or cut into small cubes
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Several grinds black pepper
1 scallion, thinly sliced
Preheat your oven to the hottest temperature it goes, or about 500 in most cases. If you use a pizza stone, have it in there.
Prepare asparagus: No need to snap off ends; they can be your “handles” as you peel the asparagus. Holding a single asparagus spear by its tough end, lay it flat on a cutting board and using a vegetable peeler (a Y-shaped peeler works best here, but I only had a standard, old and pretty dull peeler and it still worked; a mandolin would also work, in theory, but I found it more difficult to do it that way), create long shavings of asparagus by drawing the peeler from the base to the top of the stalk. Repeat with remaining stalks and don’t fret some pieces are unevenly thick (such as the end of the stalk, which might be too thin to peel); the mixed textures give a great character to the pizza. Discard tough ends. Toss peelings with olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl and be sure to try one — I bet you can hardly believe how good raw asparagus can taste.
Assemble and bake pizza: Roll or stretch out your pizza dough to a 12-inch round. Either transfer to a floured or cornmeal-dusted pizza peel (if using a pizza stone in the oven) or to a floured or cornmeal-dusted tray to bake it on. Sprinkle pizza dough with Parmesan, then mozzarella. Pile asparagus on top. Bake pizza for 10 to 15 minutes, or until edges are browned, the cheese is bubbly and the asparagus might be lightly charred. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with scallions, then slice and eat.
More ways to tweak this: Pinch of red pepper flakes (toss with asparagus), squeeze of lemon juice (over the asparagus, after you remove it from the oven), sprinkle of truffle salt or few drops of truffle oil (if you’ve got it; also at end) or up to 3 eggs (bake pizza for 8 minutes, break eggs on top, then finish cooking pizza and eggs together)
Finally, if you’ve got a grill going, this pizza seems almost destined for it. When I grill pizza, I throw the whole dough down on an oiled grill and let it cook for a few minutes on the underside. I pull it off with tongs, flip it out onto a plate and pile the toppings on the grilled side, before sliding the raw side back onto the grill. Grill the pizza with the lid down for a few minutes, or until everything is bubbly and brown.