Lately, I’ve been obsessed with stinging nettles. I only ate them once, on a pizza at Chez Panisse a year ago, but they were delicious. I thought it would be fun to cook them, and since they are a spring vegetable, I’ve been on a quest to find some.
I went to Berkeley Bowl, the local produce mecca, to try to find some. This place houses every fruit and vegetable known to man and yet they did not have nettles. Sigh… Determined not to leave without some weird produce, I bought a handful of ramps. I’ve never cooked ramps, but they smelled like they’d taste good and in any event, they’d be better than the durian they were selling.
If you’ve never eaten ramps, they taste like a cross between a leek and garlic. You can eat the entire thing – bulb, stalks, and greens. They sound expensive (mine were $11.99/pound) but a little goes a very, very long way. I only bought a quarter pound of them (about 25 stalks), and didn’t even use all of that for this recipe. A quick google search reveals a bunch of different preparations for them, so if you can get your hands on some, buy them and cook them. They are delicious, and from what I understand, only available in the spring.
To keep with the spring vegetable theme, I also bought some local asparagus.
I decided I would make a white pizza with these vegetables. Food and Wine has a recipe for ramp pizza that was the inspiration, though my end result differed significantly. I was really happy with how it turned out, it was absolutely delicious.
A word of warning, however. Most of the recipes for ramps or asparagus on pizza involve chopping them up into little bits. I wanted a pretty pizza, so I didn’t do that and left them whole. Well, there’s a reason chefs recommend chopping them up and that is that asparagus and ramps are both very fibrous vegetables, making them difficult to just bite into. So, if you leave them whole, this wouldn’t be the most elegant pizza to eat with your hands. You really need a knife and fork to cut through the vegetables so that you don’t take a whole stalk off with one bite. So, think about how you’ll be serving this before you decide how pretty you want it.
White Pizza with Ramps and Asparagus
Pizza dough – I used this recipe, which is a little on the chewy side. You can use a different one if you prefer a thinner, crisper crust.
4-6 ounces fresh mozzerrella, shredded or torn up into small bits
2-3 Tablespoons grated parmesan
15 or so asparagus stalks, woody ends removed
15 or so ramps
2 Tablespoons pine nuts
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 450. If you want to preheat the cookie sheet or pizza stone as well, you can do that and you’ll probably have to reduce the cooking time by a couple minutes. I’m not adept enough to transfer my assembled pizza to a hot pan quickly, so I don’t bother with that step, though I realize it probably results in a better crust.
In a pot of salted water, blanch the ramps for 30 seconds and then the asparagus for about 3 minutes. Just remove the ramps with tongs and add the asparagus right in so you don’t have to heat up a second pot of water. Toss both in a splash of olive oil and salt and pepper.
Roll out pizza dough to a rectangle so it fits a standard cookie sheet and lightly brush a tablespoon or so of olive oil on it. Sprinkle the pizza with the mozzerrella.
Place the asparagus on the pizza, alternating the tips with the bottoms, across the entire length. Then place the ramps between each stalk of asparagus, alternating the white bulbs with the green leafs, across the entire length. You should be able to get about 15 or so of each vegetable all the way across. Sprinke the entire pizza with the parmesan and pine nuts.
Bake it in the oven at 450 for 10-12 minutes, until the asparagus is nicely roasted and the crust of the pizza is starting to brown.
Let it cool and cut it with a very sharp knife.
The end result was delicious. While I’m still on the hunt for nettles (anyone in this area see them for sale anywhere?), I’m very happy that I discovered ramps.