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.