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Asparagus is one of the earliest edible perennials to poke its green nose into the world every spring.

No wonder it has been a favorite around the world and throughout history, with a recipe for asparagus in the earliest known "cookbook," Apicius' cooking treatise from the third century.

In Thailand, asparagus is steamed with fish sauce. Chinese cooks stir-fry it with oyster sauce. Steamed spears are topped with hollandaise sauce or browned butter in France.

While asparagus roots will send up sprouts every spring, they lose vigor over the years. Farmers replace the roots after 10 or 15 years.

Pale cousin: Asparagus grown with soil heaped around its shoots comes out white. Called spargel, white asparagus is especially popular in Germany. During asparagus season, German cooks make spargelessen, or asparagus dinners, specifically to enjoy the vegetable.

Here, bright, tender asparagus is featured in a frittata, the Italian comfort food staple that can be served warm or at room temperature. The recipe, from Bon Appetit, called for shiitake mushrooms, but feel free to use any kind, or none at all. Practically any vegetable or meat would be a welcome addition, as long as it is cooked before joining the eggs in the pan.

> Asparagus Leek Frittata

2 tablespoons ( 1/4 stick) butter

1 cup chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only)

1 12-ounce bunch asparagus, peeled if needed, cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)

1 cup sliced stemmed mushrooms

8 large eggs

1 cup diced Fontina cheese, divided

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat broiler. Melt butter in heavy, broilerproof 10-inch-diameter nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and saute 4 minutes.

Add asparagus and mushrooms, sprinkle lightly with salt and saute until tender, about 6 minutes. Whisk eggs, 3/4 cup Fontina cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in medium bowl. Add egg mixture to skillet; fold gently to combine.

Cook until almost set. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup Fontina cheese and Parmesan cheese over top. Broil until frittata is puffed and cheese begins to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve.

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com