I have a confession: I am incapable of kneading. I don’t know if it’s a character defect, a lack of practice or sheer laziness, but I cannot seem to take a mix of flour and water and yeast and make it into a smooth mass that balloons into a beautiful ball of dough. I end up with something shaggy and ragged and, well, downright ugly.
When it comes to pizza crusts, I have tried to persevere. There have been a few successes (and one colossal failure where I essentially made a giant, pizza-sized cracker), but I was typically undone by my less-than-stellar kneading skills.
And then, a revelation: no-knead pizza dough.
It was a circuitous route that brought me to a place where I realized I too could easily make homemade pizza dough.
It started with shaved asparagus pizza.
I stumbled onto the idea on Smitten Kitchen — a popular food blog written by the charming Deb Perelman — and was immediately enchanted. Warm chewy crust, melted cheese and thin shavings of asparagus that would roast on top? Yes, please.
But, as Perelman pointed out, she was not the only one to think this would be a fantastic combination. Indeed, Jim Lahey, who revolutionized bread baking with his no-knead concept, serves a high-end version at his restaurant.
Surely, Lahey must have a pizza dough recipe.
Yes, yes he does. And it doesn’t involve kneading.
This time, the dough is intentionally shaggy and ugly. And, after a few stirs and some squishing together of the ingredients (I can’t even bring myself to call it kneading), it only wants to be left alone for two hours.
When finally baked, it has a pleasing crispness with just an appropriate amount of chew. Topped with a tangle of shaved asparagus that had roasted and intensified in flavour, along with the richness and slight salt of the cheese, this is something I could eat over and over.
My first taste of asparagus came in Grade 10 when my boyfriend made me dinner one night and steamed some to go with steaks. I don’t remember much about that meal other than feeling overwhelmingly shy and excited to have a boy I liked cook for me.
Since then, I’ve grown to love the green-stalked vegetable and I’ll take it just about any way it can be prepared. Roasting, though, is my favourite because I like how it slightly caramelizes the tops and intensifies the flavour.
This pizza takes advantage of that, particularly because you shave the asparagus. None of the stalks shave perfectly, so you end up with varying thicknesses of asparagus strips, each of which cook slightly differently. Some will caramelize, while others will still retain a slight bite to them.
The beauty of pizza is that it is infinitely adaptable and this recipe is no exception.
While I used buffalo mozzarella cut into rounds and a sprinkle of Parmesan, I was tempted to throw on some bits of goat cheese as well and will probably try that next time. A squeeze of lemon would have been nice at the very end. Like it spicy? Toss on some red pepper flakes.
Lahey’s version uses some rather fancy cheese, quail eggs and shaved black truffles.
But even with slightly less-glamorous ingredients, this dish is delicious.
P.S. This crust was so good that I made another batch about four days later. Yes, I have a pizza problem.
Shaved Asparagus Pizza
Crust, from Jim Lahey’s My Bread
- 3 ¾ cups (925 mL) bread flour
- 2 ½ teaspoons (12 mL) instant yeast
- ¾ teaspoon (3 mL) table salt
- ¾ teaspoon (3 mL) plus a pinch sugar
- 1 1/3 cups (325 mL) room temperature water (about 72F or 23C)
- 1 to 2 teaspoons (5 to 10 mL) olive oil for pans
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until blended, at least 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the dough has more than doubled in volume, about two hours.
Using a bowl scraper or rubber spatula, remove the dough from the bowl onto a floured work surface. Gently form into a rough ball. Then divide the dough into two halves (to make his two 13×18 – 33×45 cm – pizzas or, do as I did, and divide into three parts for round pizzas) spacing them 4 inches (10 cm) apart, and cover with a moistened kitchen towel for 30 minutes.
Pizza, from Smitten Kitchen:
- ½ pound (250 g) asparagus
- ¼ cup (50 mL) grated Parmesan
- ½ pound )250 g) mozzarella, cut into rounds, shredded or cubed
- 2 teaspoons (10 mL) olive oil
- ½ (2 mL) teaspoon coarse salt
- black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 500F (260C).
Using the rough end as a handle, hold the asparagus against a cutting board and use a vegetable peeler to make long strips. (I got anywhere between two to five shavings from each stalk depending on how thick they were or how easily the peeler went through the asparagus. They were also of varying thicknesses, which is fine.) After shaving, you should just be left holding the rough end, which can be discarded. Repeat with all of the asparagus.
In a bowl, toss together asparagus, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Roll out or stretch dough to create 12” (30 cm) round. (Lahey calls for it to be stretched by hand, but I used a rolling pin and did only a bit of hand stretching after getting the dough on the pan.) Brush olive oil on pan and transfer dough.
Sprinkle on Parmesan, then add mozzarella. Top with asparagus strands.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until crust is golden, cheese is melted and asparagus is roasted.
This story first appeared in the Real Life section in the Calgary Herald. For more delicious recipes, visit CalgaryHerald.com/life.