Maturity is not all it’s cracked up to be. Except for the spring vegetable pizza. It’s a pie worth growing old for.
Quick note: I originally published this post in May of 2009. Recipe and photos updated March 2017. Original text follows. And hey, I did eventually make the pizza we had at Primo (you’ll see what I mean at the end of the post). It took 8 years, but it was worth waiting 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.
Talk to you soon.
Spring Vegetable Pizza
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 lb. cremini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
- 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
- Big pinch salt
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 bunch thin-stemmed asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
- 1 ball pizza dough (about 22 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 4 ounces good Gruyere cheese, shredded
- 1/4 cup grated pecorino romano
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 500°F with a rack in the center. If you have a pizza stone, preheat it on the center rack. (If not, you can use an overturned half sheet pan.)
In a 12-inch nonstick frying pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add mushrooms, garlic and salt and raise heat to high. Toss mushrooms to coat with butter. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until they are beginning to brown in spots and have significantly reduced in volume. Add wine and cook until all the liquid is gone. Stir in heavy cream, asparagus and tarragon, reduce the heat to simmer briskly, and cook for an addition couple of minutes, until the cream has thickened to coat the vegetables without dripping.
Rub pizza dough with olive oil and divide into two equal portions. Stretch each portion into a 12-inch round. I like to place each round on a piece of parchment to make transfer to and from the oven much easier. Top each with half the vegetable mixture, half the gruyere and half the pecorino. Bake for about 1o minutes, until dough is crisp on the underside and cheese is bubbly. (I bake one pizza at a time, putting the second one in the oven as we sit down to eat the first.) Sprinkle with parsley and pepper. Cut into slices and serve.