Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Sea asparagus, shiitake and meyer lemon zest pizza


It may be too cold and rainy for the summer berries, tomatoes and corn thus far in Vancouver but we have one little local treat that does not require it to be hot and sunny out. This intriguing food item which I only discovered this weekend is called sea asparagus.

I get e-mails every Thursday and Friday reminding me to go to the Saturday and Sunday Farmer's Markets. Each e-mail starts with a little blurb about what is new at the market that week, or if there are any other special events happening.

Sea asparagus was the first thing I came across and I must admit I had never heard of this vegetable before. I did a quick google image search to see what sea asparagus looked like and found it to look similar to asparagus only it appeared to grow in these complicated networked branches - kind of like sea coral.

It was not until I went to the market before I realized that the sea asparagus is much smaller than regular asparagus - each stem is only a few milimeters in diameter. I also found out that the sea asparagus is really salty because it is actually grown near the sea in estuaries which I have also just learned are water zones that transition between rivers and ocean environments. The growing of sea asparagus in this environment means that the resulting sea asparagus is nice and salty.

Here is a link giving some other useful information on sea asparagus such as the fact that it is high in vitamin A, calcium and iron - all important nutrients for a vegetarian.

When I find a new salty ingredient I always want to test it out on a pizza. Since I am always looking for new and interesting pizza toppings I was convinced that this would be a great opportunity to invent a new pizza recipe.

I briefly considered making a risotto dish using the same ingredient combination applied to this pizza. If sea asparagus is still being sold at the farmer's market next weekend I will likely try a sea asparagus risotto next. Maybe.

I also stumbled upan a tempting sea asparagus gomae recipe that I really want to try. Spinach gomae is one of my favorite things to have at japanese restaurants so I am sure I would love this recipe.

For this particular pizza, I roasted some sliced shiitake mushrooms for 20 minutes and boiled the sea asparagus for 2 minutes before shocking in cold water. Some grated meyer lemon zest added a perfect burst of flavour that complemented the pizza nicely.

The rest of the pizza was made according to my standard methods. I have posted my pizza making strategies many times but I will summarize everything again here. If you want more details check out my previous posts.

I always start by making the pizza dough. I mix the ingredients for 10 minutes then let the dough rise for an hour on the counter or keep it cold in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 nights. This depends on my schedule. Sometimes I am good at planning ahead, sometimes I decide that I want pizza at 3 pm on a Saturday afternoon.

I always make a very simple homemade tomato sauce for the base of my pizzas, I find it makes homemade pizza so much better. All you have to do is peel a few tomatoes and simmer them down for half an hour in a pan with some garlic, honey and sea salt.

Fresh bocconcini, grated parmesan and basil are additional staples that I use for pretty much every single pizza that I make.

When it is time to prepare the pizzas I start by bringing the dough to room temperature (if it was in the fridge) and heating up the oven. I will start the tomato sauce then prepare toppings (cutting, roasting, draining, grilling, boiling) during the half-hour it takes the sauce to simmer and thicken. Then I roll out the dough rounds and let them rise a few minutes while the oven heats full blast and while I tidy things up. When the dough has risen slightly, the pizza gets dressed and placed in the oven under the broiler for just a few minutes until the crust is bubbling. When it comes out, the pizza is topped with Parmesan and basil. Cutting and eating are the last and most enjoyable steps.

I should note that I just recently started using the broiler during my pizza cooking process. I have always cooked the pizza at the top of the oven, heated to the highest temperature. I find switching to the broiler just as the pizza goes in allows the top to get a nice singed look like you get in wood-fired ovens. The stone needs to be pre-heated so that the bottom of the pizza also browns.

Sea asparagus, shiitake and meyer lemon zest pizza
Spring seasonal: sea asparagus
I usually make 3 - 10" pizzas but making 2 larger pizzas is also doable.

1 cup cold water (for overnight rising) or luke warm water (for 1 hour rising)
2 tsp sugar or honey
2 tsp active dry yeast
2.5 cups all-purpose flour - organic is best! (more if necessary and extra for pressing out dough)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil 
1-2 cups tomato sauce (see below)
2 cups sea asparagus
2 cups shiitake mushrooms, roughly sliced
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp olive oil
zest from 2 small meyer lemons
tomato sauce
pizza dough
fresh grated parmesan
30 pearl bocconcini
fresh basil 

(make dough)
1. Stir honey or sugar into water and sprinkle in the yeast. 
2. Mix in the oil and salt and 2.5 cups of flour. Make sure the dough is not too dry otherwise your crust will also be dry, so adjust with flour or water as needed.
3. Knead for 5 - 10 minutes until you have a slightly sticky ball (you can use a bread machine to do the mixing for you if you have one - just make sure to power it off after 10 minutes of mixing).
4. Lightly coat dough in olive oil. Place in a bowl and cover.
5. Option 1: Refrigerate dough for 24 – 72 hours. Take the dough out of the fridge about an hour before you are ready to press out the dough. 
Option 2: Let the dough rise on the counter for 1 - 2 hours.

(make sauce)
6. Meanwhile, make pizza sauce according the directions at the bottom of this post. The sauce cooking takes about 30 - 45 minutes. The other pizza toppings can be prepared while the sauce is simmering.

(roast mushrooms)
7. Preheat oven to 400F.
8. Slice shiitake mushroom and toss with 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 crushed garlic cloves and sea salt. Spread the mushrooms out on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
9. Cook for 20 minutes and remove from oven.

(preheat oven)
10. Move oven rack to the top of the oven and place the pizza stone on this rack.
Increase oven temperature to 500F or higher if you can.
 ***If your oven is really hot the pizza will cook really fast. The faster it cooks, the moister your pizza dough will be. Preheating your oven is an essential part of this process.

(cook sea asparagus)
11. Bring a pot of unsalted water to boil. Add sea asparagus and boil for 2 minutes. Drain and submerge in cold or ice water for 2 minutes. Drain.

(make pizzas)
12. Divide pizza dough into 3 balls, tucking the torn side underneath the ball and shaping it to be smooth on top. Cover 2 of the rounds with small bowls.
13. Shape the 3rd round into a pizza round by pressing out with your palms and finger tips. Use all-purpose flour to keep the dough from sticking to the counter and to your hands.
14. Transfer flattened pizza dough to a baking sheet sprinkled with flour, semolina flour or corn meal.
15. Cover dough with a tea towel and allow it to puff up slightly for about 10 or 15 minutes. Timing depends on your preference and the temperature of your kitchen. If you want a thinner crust then don’t let the dough rise for very long.
16. Spread a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce onto the dough.
17. Top pizza with roasted shiitake mushrooms and sea asparagus. Sprinkle on a third of the meyer lemon zest. Rip 10 of the pearl bocconcinis in half and scatter across the pizza.

(cook pizzas)
18. Place pizza in oven (on baking sheet) and switch the oven setting to broil (switching to broil is optional but I like the slightly singed effect it has on the crust).
19. After 2 minutes, when the dough has firmed up, remove the pizza from the oven and shake it gently off of the pan and directly onto the pizza stone. 
(Having the first 2 minutes of cook time ensures your dough is firm enough to not collapse as you struggle to get it on the stone).
20. Cook an additional 3 - 5 minutes or until the crust is deep brown and cheese is bubbling. The timing depends on how hot your oven is and how close your pizza is to the top of the oven. 
21. Remove the pizza from the oven (I use a pair of tongs to pull the pizza back onto a pan or cutting board).
22. Sprinkle the pizza generously with fresh Parmesan and basil.
23. Repeat the process for the remaining two dough rounds, starting with step 13.

Quick fresh tomato sauce
Bring a small pot of water to near boil. Cut a small slit in the bottom of 3 or 4 tomatoes and add to water for one minute. Remove from hot water and place in cold ice-water until cool enough to handle. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a seperate pot and add 1 crushed garlic clove. Cook for a couple of minutes. Slide the skins off of the tomatoes, cut them roughly and add to pot with a pinch of sea salt and 1 tsp of honey. Simmer until thickened for about 30 minutes. Stir periodically and break the tomatoes apart further with a spoon while you stir.


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