Diana Lampe's Italian recipes for spring

Diana Lampe
Seasonal delight: Asparagus frittata.
Seasonal delight: Asparagus frittata. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

It makes my mouth water just to think about the simple Italian ideas in today's recipes. I just want to go straight to the kitchen and make them again. I have mentioned some of them before, but here are the actual recipes to remind and inspire you. The mushroom recipe is completely new.

If you like mushrooms and blue cheese, you will love the baked mushrooms with gorgonzola and honey. Serve these tasty morsels as an appetiser or starter. This is more of an idea than a recipe, so it is difficult to give definite quantities and times. They will be popular so be sure to do a few extra.

I look forward each year to spring and the appearance of the first green asparagus at the markets. Asparagus frittata is one of the dishes I always make at this time because the combination of asparagus, eggs and parmesan cheese is wonderful. I have also mentioned another dish made with exactly the same ingredients – grilled asparagus with parmesan and fried eggs, which you may like to try.

Mushrooms with gorgonzola and honey.
Mushrooms with gorgonzola and honey. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

To accompany the frittata I suggest a salad of fennel, blood orange, bitter leaves and herbs. Blood oranges are available now and this is a great way to enjoy them. Strawberries are plentiful in spring and to have them macerated with balsamic vinegar is an absolute treat. The balsamic brings out the flavour and sweetness of the strawberries and is delicious! I have served them with mascarpone cream, but they are also lovely with ice-cream and even better with pannacotta.

Mushrooms with gorgonzola and honey

Try to find mushroom caps that have started to open. If you use small mushroom caps for the recipe, allow four or five for each person. They can be prepared well ahead of time. 

Serves 4

Strawberries with balsamic.
Strawberries with balsamic. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

12 medium white or Swiss brown mushroom caps
1 small wedge of Gorgonzola cheese (preferably piccante)
1 tbsp honey or as needed
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small handful walnut pieces (optional)
freshly milled black pepper
1 large handful rocket to serve

To clean the mushrooms, brush with a paper towel or soft brush. Trim the stems away below the rims to make a cavity to hold the gorgonzola and honey.

Heat the oven to 180C fan or 200C regular. Wipe a shallow gratin dish or baking pan with olive oil and place the mushrooms inside. Crumble the gorgonzola and loosely fill each mushroom cap, (about two teaspoons). Take a spoonful of honey and drizzle it on the stuffed mushrooms (mostly inside) and then add a trickle of olive oil and grinding of black pepper. Scatter the walnuts on top (if using).

Bake the mushrooms with gorgonzola for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on their size, until they are cooked. Serve them hot with their juices as an appetiser or for a starter with dressed rocket leaves.

Asparagus frittata

You will need an ovenproof 24cm non-stick frying pan in which to cook the frittata.

Serves 4-5

2 bundles of green asparagus
6 free range eggs
4 tbsp (40g) grated parmesan
sea salt and freshly milled black pepper
2-3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

The asparagus can be cooked ahead of time. Bring a saute pan of salted water to the boil. Bend each asparagus spear near the cut end until it snaps. Plunge the spears into the boiling water and cook for three or four minutes until tender. Then lift out of the pan and spread on a tea towel to cool. Cut the spears into shorter lengths  about three centimetres.

Lightly beat the eggs and mix in three tablespoons of the parmesan and season with salt and plenty of pepper. Mix in the asparagus. Heat the frying pan with two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Pour in the egg and asparagus mixture and gently stir and shake the pan until the eggs start to set. Lower the heat and cook until the eggs are golden underneath and nearly set. You can cover the pan with a lid to speed things up.

Heat the oven to 180C fan or turn on the grill. Pour a little olive oil around the side and over the top of the frittata and sprinkle on the remaining parmesan. Bake or grill briefly until the top is set and golden. Serve the warm frittata with a fennel, blood orange and rocket salad, and Italian bread.

To make the salad, place rocket and radicchio leaves on a serving plate and arrange thinly sliced baby fennel and sliced blood oranges on top. Scatter fennel fronds, parsley sprigs and mint leaves over the salad and dress with red-wine vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil.

Alternative dish: Grilled asparagus with parmesan and fried eggs

Lay the cooked asparagus in a gratin dish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle generously with grated parmesan. Place under the grill to melt the parmesan and become golden. Fry free-range eggs, one for each person, in olive oil and serve on top of the grilled asparagus with parmesan and a grinding of black pepper.

Strawberries with balsamic

Serves 4-5

2 punnets (500g) of strawberries, washed
1 to 1½ tbsp castor sugar to taste
3 tsp aged balsamic vinegar
freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Mascarpone cream to serve (optional)
½ cup mascarpone
½ cup low-fat yoghurt
½ tsp vanilla extract

One or two hours before serving, hull the strawberries and cut them into halves or quarters depending on their size. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with castor sugar; mix gently and leave to macerate in the fridge.

If serving the cream, whisk the mascarpone, yoghurt and vanilla together and sweeten slightly if you like. Chill. Thirty minutes before serving, sprinkle the strawberries with balsamic and mix through. Leave standing at room temperature.

Serve the macerated strawberries just in their syrup or with mascarpone cream or ice-cream. They can be accompanied by savoiardi biscuits (sponge fingers). Offer the pepper mill so people can add a grinding of pepper if they wish. 

Diana Lampe is a Canberra writer, dlampe@bigpond.net.au