Shaved asparagus, tarragon pizza & spinach, basil, goat cheese pizza

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It's spring and pizza is in the air. We got into making homemade pizzas a long time ago when Laurie, a best friend and past roommate, use to work at a stone-fired pizza place during college. She could take this little baby-bottom soft piece of dough and toss it out into a disc, top it, and have it slipped into the oven in no time. One early summer's afternoon we decided to have a pizza-luck. Laurie got a bunch of dough ball "butts" from work and everybody pitched in and brought toppings. Doing this at the house was extremely fun but not without difficulties. We had pizzas popping out of all different shapes, sizes, deformities, colors, flavors, until the power all over the block mysteriously gave out. So we were oven-less, secretly I was thankful for this, our tiny house felt like a sweat lodge after running the oven for hours and our AC didn't work so well. So we gave the pizza stones a rest and all retreated outside, sat around in our big yard with good friends, drinks, and plenty of pizza to share. 

I made these pizzas when we had two friends from Athens, who now live in Charlotte, visit us in Virginia. It was the first asparagus of the season for me and I wanted to do something special with it. Clearly, pizza is special and it is worth the grace of the seasons first asparagus. Make your own dough at home with the recipe below, buy your own pre made dough (usually found at Earthfare or Whole Foods), or use a pre-cooked crust. 

A word about making your own crust. I've tried so many different pizza crust methods/recipes and none compare to Peter Reinhart's overnight fermentation method. The problem is that I rarely make this recipe because I am usually not planning on making pizza the day before. You have to start his recipe the day before, it is essential. But if you do plan ahead, seriously, locate his recipe and make it; it is a gem.

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Dough, the short version ( makes two pizzas )

Flour (I used bread flour) - 1 1/2 Cups

Olive oil - 1/3 cup

Warm water (110-115 degrees)

Active dry yeast - scant 1Tb (or one packet)

Sugar - A big pinch

Salt - 1.5tsp

Place your warm water into a 2 cup pyrex, make sure it is between no warmer that 115degrees and no less than 105degrees. You need it to be warm enough for the yeast but not too hot or else it will kill your yeast. Add in your good pinch of sugar and whisk to somewhat dissolve. Add in your yeast and whisk until it is dissolved. Let this mixture sit in a warm place for 10 minutes until it starts to get foamy and fluff up.

Meanwhile mix your flour and salt in a mixer with the dough hook attached. You can do this by hand, just need a big bowl and a wooden spoon. Once the yeast mixture is ready add it into the mixture while it is going and then add 1/2 the oil. Let the dough start to come together and finish adding the oil when it looks like it needs it. You want the dough to be soft but not tacky. I left a little oil out of the dough mixture so I could later grease the bowl with it. Let it mix in the mixer for a few minutes.

Lightly flour a clean surface and take out your dough and knead it with you hands for several minutes and form it into a round. Grease a large bowl with your extra oil, roll the dough round to coat the top with oil. Let it covered with a cloth in a warm place to double in size, at least an hour. Once it is doubled in size, turn the dough out and divide in in half, forming each half into a round.

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Asparagus pizza

Asparagus - 1 bunch

Yellow onion - 1/2 slivered

Garlic - 3 cloves minced

A good parmesan - 1 cup grated

Tarragon - scant 2Tb chopped fine, fresh

Lemon - juice of 1 lemon

Egg - 1

Olive oil - 2Tb + some for brushing

Salt/pepper - to taste, I used generous pepper

Preheat your oven on 500degrees. Take a mandoline or a vegetable peeler and peel your asparagus into long ribbons. This may take awhile but it is worth it. It is ok if they are uneven or different sizes/thicknesses. I used a vegetable peeler and held the end of the asparagus (the part you usually cut off) as a handle. Place all your asparagus ribbons in a bowl. Heat up a deep skillet on medium heat with 2Tb olive oil. Add in the minced garlic, cook for 1 minute. Add in the onions and cook for several minuets until softened. Add in the asparagus ribbons. Cook for several minutes until just starting to soften. Squeeze in the lemon juice and season with salt/pepper. Turn off the heat and stir in the tarragon. 

Take one of the dough rounds and place it on a floured surface. Roll out the dough into a circle about 9" in diameter. Transfer the pizza onto your pizza stone or baking sheet now, before you top it. I then brushed the outer few inches of dough with olive oil and rolled the edge in about 1" to make a crust. Scatter 1/2 cup of parmesan over the pizza. Top with the asparagus mixture, spreading evenly. Scatter the other 1/2 parmesan over the top. Part some of the asparagus in the center to make a slight well and crack your egg in it. Finish by brushing the edges with olive oil. Place your pizza in the oven and cook for about 20 minutes (maybe a little longer or a little less) Keep an eye on cooking your egg. It is tricky to get it out when the whites are set but the yolk is still runny. I took mine out a little too early then put it back in but when I went back for it, it was too late and my yolk was cooked. You could try cooking your pizza without the egg for 1/2 the time and then pull out the shelf, crack in the egg onto the already hot pizza, then finish cooking. Experiment.

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Spinach, basil, goat cheese

Spinach - Several handfuls of fresh spinach

Goat cheese - 4Tb about

Parmesan -1/2 cup grated

Basil - 2Tb slivered, fresh

Pepper - generous amounts.

With the oven still at 500 degrees. Roll out your second round like you did with the asparagus pizza. Transfer the pizza dough onto your pizza stone or baking sheet at this point. Crumble the goat cheese around the disc and the smear the goat cheese with a knife, gently, into a thin layer covering the crust. Scatter over the fresh basil. Top with the handfuls of fresh spinach and then the parmesan. Brush the crust edges with olive oil. Finish with a generous sprinkling of black pepper over the pizza. Place in the oven and cook about 10-15 minutes.

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