Thursday, May 31, 2012

Spring Vegetable Lo Mein and an Asparagus Festival

While Memorial Day weekend is often for getaways and cookouts, I did something a little out of the ordinary this past weekend.  I attended an asparagus festival in Concord, a town once considered the "asparagus capital of the world."  Who knew?  The asparagus capital of the world right in my home state of Massachusetts.

We spent some time perusing the farm store and spotted a beautiful display of asparagus as we walked in the door.  The store was chock full of gorgeous produce in addition to locally sourced eggs, cheese, milk, and ice cream.  There were plenty of specialty food items, cookbooks, and baked goods.  We decided on an impromptu picnic before the festival started, smearing sourdough bread with honey lavender fromage blanc.

We walked around the grounds to take in the surroundings.

And spotted rhubarb with massive leaves.

We drove a few miles out to the asparagus fields led by Steve Verrill, who began planting asparagus here twenty-five years ago.  He talked about the history of asparagus in this town, how it grows, and how it's harvested.  I learned what a labor-intensive process it is.  Imagine someone having to bend over and pick and sever each individual stalk one by one.  Now that's a hard days work.  So the next time you see asparagus for five dollars a bunch, I would argue the price is certainly warranted.

Notice how sandy the soil is.  Asparagus also require plenty of sunlight.  Steve shared that spears can grow as much as a few inches on a bright sunny day.  Have you ever seen asparagus up close and personal like this?  I hadn't.

After our trip to the fields we drove back for an asparagus themed lunch under a tent, where Chef Kevin Carey held a cooking demonstration.  He prepared Spring Vegetable Lo Mein, a vibrant display of fresh seasonal greens.  I never think to use Lo Mein noodles at home, but loved them with the combination of asparagus, bok choy, and pea tendrils.  The vegetables were tossed in sesame oil and soy sauce.  It was my favorite part of lunch and lucky for you, the recipe was passed along.  I think you'll really enjoy this one.  It was definitely one of the highlights of the day.

In addition to the Vegetable Lo Mein, we were also served asparagus crostini, asparagus soup, asparagus quiche, salmon with asparagus and mixed vegetables, and a spring salad.  Steve came around to joke with those of us eating lunch, saying they've yet to serve asparagus ice cream.  There's actually a place called Flayvors at Cook Farm in Hadley that serves asparagus ice cream this time of year.  It's called Hadley grass out there.  It's mixed with almonds and is apparently a popular seller.  The next time I'm driving west, I'll definitely have to get my hands on it.

We each got to choose a bunch of asparagus to take home with us.  I picked a deep purple bunch.  I had never seen such big, thick purple spears.  I know people are usually in one or two camps in regard to the spears; thick or thin.  I'm in the thick camp myself.  I reflected on the time and hard work invested in my bunch, thinking of those who harvested each and every spear I held in my hand.  I was grateful for my bunch and I was grateful for a lunch shared on a sunny day in May.

~Spring Vegetable Lo Mein Recipe~
Courtesy of Kevin Carey

2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
1/2 tsp sesame oil
2 cups asparagus, cut into 1" pieces
1 cup sliced leeks
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups spinach leaves
2 cup pea tendrils
1 1/2 cup bok choy
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/2 lb Lo Mein noodles (spaghetti or udon would also work)

Boil the noodles according to the directions (this can be done ahead of time).  Heat the oils in a pan over medium high heat.  Add the asparagus and leeks and cook for two minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for one minute.  Add the remaining greens and mix until they begin to wilt.  Add the soy sauce and noodles and cook until the noodles are heated through.


Abby said...

Oooh I want to go! Beautiful photos, I've never seen asparagus without it's rubber band ;)

Amy said...

Oh wow! I didn't know asparagus grew that way. A good realization that I should learn more about the food I buy! What a cool experience, Stephanie. I'm not going to complain about the $5 bunches at the farmer's market anymore, haha.

Anna @ the shady pine said...

What great pics! Asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables so loved this post!

Margarita said...

A couple things:

1. I am so curious about the honey lavender fromage blanc! That sounds too good to be true!

2. I have never seen asparagus growing on the ground and have always wondered what the plant looks like. Thanks for educating me. :)

3. That purple asparagus looks so gorgeous!

4. That lo mein recipe is something I must make sometime this spring/summer! :)

Stephanie said...

Thanks Abby. Amy, it was! So true. We should all probably learn more about the food we buy. Asparagus is one of my favorite too Anna. Margarita, the cheese was amazing, seriously. Glad you like the recipe. Let me know how it goes if you give it a try.

Sue/the view from great island said...

I'm amazed asparagus isn't even more expensive when you see how it grows, one by one out of the ground like that! Fun post, Stephanie!

SkinnyMommy said...

An asparagus festival sounds terrific--and looks it too. I like your Asian flare to this recipe.

Clair said...

How awesome is that?!

Asparagus is so wonderful. I remember eating white asparagus in Germany...they cover it with dirt while it's growing...even MORE work. =)

Also love the shot of the rhubarb leaves. As my mom has been harvesting her stalks, my dad has been using the leaves to prevent weeds in other parts of the garden, since they cover such big areas!

Stephanie said...

Sue, you're right. I thought the same thing. You would think it would be more expensive. Thanks Bree, glad you like it. Clair, I learned that at the festival too! I always thought white asparagus was a different type of asparagus. I never would have thought they cover it! Pretty cool.

Colleen @ Culinary Colleen said...

Those asparagus look absolutely gorgeous. I actually went to Verrill Farm the week before the asparagus festival last year and saw the sign for it. It sounded amazing but I couldn't go that weekend, so I was hoping I would remember to go to it this year. Hopefully next year!

ella@lifeologia said...

Seriously?!!!! An asparagus festival???
So cool!!!
Your pics are great and I really feel like I was there....

Your recipe sounds real good ;)

Ioana-Carmen said...

Sweetie u are so sweet! Can we follow each other? Kisses from Romania!

Anonymous said...

Your photographs are beautiful! I cannot believe you got to go to such a festival--sounds awesome!

thyme (Sarah) said...

No, I have never seen asparagus growing! I can't believe how funny it looks poking out of the soil. Asparagus it...I love these good 'ol American festivals in towns across the country. Glad you had a really great day.

Elina (Healthy and Sane) said...

This asparagus is gorgeous!! And I didn't know Mass was the asparagus capital of the world. My first thought was "why is it so expensive then?" but I get it now. Also the season is so short and it does require some love (plus apparently lots of bending ;)
Thanks for the recipe. It's a contender to be added to my menu this week :)