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LOST ITALIAN: Asparagus Spring Frittata showcases new season, versatility of eggs

Spring asparagus frittata. Carrie Snyder / The Forum1 / 3
Spring asparagus frittata. Carrie Snyder / The Forum2 / 3
Spring asparagus frittata. Carrie Snyder / The Forum3 / 3

FARGO -- Spring has arrived and we have entered the season for beautiful, fresh asparagus. This week's recipe for Asparagus Spring Frittata is the perfect way to showcase not only the glorious versatility of eggs, but the new season as well.

Tony has fond memories of this dish, which his mother would often prepare for a simple dinner. That's the beauty of a good, savory frittata -- it's quick and easy to prepare, and is the perfect choice for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

The word frittata, in Italian, means fried, but this dish is so much more than just a batch of fried eggs. Similar in style to an omelet or quiche (without the crust), a frittata is an egg-based dish that is enhanced by the addition of cheese, vegetables, fresh herbs and/or meat. It is a great excuse to use up any leftovers.

The first time I enjoyed Tony's asparagus frittata, I was overcome by the simple, good smells wafting through our kitchen. A little garlic and onion, butter, eggs, asparagus, cheese and fresh thyme came together to create a fragrance of gentle goodness so inviting that I couldn't wait to taste it. I don't consider myself a big egg-person, but I offered my plate up for seconds and found myself craving it again days later.

When making a frittata, it's important that all of the ingredients being used inside the frittata are already cooked and of similar size. This is why leftovers work so well, but if you're using fresh ingredients, cook them first, especially any aromatics like onion and garlic, before adding the eggs.

Tony's mother used olive oil in her frittatas, while Tony prefers butter instead for added flavor. This recipe calls for a half-cup of diced yellow onion, and shallots or scallions would make great substitutes. We had fresh thyme in our fridge so he ripped off the leaves and added them to the mix, but feel free to use whatever fresh herbs you have on hand, like parsley, tarragon, chives, dill or basil.

Tony likes a good-quality, hard cheese for his frittatas, and this one features Parmigiano-Reggiano; aged gouda, asiago, cheddar or a nice Pecorino Romano will also work well. Frittatas are incredibly versatile, so be creative with your flavor combinations and experiment with ingredients like smoked salmon, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, spinach, bacon or ham.

When it comes to the asparagus, the size of the stalk will determine how it's used. With thicker stalks, Tony uses just the upper third, including the tips, but with thinner stalks he'll leave just the bottom third unused. Save and freeze any unused asparagus to make Asparagus Bleu Cheese Soup, a recipe we shared with you in 2013 which you can now find on our AreaVoices blog.

Tony recommends using a 10-inch, ovenproof sauté pan, which yields a frittata large enough to easily serve six people. This frittata is mostly cooked on the stovetop but it's finished by broiling in the oven, so an ovenproof pan is essential for success.

There's something about this dish, to me, that evokes images of elegance, of late and lazy Sunday brunches -- the kind you enjoy while sipping a mimosa or Bellini cocktail, surrounded by good friends, great coffee and bowls of fresh fruit. But no matter what time of day you make it, this asparagus frittata will give you a perfect taste of spring.

Asparagus Spring Frittata

Serves 6

Ingredients
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
½ cup yellow onion, small-diced
1 medium garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces or smaller, equal to 1½ cups (save the woodier bottom ½ to 2/3 of the stalk for use in soup)
8 large eggs, beaten
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, leaves only
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Directions
In a 10-inch nonstick saute pan, cook the diced onion and sliced garlic in 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the asparagus and remaining tablespoon of butter and continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until asparagus just begins to soften.

In a large mixing bowl, stir the beaten eggs, cheese, thyme, salt and pepper until combined. Add mixture to the pan with the vegetables and cook for 4 to 5 minutes over medium-low heat, without stirring. Use a spatula to gently lift around the edges, which should be evenly golden brown in color when ready.

Remove pan from burner and place in the oven to broil for about 1 to 2 minutes until the top is a light golden brown. Remove and gently slide frittata onto serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve.

Tony's Tips

• To ensure even cooking, keep any cut ingredients around the same size. Use any fresh herbs on hand, including parsley, tarragon, chives or even basil.

• Play around with other flavor combinations like smoked salmon, chives and dill, or bacon with roasted red peppers and mushrooms.

• Substitute shallots or scallions for the onion.

• For breakfast, serve with fresh fruit, toast and good coffee; for brunch, lunch or dinner add a light salad and/or soup.

• Wrap any leftovers in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days. Reheat before serving.

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