Gjelina's Asparagus Pizza With Fontina, Garlic Confit, and a Fried Egg

Not only is this one of the best pizzas I've made at home, but there's something especially fun about working with ingredients that are here today and gone tomorrow. Similar to how excited I get when the pepper and tomato seasons align for my Panzanella Salad, this pizza recipe will be something I can't wait to make each spring when asparagus makes its brief appearance. Food anticipation is the spice of life.

As is the case with several dishes in the Gjelina cookbook, garlic confit is a star and perfectly ties all of the flavors together. I stuck pretty closely to Chef Travis Lett's proportions and then punched up the spring vibe with some green garlic and pea tendril leaves. I actually used a couple of different cheese blends while maintaining the spirit of the original recipe and they all turned out to be excellent - notes below.

As an enormous fan of Gjelina, GTA, and Gjusta, I venture down to Venice several times a month to see what Chef Travis Lett is putting on the table. The Gjelina cookbook is beautiful and packed with a number of favorites so I plan to post some of them here as I work my way through the recipes. The most recent recent recipe from the Gjelina Cookbook is Tomato Confit.

Useless Facts

  • In the 1990's, the U.S began subsidizing an asparagus-growing program in Peru to encourage Peruvian farmers to produce something other than the coca plant. The goal was to stem the flow of drugs into the United States. Peru has in fact become the largest producer of asparagus in the world, but it was at a price that included American farmers. The New York Times wrote an interesting article on the subject.
  • The Romans apparently loved their asparagus all those 2000+ years ago. As the story goes, the precious spring eats would be whisked away via chariot so that it could be frozen in the Alps for future feasts. Fancy.
  • Germany is the biggest asparagus grower in Europe and the country is especially crazy for white asparagus. "White gold" or the "vegetable of kings" as it's known in Germany is just green asparagus that has been grown using a process called etiolation. The emerging stalks are buried under a mound of dirt (or covered by some other means) to prevent photosynthesis and the development of chlorophyll. White asparagus is said to be very tender with a milder flavor than its non-albino siblings.

Asparagus from Zuckerman's at the Santa Monica Farmers Market

Asparagus from Zuckerman's - Santa Monica Farmers Market

Recipe Tips

Pizza Dough

I started my homemade dough journey with Nancy Silverton's recipe and still think that's a good option for anyone using baker's yeast. Since writing that post, I've transitioned to a naturally leavened pizza dough. If you have a sourdough starter, check out my dough experiment here. I'm hoping to finalize a recipe in the near future and post it on the blog. Another idea is to ask your favorite pizza shop if you can buy some dough. Most restaurants are happy to accommodate their regular customers.

Feeling Fried

There are a few ways to add a fried egg to your pizza.

  • Add it to the pizza at the beginning of your bake.
  • Add it in the middle of your bake.
  • Fry the egg in a pan and slide it onto the finished pizza.

After some rubbery and overcooked experiments, I am currently in the latter camp. An egg fries up in 1-2 minutes so it's easy to do right before or after you pull the pizza out of the oven. The tender whites and runny yolk play an important role in the overall flavor so it's not worth leaving this step to chance. Granted, if I was working with a 900-degree wood-fired oven it might make sense to add the egg at the beginning of the bake, but pan-fried seems to be ideal for consistency at home.

Original vs Adapted

Shallot Confit

I didn't have shallot confit on hand so I substituted melted leeks and the result was delicious. The shallot confit and melted leeks can be stored in the freezer which is helpful since many recipes only call for a couple of tablespoons.

Cheese

The original recipe calls for sottocenere or another nutty cheese such as fontina. I used fontina on one pizza and caciocavallo on another and liked the results of both. The beauty of this pizza is that there's some flexibility depending on what you can find. Gruyère and asparagus are a match made in heaven so I added a little to the mix as well.

Tools

Bowl of shaved asparagus.

Farmers | Artisans

I make an effort to source my food from local California artisans with a special focus on the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Below is a list of the talented folks who contributed to this dish.

Ingredients (Adapted from Gjelina)

  • 7 1/2 ounce ball of pizza dough Note: See "Recipe Tips" above.
  • 5 large asparagus spears, medium width, woody ends snapped off, shaved/peeled with a vegetable peeler (2-3 ounces after prep)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped green garlic, whites and very light green only
  • 4 cloves garlic confit, smashed thoroughly with a fork, plus 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of the garlic confit oil (recipe below)
  • 1 1/2 ounces freshly grated Gruyère
  • 2 1/2 ounces freshly grated caciocavallo or fontina Note: I first learned about caciocavallo at Gjelina Take Away when I had their summertime pizza. You can read more about the cheese and recipe in this post.
  • 1-2 tablespoons Melted Leeks Note: This is in lieu of the shallot confit. See "Original vs Adapted" above.
  • 1 egg
  • (Optional) 1 ounce or 4 thin slices of speck, torn in half
  • (Optional) 1/4 cup pea tendril leaves and curly ends of pea tendrils for decoration

Instructions

Baking Setup

  • Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and a sheet of parchment then sprinkle with flour.
  • Set aside two bowls: One with about 1/2 cup of flour (for dusting) and the other with about 1/2 cup of semolina (for the pizza peel/baking sheet).
  • Set aside a pastry brush, small bowl of olive oil, and small bowl of salt.
  • Sprinkle semolina generously on your pizza peel. Note: I use an inverted baking sheet in lieu of a peel. It works fine enough, but a proper peel would probably be easier in terms of transfering the pie onto the stone.
  • Put the pizza stone on the lowest oven rack and pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees. Note: Pre-heat for at least 45 minutes - idealy an hour.

Stretch and Top

  • Flour your hands and dust the work surface that you're using to stretch the dough.
  • Place the dough ball on the work surface, then using the tips of your fingers, tap-tap-tap the center to gently spread it out. Leave an inch around the edge untouched - this will be your crust. Note: Nancy Silverton compares this to playing the piano. Also, it's not necessary to smack or bang your dough. If you've done things correctly the stretching process should take about a minute once you get the hang of it.
  • Using your fists, gently rotate the dough and let gravity do the rest of the stretching until the size is about 9-10".
  • Transfer the stretched dough directly from your fists to the pizza peel that's dusted with semolina.
  • Adjust the shape as necessary, making sure to maintain a 1-inch border.
  • Before adding toppings, shake your peel gently to ensure the dough slides freely, lifting and dusting with semolina as needed. Note: Don't be shy when it comes to adding semolina underneath the pie skin. You will cry tears of mozzarella if your pizza sticks while being transferred to the stone.
  • Brush the dough with garlic confit oil and olive oil then sprinkle with flake-style salt.
  • Gently shake the peel/baking sheet again to ensure free movement, lifting the edges and adding semolina as needed.
  • Add the leeks, green garlic, smashed garlic confit, cheese, pea tendril leaves, and then finish with the peeled asparagus.
  • Gently shake the peel/baking sheet again to ensure free movement, lifting the edges and adding semolina as needed.

Bake

  • Carefully slide your pizza onto the stone and bake for 8-11 minutes until deep golden brown.
  • Use a metal spatula to rotate the pizza about halfway through your cooking time.
  • While your pizza is baking, add 1/2 tablespoon of butter to a small frying pan. About two minutes before the pizza is done, heat the pan over medium-high.
  • Crack an egg into the pan and fry until the whites are set.
  • Slide the pizza onto the peel/baking and set aside so that it can rest for a minute. Add the fried egg.
  • Season to taste with freshly ground pepper. Enjoy!

Garlic Confit

  • Line a baking sheet with foil and pre-heat oven to 350.
  • In an oven-safe dish, combine the peeled cloves from 8 heads of garlic, 2 cups of quality olive oil, 12 fresh thyme sprigs, and 3 bay leaves. Note: Ensure that the garlic cloves are completely submerged in oil.
  • Place the dish on the lined baking sheet and bake until the garlic is softened and slightly brown around the edges (45 minutes to an hour).
  • Garlic confit can be cooled (in the oil) and stored in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks or it can be frozen. I prefer the latter option.

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