Spear Me

Asparagus takes a break from the steamer and lands on your pizza.

By Deena Prichep April 15, 2010 Published in the May 2010 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Bruce Wolf

I’ve experimented with countless preparations for asparagus—puréed into silky soups, stuffed into ravioli, indulgently deep-fried—and despite my tireless creativity, nothing could ever compare to the simple pleasure of a butter-dipped stalk. But in the hands of Squish Durawa, proprietor of the Wy’east Pizza cart at SE 50th Avenue and Kelly Street, the scaly green spears—which usually emerge from the ground in late April—transcend those tired approaches to become the crown jewels of his seasonal spring pizza.

Wy’east is a proud participant in Portland’s burgeoning food-cart culture, producing artisan pies in a 1974 trailer, much of which is taken up by a roaring 800-degree oven. A veteran of the Appalachian Trail who strums his ukulele when business is slow, Squish has developed a reverence for simplicity that comes through in the New-York-meets-Neapolitan handcrafted pizzas he serves, including his asparagus white pie.

Though white pizzas are a common sight in the Italian pizza parlors of the East Coast, from the clam pies of New Haven to the ricotta-and-spinach slices at every corner joint in New York, they’re a rare treat in Portland. “It’s a way to take the focus away from the strong, traditional taste of tomato sauce and really showcase the vegetable,” Squish says.

This season, Squish capitalizes on the spell of asparagus, allowing its delicate flavor to stand out against a mellow back-drop of mozzarella perked up with tangy lumps of goat cheese, spicy chile flakes, and fresh lemon zest. And while Wy’east’s pizzas get their characteristic airy crust from the combination of an overnight rise and a blisteringly hot oven, you can still tease delicious results out of a ball of pre-made dough and a home kitchen. It’s the best thing to happen to asparagus since butter. 

Asparagus White Pizza

  •  1 ball of pizza dough, 10–12 oz (find at Pastaworks or New Seasons)
  • 12 pencil-thin asparagus spears
  • 1 ½ cup plus 1 tbsp shredded mozzarella, 
  • loosely packed
  • ¼ cup goat cheese, broken into small pieces 
  • and loosely packed
  • ¼ tsp finely chopped oregano and thyme
  • ¼ tsp dry chile flakes
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon zest 
  • Semolina flour (for dusting)
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • Pizza stone
  • Pizza peel

(1) PLACE a pizza stone in the oven and preheat oven to 500 degrees for 2 hours. (2) REMOVE the tough ends of 12 asparagus spears and cut the remaining stalks in half. (3) GENTLY TOSS stalks in a small amount of olive oil and salt and set aside.
(4) PLACE pizza dough on a lightly floured countertop and gently press into a flat disc with your fingertips, working from the center outward and leaving a 1-inch unpressed area around the edge. (5) DRAPE the dough over the backs of your fists, letting gravity help you gently stretch it into a 12-inch round. (If the dough isn’t stretching, lay it on the counter for 2 minutes to let the gluten relax.) (6) PLACE the 12-inch round on a peel dusted with semolina flour. (7) SPREAD 1 ½ cup shredded mozzarella on the round, leaving the 1-inch crust bare. (8) SCATTER the asparagus on top of the mozzarella. (9) PLACE bits of goat cheese in between the asparagus spears. (10) SCATTER herbs and chile flakes, and sprinkle with salt and olive oil. (11) ADD the remaining mozzarella on top. (12) SHAKE the peel to loosen the pizza, then slide it onto the pizza stone in the oven. (13) COOK for 6–8 minutes, or until edges turn brown and all cheese melts (rotate pizza 180 degrees halfway through). (14) REMOVE pizza, grate lemon zest on top, and serve.

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