Maturity is not all it’s cracked up to be. Except for the spring veggie pizza. It’s a pie worth growing old for.
Maturity is sneaking up on me. I am not a big fan.
I’m not talking about the trappings of adulthood — kids, mortgage, CVS card, stand mixer. Those have been around for a while. They’re pretty hard to miss, and they’re generally pretty harmless. But recently a number of more insidious grownup behaviors have started lurking in my shadow. Perhaps this partial list of things I’ve been craving lately will clarify my meaning:
- To be home to put out the garbage on garbage night
- Freshly painted baseboard moldings
- One uninterrupted night of sleep
- To not be at a bar, or, really, walk past one, on Cinco de Mayo
- Pesto (but only when I really let my hair down)
Also, there’s the existence of the bulleted list itself, by way of explanation.
I know! I’m almost too hot to touch. Perez Hilton, if you’re thinking about cyberstalking me, hold on a sec. Consider this: twenty-year-old me would not have stopped to give me the time of day.
Twenty-year-old me worked evenings at the independent student pizza place on campus. Sometimes she would get an order for a pizza with “less cheese.” No cheese she could understand — the world has its vegans and its allergies. But less cheese? What are you allergic to, joie de vivre? A bit of a people pleaser, a bit of a decent human being, she would make that pie to order without complaint. But on the inside, she would shudder, fearing the worst — that the pizza would be eaten slowly, soberly, even (gasp) with a knife and fork. She always went home a little sadder on those nights.
I liked that girl. She wasn’t afraid to dish out judgment by the slice for minimum wage (or what I would’ve considered minimum wage until I started raising kids and writing for a “living”). She got along well with her sister, whose proudly proclaimed number two of 25 Facebook Things was “If you woke me up at 4 a.m. and offered me some sausage lasagna, I would eat it.” She made pizzas with extra cheese and ate them with her hands. She considered Cinco de Mayo a holiday. Whatever happened to her, anyway?
Well, friend, I hope you weren’t just asking to be polite, because I’m fixin to tell ya. When I was practicing law at a Very Big Firm in the Very Big City with Very Long Hours for a Very Few Years, I used to imagine that she’d packed up and moved to Portland, Oregon. She’d made friends with a few local farmers, and when the fresh raw milk started pouring in too quickly to feed just her barefoot, golden-skinned children, she’d opened a little shop with pissaladières and chaussons aux pommes, good coffee and free wi-fi. In the late evenings, maybe she wrote a little, or just sat on the porch with Bizarro Umami Boy and had a good laugh and a glass of wine from the Willamette Valley.
Turns out the Portland part was pretty close to right, although it was the one in Maine, and about 80 miles to the northeast. And she didn’t live in Rockland, but she did visit one summer almost a decade ago. While she was there, she had dinner at the now-famous Primo Restaurant, which had only just opened the season before. Everyone else was talking about the other up-and-coming Maine restaurant, Fore Street, and she liked that, too, and can even remember what she ate — but it didn’t speak to her in the voices of the Sirens, or inspire a mad pizzette-making frenzy in her tiny apartment kitchen in the ensuing weeks, or change the trajectory of her life. Primo, though, did.
Yes it did.
If, eight years later, you can still hear the sound of your car tires crunching along a gravel driveway, still smell the herbaceous notes wafting through warm, pristine evening air, still feel crystalline flecks of salty Parmigiano offering momentary resistance against your teeth, you’ve been changed. And that pizza, the best of your life, with thin prosciutto and lightly dressed baby arugula and just a touch of shaved Parmigiano — yup, that pizza with less cheese — is the least of it.
If this website were a better-run establishment, I’d be sharing the recipe for that little pizza in this post. Someday soon, when our CSA delivers baby arugula, I promise I will. Today, though, you’ll have to settle for something almost as good, with loads of roasted asparagus, tarragon- and parsley-flecked mushrooms, and, of course, just a little cheese.
Asparagus and Mushroom Pizzas
Makes 2 12-inch thin-crust pizzas
1 recipe pizza dough. Umami Boy makes the dough around here these days. He uses this pizza dough recipe from Breadtopia.com, which is quite good in white or whole wheat. Prepare it, or your favorite homemade pizza crust, in advance, and have it ready.
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 lb. cremini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 bunch thin-stemmed asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths (If you can only find thick asparagus, blanch it for a minute or two and dry it well so it is partially cooked before going into the oven.)
2 (additional) teaspoons olive oil
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Preheat the oven as high as it will go – ours goes to 550° Fahrenheit. If you have a pizza stone, preheat it in the oven as well. Otherwise, preheat two pizza pans or one half-sheet pan.
In a heavy, wide skillet, melt the butter on the stovetop over medium heat. Add the sliced mushrooms and the salt, and raise the heat to high. Toss the mushrooms to coat with butter. Cook for about five minutes, until they are beginning to brown in spots and have significantly reduced in volume. (Cremini mushrooms don’t give off as much moisture as white mushrooms. If you’re substituting white, cook them until they have given off and reabsorbed their liquid.) Add the wine, reduce the heat a bit, and cook until all the liquid is gone. Add the heavy cream, reduce the heat so the cream simmers vigorously but does not scorch, and cook for an addition couple of minutes, until the cream has thickened to coat the mushrooms without dripping. Remove the skillet from the heat and toss in the chopped herbs and some freshly ground black pepper.
If you have a pizza peel and stone, flick a bit of cornmeal over the peel. Otherwise, carefully remove the preheated pans from the oven and flick some cornmeal onto those. Stretch out the pizza dough into two very thin 12-inch rounds. (If you’re working with a peel, I don’t know if other people can do this two at a time, but I need to work with one pizza at a time.) Spread a teaspoon of olive oil over each round with your hand, coating the dough all the way to the edges.
Top each round with half the mushroom mixture.
In a medium bowl, toss the asparagus lengths with the two teaspoons of olive oil, and top each pizza with half of the asparagus.
Top each pizza with half of the grated pecorino.
Slide the pizzas off the peel onto the stone, or place the pans in the oven.
Bake the pizzas for approximately 8-9 minutes, until the crust is fairly crispy and the asparagus is nicely roasted.
Cut into slices and serve.