There is this one stand at my local farmer’s market that I always frequent because they are they mushroom people, and I can not resist a good mushroom. But of course, a farm can not subside on mushrooms alone. They have quite a bit of prepared stuffs, tamales, soups and the like, and of course in my brain I always think “I can totally make that.” But then… I noticed a bin full of asparagus. No ordinary asparagus, but big, giant stalks that looked as though you could beat someone bloody with them. They really would be a festive form of defense, but likely only good for one skirmish. In which I would lose after having sautéed all of my weaponry. The stand guy caught me in my reverie, and he already knew what I was thinking. “I know, I know,” he said, “people think giant asparagus are going to be all tough and woody. These aren’t.” I raised an eyebrow. He had to be kidding. These look like they could be used for a log cabin for an elf. The Keebler boys could upgrade. But no, he was deadly serious. Apparently they use quite a bit of mushroom detritus as fertilizer for their asparagus. He was hesitant to use the word ‘steroid,’ because it instantly evokes negative connotations, but it sort of was. Their asparagus grows so fast and so furious, it hasn’t had the chance to get all tough and woody. It just sprouts out of the ground and keeps, well, sprouting. So I decided to take him at his word (his mushrooms are delicious, after all,) and I bought a chunk of it.
And then… what to do? I wasn’t sure, in my spring asparagus frenzy, that I could take another sautéed number. They were just too intimidating to eat raw, and I will admit, I was still hesitant about them. Enter the peeler.
I had heard of the wonder of the shaved asparagus salad (which sounds vaguely pornographic) via Smitten Kitchen, and since I am an admirer of hers, I thought I’d start with that. And then… I did what I always do. I researched. And researched. Dug up recipes here, there, and everywhere. Decided that greenery alone wasn’t enough, I needed something more substantial. And I had that round of leftover cannelini beans I had cranked out with my beloved pressure cooker a few days earlier, seasoned with bay leaf and garlic. I had herbs loose and running around, including a fresh bunch of dill and a potted tarragon plant on the deck. I paused for a moment, eyeing the last of a ridiculous, eye roll inducing bit of chèvre. Being a Wisconsin woman at my core, I of course panicked, thinking a quarter pound of chèvre would not be nearly enough. (It was.) So naturally, I made a pizza.
Yes, you read that right. A pizza. While I do adore the traditional pizza, riddled with cheese and pepperoni, every so often I wander off with other types. And, to be fair, Google revealed that someone had done a pizza with spinach and white beans, and since spinach is green, and asparagus is green, and Smitten Kitchen had done a straight up shaved asparagus pizza, a mashup was required.
I started to shave the asparagus, cursing my ancient peeler, and wondering why I insisted on clinging to this thing that only worked on the most delicate of carrots. It does look pretty in photos, though. If you have not shaved asparagus, it is quite the event. You will make a mess. Just be ready for that. Your kitchen will smell like someone just mowed the lawn. I have read accounts where people do this with a mandoline. All I could envision was my fingers going free range in a bloody heap on the cutting board. I stuck with the cruddy peeler. It took some doing, but I finally had a glorious, soft pile of thin curls of asparagus. I ate one. The mushroom stand guy was not wrong. It was beautifully tender, even raw.
And then… well I sort of lost all control. I tossed in some olive oil, squeezed in a bit of lemon, a pinch of red pepper flakes. Not enough. A sprinkle of salt, a grind or two of black pepper. Nope. A bit of fresh dill and tarragon, minced together and tossed in. Now it was enough.
The beans were already flavored with garlic, so I let them be. I pushed and patted out the pizza dough, slathered it with fruity olive oil, and dotted on the creamy white beans. Totally normal and acceptable sized gobs of chèvre were dotted on. And then, the asparagus, slick with oil and redolent of green, herbs, and lemon. The rest of the chèvre was dotted on, after a brief moment of panic, as I still believe ¼ lb. would not be enough. It still was.
A careful slide into the oven, blessed with obscenities as I burned my arm on the edge of the oven on the way in, a fretful wait, and ah! Joy! A light pizza at once creamy and piquant, the asparagus having almost pickled in the heat and spice. A fitting summer pizza, to be sure.
Shaved Asparagus White Bean Pizza
Technically this could be vegan if you just take away the chèvre. You could also just do the asparagus part alone and make it a salad. Or add the white beans to the salad to make it a bit bigger. Hmmm… I may have to try that…
As a caveat, this whole ‘recipe’ was an improvisation based on what I had around.
1 recipe for 1 pizza of your favorite dough
The asparagus part
1 lb. asparagus, shaved (don’t snap the woody ends off. Hold on to that end, then run the peeler down the length of the asparagus. You might have to flip it over.)
1-2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1-2 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice (to taste, or heck, add some zest!)
generous pinch red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. each fresh tarragon and dill, minced (or another fresh herb like parsley, maybe basil)
salt and pepper to taste
Toss all of this together in a bowl. Set aside.
The bean part
You could just buy a can of cannelini beans and use half of it. But I assure you, making beans from dried is so much better, and ultimately cheaper. If you make them on your own, use whatever method you like (I’m a pressure cooker convert now,) and flavor with bay leaf and garlic. You only need ½ cup or so, maybe more, but I always make way more and then use them in soups, or freeze them. If you are using a can, pour half the can into a small pan and simmer with a couple of cloves of garlic and a bay leaf for about 10 minutes, and set aside. Drain before using.
The chèvre part
I used ¼ lb. of chèvre. You could use a nice goat cheese. You could go more traditional and use a nice mozzarella. You could use the hit of a tallegio.
Preheat oven to 450. If you’ve got a pizza stone, make sure it’s in there. If you’re like me and don’t, put a cookie sheet (I actually have a full sheet that has a lip all the way around) in there, but flipped upside down so you have a smooth surface. You want it to get hot. Roll or push and pat out your pizza dough onto a piece of parchment paper. Drizzle the dough with olive oil. Evenly distribute the cannelini beans all over. Top that with half the chèvre. Top that with the asparagus ribbons, making sure you really have them evenly distributed. Top with the remaining chèvre. Slide into the oven (I put the parchment paper on the back of another cookie sheet as a sort of mock pizza peel so I could slide it in. Be careful. I did it badly, and have the burn to prove it.) Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the cheese is just starting to brown. Enjoy.