Yesterday was the seven year anniversary of dad’s passing. He was fifty-five. I was twenty-three, and I couldn’t imagine how life could continue normally or happily without him, but it has. I went to grad school (at Harvard, dad!). I ran 8 marathons (including Boston! I survived Heartbreak Hill three times, dad!). I married Matt. We moved to DC. We bought a home. I think dad would be proud of what I’ve done and who I am and this helps me keep him close. Still, this time of year I always get a little bit restless, a little bit emotional, a little bit lost.
We spent Halloween with our neighbors and a group of their friends, handing out candy to the neighborhood kids, carving pumpkins, grilling a feast, and ending the night with a viewing of Carrie. There were several times throughout the evening when I found myself engrossed in a long conversation about this blog. In fact, Meg our hostess attributed the night’s seasonally appropriate (and delicious) meal to my post about the sins of eating corn in October. I was touched, honored, moved and caught completely off-guard. To know that a blog inspired by my dad is in turn inspiring others made me incredibly self-conscious, but also incredibly happy. I’m accomplishing what I set out to accomplish, keeping dad’s spirit alive, not only through my own cooking and writing, but through your cooking, too. Thank you for that.
I was so encouraged by and thankful for Meg’s support that I wanted to take inspiration from the meal we shared with her and Tom, in particular, the delicious rolls Tom baked for our grilled steak sandwiches. And so, last night I took on my food nemesis – yeast-based dough – in the form of a white asparagus pizza (also terribly out-of-season, but we’ll ignore that fact for now, because there were bigger problems). It was an unmitigated disaster, a cracker with toppings, and yet both Matt and I managed to chew our way through two helpings. And now, I’m really inspired. This year will be the year of successful bread. I will cultivate my patience. I will practice my kneading technique. I will listen when the recipe says the dough needs to double in size. And with this small (but terribly challenging) mission ahead of me, I feel excited and content to let another year begin to pass with dad’s spirit more present than ever.
Shaved Asparagus Pizza from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
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.
Really Simple Pizza Dough
Makes enough for one small, thin crust pizza. Double it if you like your pizza thick and bready.
1 1/2 cups (190 grams) flour (can replace up to half of this with whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon (6 grams) table salt
3/4 teaspoon (about 2 grams) active dry yeast
1/2 cup (120 ml) lukewarm water (may need up to 1 or 2 tablespoons more)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
Stir dry ingredients, including yeast, in a large bowl. Add water and olive oil, stirring mixture into as close to a ball as you can. Dump all clumps and floury bits onto a lightly floured surface and knead everything into a homogeneous ball.
If you are finding this step difficult, one of the best tricks I picked up from my bread-making class is to simply pause. Leave the dough in a lightly-floured spot, put the empty bowl upside-down on top of it and come back in 2 to 5 minutes, at which point you will find the dough a lot more lovable.
Knead it for just a minute or two. Lightly oil the bowl (a spritz of cooking spray perfectly does the trick) where you had mixed it — one-bowl recipe! — dump the dough in, turn it over so all sides are coated, cover it in plastic wrap and leave it undisturbed for an hour or two, until it has doubled in size.
Dump it back on the floured counter (yup, I leave mine messy), and gently press the air out of the dough with the palm of your hands. Fold the piece into an approximate ball shape, and let it sit under that plastic wrap for 20 more minutes.
Sprinkle a pizza stone or baking sheet with cornmeal and preheat your oven to its top temperature. Roll out the pizza, toss on whatever topping and seasonings you like. (I always err on the side of skimpy with toppings so to not weight down the dough too much, or if I have multiple toppings, to keep them very thinly sliced.)
Bake it for about 10 minutes until it’s lightly blistered and impossible to resist.
November 3, 2014 at 9:48 pm
Sar, this is a sweet, touching post and a nice tribute to your dad. I regret only that after such kind words and delicious food shared by Meg and Tom, I made them watch Carrie!
November 7, 2014 at 2:20 pm
Your blog is so inspiring, Sarah! The stories you share are a wonderful reminder of how food can bring people together and are an important part of community/memory-creation. Super proud to have been mentioned in this beautiful post.
Also, I am sure Tom would be willing to offer tips, tricks and his recipes for dough if you need them throughout the year. I usually cheat by adding a little too much yeast and doubling the sugar/honey – but that is definitely not a healthy practice for the on-going house baker!
November 20, 2014 at 8:43 pm
Sarah, I am so happy I finally made it to your blog! Must confess that I am typing through tears… I don’t know what it was about this year, but it was really hard for me, perhaps you too from what I read. I also use Sig’s chicken soup recipe, which never fails (with enough chicken and veggies, what can go wrong?) You are so brave to make bread – although I consider myself somewhat accomplished as a cook, I have never braved the world of bread dough.
I am happy you could stay with Anna in Boston.
Keep on cooking for Sig, baby – this is a treasure!