It’s prime asparagus season, a tender green bonanza, a harbinger of summer’s bounty. And nowhere is this season more celebrated than in the Pioneer Valley of west-central Massachusetts. For many years, these fertile floodplains of the Connecticut River Valley made up America’s premiere asparagus-growing region. The rich, sandy soil was so productive in the towns around Hadley and Hatfield that asparagus came to be called “Hadley Grass.”
Production peaked in the mid-20th century, but a fungal infestation in the 1970s wiped out the crop. Many farmers replaced their asparagus beds with rows of corn, which is now the Valley’s best claim to fame. But asparagus is still grown and celebrated in this corner of New England, as evidenced by the Asparagus Festival,
held this Saturday (June 6) from 10am to 5pm on the Hadley Town Common. Sponsored by WGBY, the public television affiliate in nearby Springfield, the festival features a farmer’s market and craft show, family activities (including appearances by Claudine Pepin and Curious George), a gardening workshop, and a four-course farm-to-table luncheon
prepared by local chefs.
In honor of the festival (and the season), I cooked up a very quick and tasty warm spring salad, made with asparagus, mushrooms and onions and garnished with feta and lemon zest. From start to finish, it took just 15 minutes to make, and made a delicious lunch with some good bread on the side.
Quick Asparagus-Mushroom Salad
Total time: 15 minutes
Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Makes: 3 to 4 servings
- 3 tablespoons plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
- 1 -1/2 teaspoons honey
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 bunch green asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
- 8 ounce container sliced button or Baby Bella mushrooms
- 1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 1/2 ounces crumbed Feta cheese
- Garnish: red or Alleppo chile flakes (optional)
First, make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons olive oil, the lemon juice and the honey. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Set a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, swirl, then add asparagus, mushrooms and onion. Cook, stirring, until the asparagus is bright green and crisp-tender and the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to a bowl and toss with dressing. Add additional salt and pepper, to taste. To serve, divide salad evenly among shallow bowls and garnish with Feta, lemon zest, and chile flakes (if using). Serve warm or at room temperature.