Asparagus soup, asparagus salad, buttered asparagus. They're delicious, but why should this delectable vegetable always play second fiddle to an entree, especially early in the season when prices are high? It makes sense to make the high-cost item, asparagus in this case, the main attraction of the meal from time to time.

Crowned with eggs and cheese in the Italian manner, asparagus can be the basis of a nutritious meal. If you're down to just one or two eggs a week, this recipe will ensure that you extract maximum enjoyment from your quota. It calls for frying the eggs because I always find that easier than fussing over poached ones. But if your technique is down pat, poach away -- the presentation will be more elegant than with fried eggs.

Precede the asparagus entree with a clear soup, if you like, and accompany it with white wine and crusty bread for dipping in the buttery, eggy juices. ASPARAGUS TOPPED WITH EGGS (2 servings) 1 pound asparagus 4 tablespoons butter 2 large eggs Salt and freshly ground pepper 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Trim the asparagus and boil or steam until just tender. Smear 1 tablespoon butter on the bottom of a glass casserole large enough to hold the asparagus. Drain asparagus thoroughly and gently separate into two bundles in the casserole.

Melt the remaining butter and fry the eggs until white is done and yolk is barely set, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Transfer each egg with a spatula onto an asparagus bundle. Drizzle remaining butter in the pan over the asparagus. Add salt (sparingly, because the cheese you're about to add contains salt) and pepper. Sprinkle parmesan over all.

Broil about 5 minutes, until the cheese melts. Or, if either the eggs or asparagus cooled while waiting for the other to cook, heat the bundles for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Variation: Wrap a piece of prosciutto around each asparagus bundle before placing the egg on top, and reduce the amount of parmesan to 1/4 cup. Because prosciutto and parmesan are both high in sodium, you'll need little or no additional salt. Alternatively, omit the egg and crisscross two long, narrow slices of fontina on top of the prosciutto.