Concord farm fetes asparagus

Kevin Carey, chef at Verrill Farm in Concord, prepares asparagus and scallop sesame stir fry. Kevin Carey, chef at Verrill Farm in Concord, prepares asparagus and scallop sesame stir fry. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)
By Kathleen Pierce
Globe Correspondent / May 26, 2010

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In midsummer, when the bounty of local farms is in full swing, many vegetables vie for top billing. But right now, asparagus is the star.

“It should get the attention. It’s the first thing out of the ground. This is the time for it; give it its limelight,’’ says Steve Verrill, owner of a 200-acre farm in Concord. He and the Verrill Farm staff are gearing up for their annual asparagus festival this weekend.

Farmers are not the only ones licking their chops over spring’s first crop. In Verrill Farm’s kitchen, Kevin Carey is in asparagus ecstasy. “Feels like the real beginning of the season,’’ says the chef, whose asparagus soups, salads, risotti, and lasagnas dominate the deli case. Grown three miles down the road, the spears come off the truck and through the back door. “Ninety percent of the time it’s picked that day,’’ he says.

Carey’s favorite way to prepare the vegetable-of-the-moment is, like the spear itself, simple. Grilled asparagus with lemon rind, Parmesan, and sea salt. Sautes and stir-fries come next. He’ll resort to steaming, he says, “only in a pinch.’’ He calls asparagus “the king of vegetables.’’ There are no limitations, he says.

Which asparagus you choose and how you treat it can transform a dish. Verrill Farm grows green and purple spears, which are pencil-thin or very thick, depending on the day. “People think the thicker ones are tough and older. That’s not the case. They have more flavor,’’ says Carey. Meatier purple asparagus can be sliced and mixed with lemon, onion, and jasmine rice and used as stuffing for chicken, sole, or salmon.

For a quick stir-fry, Carey shaves a pound of raw purple asparagus and sautes them with sea scallops. Once plated, the flat ribbons are dead-ringers for fettuccine.

The taste is spring distilled.

Verrill Farm, 11 Wheeler Road, Concord. 978-369-4494, Asparagus Festival on May 29 begins at 11 a.m.; $25 per person including a tour of the fields, a cooking demonstration, lunch, and a bunch of asparagus. Reservations 978-369-4494.