I acquired a sourdough starter, which I named Bernie, from a friend of a friend. Have been nurturing Bernie for a few years now. Bernie lives in my fridge and I just need to feed him a little flour and water from time to time to keep him happy. Even though I have a tendency to neglect Bernie and, at times, completely forget about his existence in the corner of my fridge, he never lets me down and always “rises” to the occasion. I’ve made some very tasty, crusty whole grain sourdough bread with Bernie, but recently got the idea to make a sourdough pizza crust.
The verdict: Am happy to report that it worked perfectly, maybe my best pizza dough to date. I let the dough rise for 24 hours at room temperature in my proofing box (i.e., microwave oven). The crust has that perfect combination of chewy and crispy texture, with just a hint of sourness (not overpowering).
By the way, there are several sources for sourdough starter floating around the web. On the other hand, if you are feeling a bit adventurous, you can make your own sourdough starter. While I’ve yet to try, there’s lots of information out there on making basic sourdough starters. If you plan to or have tried, would love to hear about it.
A word on salt-cured anchovies…
After a bit of online research, which revealed several people singing the praises of salt-cured anchovies versus those packed in olive oil, I had to track some down. Actually, they were not nearly as difficult to find as initially expected. Almost every Italian market I contacted carried them, albeit only in 800 gram tins (~1 3/4 pound). However, since they are preserved in salt, I suspect they’ll last a while in the fridge, despite my tendency to want to put eggs and anchovies on top of just about everything. Of course, if anchovies are just not your thing, you can certainly omit.
So are salt-cured anchovies worth the hype? They are most definitely a step up from olive oil-cured anchovies. Salt preserves the anchovies while naturally maintaining their flavor. Compared to olive oil-packed anchovies, salt-packed anchovies are discernibly softer, moister, and plumper.
Now only if I could find fresh anchovies close to home. Would love to try my hand at curing anchovies. Just about all anchovies I’ve seen come from Spain or Italy, but there must be anchovies swimming around on our side of the Atlantic?
Signs of Spring: Asparagus and Green Garlic…
Spotted some asparagus at the farmers’ market this past weekend. It was from South Carolina, so not exactly local, but decidedly better than the stuff shipped in from California. Sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. And I simply couldn’t hold out any longer; asparagus (along with local green garlic) seemed like the perfect topping for a spring-inspired pizza.
In general, I tend to favor the thinner, more spindly asparagus stalks, but thicker stalks are much better for shaving. Added a generous handful of the shaved asparagus to the pizza before it went into the oven, and another handful after it came out of the oven. In the end, you get contrasting textures and tastes from the cooked and raw asparagus.
Young green garlic stalks let you know that spring has finally arrived. If you can track some down, they add a delightful, delicate garlicky flavor to any spring dish.
The 24-hour rise…
This is what the dough looks like immediately after mixing (by the way, I mixed the dough in my food processor this time, rather than by hand — easy, efficient, and creates a perfect texture); the dough should be soft, elastic, and slightly sticky.
At this point, all you need to do is let the dough rest for 24 hours; this will improve the texture of the dough. Some recommend letting the dough rise at room temperature for three hours, then refrigerating. Others recommend letting the dough remain at room temperature for the entire rise. I opted to follow the latter and let the dough rise for the entire time at room temperature.
This is the dough after a 24-hour rise; you can see that it rose nicely and nearly doubled in size.
Sourdough Pizza with Green Garlic and Shaved Asparagus
For each pizza
one bunch of asparagus, thicker stalks
3-4 stalks green garlic (or baby leeks or scallions), thinly sliced
extra virgin olive oil
cheese (used a combination of earthy goat’s cheese and Parmesan)
2-3 anchovies (roughly chopped)
red pepper flakes
2 eggs, room temperature, crack the eggs into individual, small bowls
Place a baking stone in the oven. Preheat the oven as high as it goes, at least 500°F.
With a vegetable peeler, shave the asparagus into thin, long strips. Place in a bowl. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
Heat a small skillet with some olive oil. Add the green garlic (leeks or scallions) and a pinch of salt, and saute a few minutes until soft.
Lightly flour your work surface. Roll out the dough to approximately 11″-12″ in diameter. Crumble the goat cheese on top and sprinkle with grated Parmesan, green garlic, shaved asparagus, and chopped anchovies. Season with red pepper flakes to taste.
Using a pizza peel, transfer the pizza to the oven and bake 7-8 minutes until the dough begins to brown. Pour the cracked eggs from the bowls onto the pizza (or simply crack the eggs directly onto the pizza). Continue to bake another 5 minutes or so, until the egg whites are set, but yolks still runny. Remove from the oven. Top with some raw, shaved asparagus. Finish with a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil. Serve immediately.
Note: If using salt-cured anchovies, rinse the anchovies in water to remove excess salt. Some suggest soaking anchovies in milk to remove excess salt. Rinsing the anchovies in water worked just fine for me. Remove the bone from the center of the fish and roughly chop.
Sourdough Pizza Dough
Makes (2) 11-12 inch pizzas
1 cup 00 flour
1/2 cup King Arthur white wheat flour or whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups sourdough starter
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Add the flours, starter, salt, and olive oil to the food processor. Process for 4-5 minutes until the dough comes together and forms a ball, adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water as needed. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic, and let rise for 24 hours. Divide the dough into two balls.