The Perennial Plate: Spring Pizza Party with Foraged Pesto

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Daniel Klein making pizza. Photo by Stephanie Watts
Daniel Klein making pizza. Photo by Stephanie Watts

Today, after the last of the snow in our backyard melted, it snowed again. It has been a long winter -- as it usually is in Minnesota (although I’ve only experienced two). This extended period of long-underwear, wool socks, and root vegetable stews is the reason why more people don’t live here. But as the snow melts and the temperature rises above 32 degrees, there is real joy. It’s not just a nice day for us… it’s excitement, anticipation and even a relaxation (of whatever muscles are used in shivering). And for me, most of all, it’s the search for wild foods that gets me out walking in the woods.

Over the course of the last year making episodes about food in Minnesota, of all the topics, foraging has been the most prominent. I suppose it is so with any subject, but the more you learn, the more wonderful and intriguing it becomes. A walk in the woods is not just beautiful, it is a shopping trip and a treasure hunt. So this time of year is the most exciting of all.

At this point in April when we (Minnesotans) have a few wild edibles popping out of the ground, you (Californians) have been eating them for months. But that doesn't make them any less special. So, this last Saturday we had a pizza party in celebration of Spring. It was quite ironic as the temperature dropped into the 30's that evening. Regardless, that morning we went foraging for the first of spring's offerings. A ritual that I wish was part of every cooking job: first go harvest, then go cook.

We found garlic mustard, nettles, ramps, daylilies and dandelion greens. The nettles were small and purple in color. They aren't woodsy or bitter at this point, more like spinach. We used these as a base for our pesto. The ramps were still a little young, so we didn't over pick them. If you haven't had a ramp yet, they are garlicky and delicious. I usually use the leaves for pesto while pickling the stems. The daylilies are shooting up all along the edge of my house, if you get them when they are young, they add a nice crunch with a very slight onion flavor. And dandelion greens -- they are bitter of course, but add a taste that connects you to the earth.


Recipe: Ramp Pesto

  • 1 part ramp leaves
  • 3 parts nettles
  • 1 part garlic mustard
  • 1 part dandelion greens
  • 1/2 part Extra Virgin Olive oil (more if needed)
  • Salt

Blanch the nettles in hot water followed by an ice bath. Wring out the water. Puree all the ingredients together. You can add nuts or Parmesan if you want, but we we're going for more of a sauce type consistency. This could be used in pasta or as a sauce for more full flavored fish or a lighter meat. We used it on pizza, with a few dollops of chevre and cooked it in a wood-fired oven then garnished with some micro greens. A delicious spring.

Recipe: Pizza Dough

The pizza oven and the levain used in the dough were both created by Lisa Ringer of Two Pony Gardens. She spent the last year collecting large stones from her property to decorate the oven all the while managing her wild yeast "mother." I used her levain to create my pizza dough, no commercial yeast added.

  • 1 Cup levain
  • 3 Cups flour
  • 1/2 Cup warm water
  • 2 Tablespoons EVO
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt

Because I was making dough for 150, I mixed the dough in a mixer. But for a small batch, do it in a bowl. Add a little extra water if necessary, you want the dough to be nice and wet. Once the dough is formed (as little mixing as possible, just knead until combined), I let it rise for a couple hours in the kitchen and then overnight in the fridge. The next morning, I divided it into small balls, covered with a damp towel and let it slowly rise again until i was ready to cook the pizzas. In the heat of a wood-fired oven they don't take more than a minute.