Friday, April 6, 2012

The Bishop's Choice - Asparagus with a Wee Bit of Bacon

What does an asparagus spear resemble?  Exactly:  a bishop on a chessboard.  And like the chess piece, when used correctly it is potent but not overwhelming.  (Pardon the ecclesiastical reference, but it is Good Friday.) 

Asparagus has been cultivated for over 2500 years and is one of my favorite vegetables to grill, steam, or wrap with a little prosciutto as an appetizer.  Asparagus is approximately 4 calories a spear, provides 60% of the recommended daily folicin intake (necessary for blood cell formation, growth, and prevention of liver disease), and is a natural diuretic, making it great to consume when you are trying to lose a little bloat before big events.  For me, like the lily—of which it is or was a family member—asparagus is synonymous with Easter and Spring.  If you don’t believe me, look in this month’s issue of any food magazine and you will see lilies on the table and asparagus on the plate.
Bacon bits, onion, and olive oil may increase the calorie count of asparagus
 This week’s French Fridays with Dorie challenge is “Asparagus with Bits of Bacon” (as well as onion and lemon).  Bacon is a natural pairing with the slightly acidic flavor of asparagus, onion goes well with everything and lemon brightens the flavor of any green vegetable.  I’ve made this combination many times, although I veer slightly from Dorie’s technique.  She cooks the asparagus in water for approximately 4 minutes before adding to the bacon and onion mixture while I skip this step and place the asparagus directly into the pan with the bacon and onions.  This saves clean-up of an additional pan—a benefit for my sous chef who already thinks me a messy cook—and cooks the asparagus just fine. 
Add Asparagus & Lemon to bacon mixture
 We paired this dish with a veal rib chop and a gorgeous Anthill Farms--Peters Vineyards--2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.  This wine is Burgundian in style, lean and earthy with subtle undercurrents of the California terroir.  It is delicious with food ( i.e., not meant for quaffing as an aperitif), and with only 13.5 percent alcohol your head will appreciate the difference in the morning.

Since this week’s recipe was not very challenging, I decided it was time to go off-reservation a bit and use the ingredients in a more interesting way.  Since grilling season in the desert is officially underway, a pizza on the grill sounded like a perfect way to use the ingredients and have a little fun doing so.
Arugula Pesto
I made an Arugula Pesto for the sauce.  The bite and peppery spice of the arugula was the perfect base for the asparagus, prosciutto (substituted for bacon), onion and lemon combination.  Note that I did not include lemon juice in my pesto for, in combination with the lemon slices, it would overwhelm the flavors of the ingredients used as toppings.    
Toppings ready for the grill

This grill basket from Williams Sonoma is essential for grilling and one of my most used items
 I just love the flavors imparted by grilling.  So into a grill basket went the asparagus, onions and lemon slices.  My sous chef thought that a little grilled chicken would be a nice addition, so while the vegetables cooked I charred some boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  In less than 20 minutes, my chicken and vegetables were ready to be used as pizza toppings. 
Pizza dough placed on hot grill - see how it starts to bubble almost immediately

After about 3 minutes of grilling - lots of bubbles

Flip the dough - now ready for toppings
 Pizza dough is simple to make at home, and only needs about 30 minutes to rise before you roll it out into the desired shape.  But if you find yourself short on time – as I was--Trader Joe’s makes a great pre-made pizza dough.  To make pizza on the grill, simply roll out the dough into the desired shape/size and lightly rub each side with olive oil so it does not stick to the grill.  Place the dough on a preheated grill (I left my grill on after making the toppings, so it was preheated to its max temperature of 600 degrees).  With the lid open, cook one side until the dough starts to bubble and easily lifts off the grill (3-5 minutes).  Flip it over and push down gently to remove the bubbles from the top and bottom surfaces.  The dough is now ready for the addition of the toppings.
Juicy, sliced grilled chicken breast

Pizza Party!  Toppings ready for take off!
 First, add the sauce of your choice and then spread your desired toppings over the sauce.  For my pizza, I used the Arugula Pesto and then added some grilled chicken, some of the grilled asparagus, onions and lemons, a little prosciutto, mushrooms and pear slices for a delightful surprise.  If you desire cheese on you pizza, find a good melting cheese.  We are trying to cut calories in our house, so I just shredded a little parmegianno reggiano on the top.  Once the toppings are on, put the lid down and cook for approximately 4-5 minutes to heat ingredients through.  When the pizza is done, you can garnish with an additional shaving of cheese and a sprinkle of fresh greens.
Begin by layering toppings

Ready for cheese shavings

Making pizza on the grill can be interactive, so it can make for a terrific dinner party activity.  Just pre-make, shape and cook the dough and let everyone customize and finish their individual pizza.  It’s kind of a DIY Party! 

Arugula Pesto:

Makes 1 Cup

20 Arugula leaves
1/3 Cup Chopped Walnuts
3 Cloves Peeled Garlic
¼ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (you can add extra if you want thinner pesto)
Salt to taste

Place in food processor or blender and blend until desired consistency.

To read more French Friday with Dorie experiences:

The Irish Soda Bread I haven't posted about but made in between matches of Rafa & Roger

Rafa Nadal - need I say more?  Vamos Rafa!


  1. Love that grill basket!
    Glad to see you back.
    Grilled pizzas are truly a pleasure of warmer weather - I really liked your version.

  2. I want it all - the pizza, the wine, the Wm Sonoma basket, and the soda bread. Technically Nadal could be added to the list as well :) Lovely and informative post. This recipe was such a hit in my house and Nana's that I know it will get much play from now on - and reading all the good things about asparagus just added to that theme. Have a wonderful weekend !!

  3. Nice to have you back. Oh, cooking on the grill is my favorite, and lemon slices are a great touch. Loved reading your post...wonderful writing and cooking as usual. I'd love your meal!

  4. Both asparagus and bacon dish looks pretty with the lemon slices and curled peel, but the grilled pizza with asparagus looks wonderful and so delicious!

  5. Welcome back Christy! I enjoyed your musing on asparagus. I never realized it looked like a bishop before, but you are so right.
    I'm impressed with your grilled pizza. I try every year but it always chars badly, not matter what I try. (I do use a charcoal grill, so that's extra challenging.). I so want it to work. Ill try again this year...
    I hope you have a Happy Easter.

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  7. I'm glad you're back! I love your tip of skipping the boiling and adding the asparagus directly to the pan; I'm definitely going to do that next time. Your grilled pizzas look excellent, too! They definitely sound fun for a party.

  8. Hi there, this is a really nice post about asparagus. It would be great if you linked to it in my Food on Friday series. This week it is about all things asparagus. Food on Friday

  9. You are a star for putting up the link. Thanks.


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