Asparagus on Sourdough Crust

This asparagus pizza is one of our favorites. Oniony chives, asparagus, and stringy mozzarella make for a winning combination every time, especially on a sourdough crust. This past weekend, I made the pizza with some purple asparagus I happened to find at the store. 

Go ahead and Jump to Directions for the Asparagus Pizza or  Jump to Ingredient List if you're not interested in the sourdough. Otherwise, keep reading!

About Sourdough

Years ago, I caught my own yeast using instructions along the lines of what you can find here. I lost the starter only because we moved. The starter below I got from a neighbor three years ago. I take it out of the refrigerator to feed it every week (and hopefully bake something with it as well). I usually feed it 2-3 times at roughly 12-hr intervals before returning it to the refrigerator. I've gone as long as 2 weeks between feedings, and it has survived.

In the first photo, notice the liquid on top. I usually pour off this watery waste matter before feeding the starter. If it has been in the fridge a while, sometimes this liquid is black. No matter. The starter is fine. Just pour the liquid off, add more water and some flour. If I plan to use the starter, I usually just mix any waste-water in so that it looks as shown in the second photo above.  I also make sure that I have fed it a couple times in the last 12-24 hrs. I make dough in the morning after a feeding roughly 24 hrs. previous, as well as the night before (12 hrs). This is usually enough for the starter to perk up.

After I use the starter, I make sure to transfer what is left to a clean container so that there isn't any flour residue on the edges (above the yeast line, like in the first and second photo) that could grow mold. If mold does start to grow, you can just pour the starter into a new container from the mold-free section of the container. The third photo shows the starter transferred to a clean container and fed.

I follow a general ratio of 1/2 cup starter to 2 1/2 cups flour to make two 12" pizzas. I double that to make four, which is what I did here. The key to sourdough flavor is actually to use less starter. It's the rise time that gives the dough its flavor. I like some whole wheat flavor to my dough, but I find that adding more than 1 cup detracts from the sourdough's flavor. So balance is required. I use Trader Joe's white-whole wheat, which has a milder flavor. If you're using a heartier wheat flour, go easier on the wheat flour proportions. Some people recommend feeding a starter a half-half wholewheat and white flour mix. I just use the TJ's white-whole wheat. 

Mixing the Sourdough

People often promote measuring ingredients for bread and dough. However, since the consistency of water to flour in my starter is constantly in flux, I fail to see the logic. Instead, I use the added water as a variable. I only use as much as I need to for the dough to reach the right consistency. Since I was doubling the recipe, I added 1 1/2 cups of water to the ingredients, then waited before adding any more. When I added the rest of the water, I did so very slowly and stopped with between 1/8-1/4 cup of water left over from the 2 cups I poured into the measurer. I also pour the water through the same measurer I use for the starter in order to get it all into the dough.

The dough is ready when it all sticks together in something like a ball. When you raise the mixer head, the hook should slide right out. I generally aim for a moister dough since it tends to rise faster/better.

The First Rise (3-6 hrs.)

Oil a large bowl by pouring a bit of olive oil in the cap and trickling it down the edges. Form the dough into a ball, then cover it with cling wrap. The dough is ready for the next phase when it relaxes considerably, as shown in the second image below. I usually let it go for between 3-6 hours (longer in cooler weather and a shorter time when it's warm). If you need it to rise faster, you can turn on the oven for a few seconds, just to warm it slightly, then stick the bowl inside. Just make sure you've turned it off! 

The Second Rise (2-5 hrs.)

Once the dough has relaxed, divide it into two balls--if you're doing the standard recipe. I divided my dough in half, and then each half again to make four balls. Knead each ball on the board with a generous dollop of flour and make sure there is plenty of flour on the board beneath them when you're done. Then cover the dough in cling wrap. 

A Note on Refrigeration: After experimenting with refrigeration for Arthur's NYC crust, I was curious about how refrigeration might affect sourdough. Sources indicated the sourdough would stop rising and then resume after I took it out of the refrigerator. In the summer the dough can be ready before you're ready for it to be, and in the winter it can take far longer than you intend--so refrigeration seemed like a potentially helpful way to manage the rise time. So for the first time, I left the sourdough balls in the refrigerator overnight. Sources indicated that the dough should be ready within an hour or two after removing it from the refrigerator. However, four hours after removing the dough, it was still cold and pretty stiff. (Granted, the house was no warmer than 65°F.) I had difficulty spreading the dough out as much as I often can (I got 10" crusts instead of 12"). However, once baked, the crust was a bit more bread-like with some air pockets. The time in the refrigerator may have even intensified the flavor somewhat, but I'll need to follow up with some taste comparisons to say for sure.  

I generally give the dough a little less time for the second rise, maybe 2-5 hours. Again, a summer rise will be much faster than in winter. I worry less about giving it enough time than giving it more than enough time. A stiffer dough is preferable to one that's gone soft and sticky. 

Using a Peel and Pizza Stone

I use a pizza stone and peel to cook my pizzas. When the weather cooperates, I like to use the gas barbecue since it gets nice and hot. The ideal baking temperature is 500°F for 8 min. If the barbecue gets up above this, you can regulate the temperature by leaving the lid open an extra second or two. (See Arthur's NYC Pizza post for photos of barbecue pizza baking.) 

The key to using a peel and stone is ensuring that the pizza can slide easily on the peel. This requires using plenty of thick, gritty cornmeal. The cornmeal will fall off onto the stone and char, but this is FAR preferable to a pizza sticking to the peel. You can always clean the stone afterwards. I put a round pile of cornmeal in the center of the peel, then plop the ball of dough down on top. As I pound out the dough, I turn it to make sure that I'm distributing the cornmeal around underneath. I press the dough out from the center and really work the edges while making sure to leave a fat half inch or so at the very edge as crust. 

Topping the Asparagus Pizza

I like to prepare the chopped garlic and olive oil mixture first so that the garlic flavor can infuse the olive oil a little. Then I wash the asparagus and snap off the thick ends. Skinnier asparagus is best for this recipe, but if you get a thicker batch, you can cut the stalks in half lengthwise. Chop the chives and mix about half of them with the asparagus, along with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Grate your cheese, and you're ready to go. 

Note: When I've been short on chives, I've used green onions for this step (in place of half the chives) and the pizza was possibly just a tad more delicious. You could probably use green onions for the entire pizza if so inclined. 

Over the crust, brush the chopped garlic and olive oil mixture. If your crust is wide enough, or your asparagus spears are short enough, you can try arranging them like spokes on a wheel. However, this requires a fairly large pizza crust! For a 10-12" crust, I've found it works best to arrange them in a line with heads and tails alternating, as pictured. I also alternate higher and lower placement so that the spears cover most of the pizza. Over the single layer of asparagus spears go the rest of the chives. Then the cheese. 

Note: If you come across purple asparagus in the supermarket, this can add a fun and colorful twist!

Give your peel a shake to make sure the dough is ready to slide, then slide it onto the pizza stone.

Pro Tip: If the dough sticks to the peel, use a metal spatula to lift it free and add more cornmeal. Once the pizza is topped, don't let it sit longer than 15 min. before putting it in the oven. (I try not to let it sit at all.) Letting it sit allows the dough to settle in and stick to the peel. 

Cook the pizza 500°F for 8 minutes, or until the cheese browns slightly on top. 

Note on cutting: if you want to avoid mangling your pizza (pictured on left) Use a rocker pizza cutter (pictured on the right).  a wheel cutter is no match for asparagus!

Sourdough Crust Recipe (makes two 10-12" pizzas)

-1/2 cup starter (fed within 12 hrs.)

-1 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour

-1 cup TJ's white-whole wheat flour (if using a more flavorful whole wheat, I'd use less)

-1/2 tsp. salt

-3/4-1 cup water (use only as much as you need)

-A large sprig of dried rosemary (optional)

Toppings (for one 12" pizza--double if making two, and so on)

-roughly 1/2 cup chopped chives, divided (can also sub green onions)

-1/2 bunch of thinnish asparagus, ends snapped off 

-2-3 chopped garlic cloves

-1-2 Tbsp. olive oil

-4 oz grated mozzarella (1/4 of a 16 oz. ball)

Other Toppings to Try

-Mix in gruyere, brie, diced cheddar, Parmessan, or fontina


-Sautéd beef 

-sprinkle with Daiya mozzarella cheese instead for a vegan-friendly version

 Special Equipment

-The Pizza Blade