Hadley, Massachusetts, next door to Amherst, where I live, proudly claims to be the Asparagus Capital of the U.S. In late May (a tad earlier this year) this little town has its moment of fame when the farmers bring their crops to the groceries and outdoor markets, and the locals grab bunches and head for their kitchens.
This annual asparagus harvest has been the inspiration for me to create many a new asparagus recipe such as this one for a creamy asparagus soup topped with quickly sautéed bay scallops and sprinkled with chives and golden breadcrumbs. This dish boasts lovely color contrasts with the snowy white shellfish nestled atop the verdant green puree. The textures too are counterpoints, for the smoothness of the pureed potage and the velvety scallops play off the crunch of the toasted breadcrumbs.
Although the Pioneer Valley where I live in Western Massachusetts is well known for its colleges (Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and UMass are all in the area), and for its exquisite fall foliage, we also have another distinction. The small town of Hadley is known as the “Asparagus Capital” of the U.S.
Right about now, as we head into May, local farmers start to bring their asparagus crops to our markets. The minute I see the signs “Locally Grown” sitting atop mounds of the native spears, I fill my cart with bunches. There are so many ways to use this spring produce. I serve them as an appetizer with a bowl of aioli for dipping, or I grill or blanche them, then season them with a sprinkle of lemon zest and a hint of fleur de sel. Sometimes they even become part of the main course as in the recipe for Penne with Asparagus, Mushrooms, and Prosciutto featured here.
Does this sound familiar? You’re short on time, but need to plan a menu for Easter lunch THIS Sunday. You’d like the meal to be special and memorable, but don’t have hours to spend shopping and cooking. Well, grilled lamb chops with buttered couscous tossed with asparagus, almonds, and mint is a perfect dish for this spring holiday.
Several years ago I created this main course as the centerpiece for a class titled “Fast Lane Entertaining.” Students loved the simplicity of the colorful dish so redolent of the season, and were thrilled that it took only about an hour to prepare. Tender rib lamb chops are marinated in orange juice, garlic, and oil, then popped on the grill for only a few minutes. Buttered couscous tossed with sliced, blanched asparagus, toasted almonds, and mint makes a fast and delicious side. The recipe serves four, but can be doubled or tripled easily if needed.