Springtime in Italy's Piemonte region provides opportunity for fresh herb frittata

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The gray, cloudy days change to bring warm, sunny ones and everything is in motion. The barren trees fill with lush foliage, and flowers burst seemingly overnight out of their winter hiding. The sweet melodies of the birds outside our window awaken us from nocturnal slumber and insects buzz about, working the newly arrived blossoms.

We’ve been here in the Asti region of Piemonte, Italy, for over a month, working on an agritourism farm. Awareness of the changing seasons is a benefit of the job here. Waiting for the sun’s arrival, we’ve been clearing dead leaves and winter weeds from the acres of strawberry fields, and removing new shoots from the hazelnut orchards.

Fresh spring herb frittata

2-3 spring onions, cleaned and chopped

Dash of olive oil or butter

A handful of mixed herbs, such as basil, thyme, sage, marjoram, chives or tarragon

6 eggs

1 cup cream or whole milk

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded — or any other tasty cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a small round or square baking dish.

Sauté the onion in a bit of olive oil or butter. Set aside. Clean and chop the fresh herbs.

Whisk herbs together with the eggs and cream/milk. Add the cheese and season with salt and pepper. Pour into the buttered dish and bake until set in the center and starting to brown, about 20-30 minutes. Alternately, you can bake the frittata in lined muffin tins for nice mini frittatas. Bake time is reduced to 15-20 minutes.

Enjoy right away or slightly cooled. Some folks even enjoy them cold. However you like them, frittatas are healthy, inexpensive treats for any time of the day.

With the sun comes work in the fields and vineyard, hoeing the winter overgrowth, weeding out the new spring sproutlings, pruning the vines and planting new starts. Every day brings a new farm task, and we are grateful for occasional rainy evenings, providing much-needed moisture to our newly dug soil and baby plants.

With all this beautiful warm weather, the perennial herbs have begun to grow spring leaves and have doubled in size, and new annuals are arriving each week. Their verdant nature is just the thing my taste buds and body have been craving after too many mealtimes heavy with meat and pasta.

Fragrant and lovely, they inspire me as I pass through the garden, and I pick a handful of each for a tasty midday treat. Basil, purple and green sage, rosemary, two varieties of thyme, oregano, marjoram, and chives. Combining the herbs with farm-fresh eggs, spring onions from the neighboring farmer, a bit of Parmesan cheese and cream, I make the farm crew a delicious, springtime frittata.

Soon we will have strawberries and fresh lettuce from the acres of gardens, but for now, the bright spring herbs are just what I need. Fresh herbs not only provide a vibrant taste to our dishes, they are also a low-calorie, salt-free way to season your food. While some herbs have medicinal qualities, all of them contribute much-needed vitamins and minerals for the body.

When was the last time you added some fresh herbs to your mealtime? Pick up some the next time you’re at the farmers market, or find them easily available at the supermarket. New to herbal use in foods? Start simple, browse the Internet or pick up a new cookbook at the library. Add a little springtime flavor to your meals; I’m sure you’ll be happy you did!

Walla Walla chef and nutritionist Melissa Davis and her family are spending several months traveling in Europe, backpacking, cooking and working on organic farms. Their adventure can be followed at www.freerangeadventures.wordpress.com.

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