The Italian word for sage, salvia, derives from the Latin salus, which means health, safety or wellbeing. Sage was sought, studied and used for medicinal purposes long before it was used in the kitchen. Today, this not often used herb is beneficial in relieving sore throats (if you gargle with it or drink it as a tea); and, if you rub some of its leaves on your teeth, it is said to whiten them. It’s also touted as a great natural insect repellent. Sage helps digestion and aids in the absorption of fatty food. In ancient times and especially during the Roman Empire, sage was considered to be a “miracle herb” that could not only save you from a snake bite, but give you longevity as well.

The varieties of sage used as a spice originated in Asia Minor and quickly spread all over the Mediterranean. Since the Middle Ages, sage has been grown in Central Europe and, today, there are at least 500 varieties of this genus all over the world. Some sage plants are just ornamental and some are even used as hallucinogens (Salvia divinorum). The flowers of this perennial herb are blue and it has gray-green suede-like leaves on woody stems that can grow up to 2 feet high.

Sage is a great plant to have in your garden and a great spice for your kitchen. A member of the mint family, culinary sage is highly aromatic and is best used fresh. The leaves have a lemony fragrance and a slightly bitter taste. Dried sage is also perfectly fine to use when fresh isn’t available. To dry the leaves, just hang the sprigs upside-down in a dry place away from sunlight. Use seedlings or cuttings from existing sage plants for your garden; sage seeds are generally unreliable and take a long time to germinate. Plant them in partial sunlight and don’t let the plants get too dry. As your sage plants grow, trim them back to keep them from getting woody and to encourage new shoots, which have the best flavor. Trim off the stems and strip the leaves to use fresh. Sage leaves are fairly thick, so they will not dry hard and crumbly like other herbs. Chop or crush the leaves to use for cooking.

North Americans most commonly associate sage as a spice used for turkey or pork stuffings. In Italy, however, sage is used generously in dishes such as saltimbocca (saltimbocca alla romana) and with any grilled or roasted meats and sausages, in general. Sage is excellent with gnocchi (Gnocchi or agnolotti burro e salvia), in a risotti (Risotto con la zucca), pasta and bean soups (Pasta e fagioli), on focaccia, in marinades and aromatic oils. It also blends well with mild cheeses; try a little sage on a grilled cheese sandwich made with smoked mozzarella or fontina cheese on whole wheat bread. To add a wonderful aroma to your favorite grilled dishes, place the stems or leaves on the hot charcoals while cooking. or in a grill box on a gas grill.

Some Of My Favorite Recipes Using Sage

Lemony Chicken Saltimbocca

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 (4-ounce) chicken cutlets
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 fresh sage leaves
  • 2 ounces very thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 8 thin strips
  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/3 cup lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • Lemon wedges

Directions:

Sprinkle the chicken lightly with salt. Place 3 sage leaves on each cutlet; wrap 2 prosciutto slices around each cutlet, securing sage leaves in place.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan and swirl to coat. Add the chicken to the pan; cook for 2 minutes on each side or a meat thermometer reads 160 degrees F. Remove chicken from pan and keep warm.

Combine broth, lemon juice and cornstarch in a small bowl; stir with a whisk until smooth. Add cornstarch mixture and the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil to pan; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook for 1 minute or until slightly thickened, stirring constantly with a whisk. Spoon sauce over chicken. Serve with lemon wedges, linguine and broccoli.

Minestrone with Barley and Beans

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely sliced green onions (including green tops)
  • 1/2 cup finely sliced celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup finely chopped Savoy cabbage
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 (14-oz) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 medium potato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup uncooked pearl barley
  • 1 cup frozen, cut green beans
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

In large pot heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, sage, thyme, parsley and garlic. Sauté 5-6 minutes.

Add cabbage, salt, pepper and cannellini beans and stir. Add broth, bring to a boil and stir in potato and barley. Reduce heat and simmer, covered 20-22 minutes or until potato pieces are tender when pierced with a fork, gently stirring occasionally.

Stir in green beans. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes. Garnish by sprinkling Parmesan cheese over the top before serving.

Fish Fillets with Tomato Sage Sauce

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, sliced
  • Sea salt
  • 6 skin-on lean white fish fillets (such as, striped bass, halibut, snapper or grouper, each about 6 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons diced shallots
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 4 tomatoes, preferably 2 or 3 varieties (about 2 pounds), sliced thin

Directions:

Using a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic, sage and 1/2 teaspoon of salt until combined and fragrant and set aside.

Season the fish fillets with sea salt.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Put the vegetable oil in the hot pan and immediately add the fillets, skin sides down. Lightly press each fillet to ensure the skin makes contact with the hot pan. Cook for about 3 minutes or until the flesh nearest the bottom of the pan begins to turn brown.

Use a thin spatula to turn the fillets over. Add the shallots and the softened butter to one side of the pan while tilting the pan towards you slightly. The butter will immediately melt and bubble and collect with the shallots in the side of the pan closest to you. Use a large tablespoon to baste the fillets with the butter and shallots and continue to baste for about 2 minutes.

Transfer the fillets to a warm, oven-proof platter. Check the doneness of the fillets. If they need a little more cooking, put the platter in a 250-degree oven for 2 to 3 minutes. The fish should be cooked through but not over-cooked.

To make the sauce:

Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the tomato slices, cold butter and garlic-sage paste to the skillet. Cook at a simmer, gently moving the ingredients around the pan with a wooden spoon to distribute the butter and garlic paste evenly until the sauce comes together.

To serve, spoon the sauce on a warm serving platter and set the fillets on top.

Fingerling Potatoes with Sage & Garlic

Choose fingerlings that are all about the same thickness (length doesn’t matter) so that they will cook in about the same amount of time.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 25 large sage leaves
  • 8 garlic cloves, lightly smashed and peeled
  • 1 lb fingerling potatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, more for seasoning
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon sherry or malt vinegar

Directions:

In a large (10-inch) straight-sided skillet with a lid, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and is foaming, add the sage leaves and cook, stirring a bit, until the sage leaves turn a crispy, darker color and the butter is golden brown, about 2 minutes. (Watch carefully so that they don’t burn.) Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the sage leaves with a fork or tongs to a plate.

Put the pan back over medium heat and immediately add the garlic and potatoes. Season them with the 1/2 teaspoon salt and toss them in the butter/oil mixture. Rearrange all the potatoes cut side down, cover the pan loosely with the lid (leaving the lid a bit askew for some steam to escape), and cook until the bottoms of the potatoes are well browned, 8 to 10 minutes. (Move the pan around occasionally for even browning.)

Add the chicken broth and cover with the lid partially askew again. Bring the broth to a gentle simmer and cook until the broth has reduced to just a tablespoon or two, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the lid, turn the heat off and transfer the potatoes and garlic to a serving dish. Add the vinegar to the pan and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to get up any browned bits. Immediately pour the pan drippings over the potatoes and garlic and garnish with the crispy sage leaves. Sprinkle a little more kosher salt over all.

Pasta With Butternut Squash And Sage

Ingredients:

  • 4 slices bacon , halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 8 large fresh sage leaves plus 1 tablespoon minced leaves
  • 1 medium medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 6 scallions, sliced thin (about 1 cup) or shallots
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • Table salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 pound penne pasta or other short, tubular pasta
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
  • 4 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds or pignoli (pine nuts), toasted

Directions:

Cook bacon in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 8 minutes. Add whole sage leaves and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer into small bowl, reserving bacon fat and bacon-sage mixture separately.

Return the skillet to high heat, add 2 tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat (adding olive oil if necessary) and heat until shimmering. Add squash in an even layer and cook, without stirring, until the squash begins to caramelize, 4 to 5 minutes. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until the squash is spotty brown, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Add butter and allow to melt, about 30 seconds. Add scallions, nutmeg, honey, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3/4 teaspoon black pepper and the 1 tablespoon minced sage; cook, stirring occasionally, until scallions are softened, about 3 minutes. Add broth and bring to simmer; continue to cook until squash is tender, 1 to 3 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Cook until just al dente, then drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water.

Transfer pasta back to the empty Dutch oven and add squash mixture to the pasta; stir in 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, lemon juice and reserved bacon-sage mixture, adjusting consistency with reserved pasta liquid. Top with almonds and serve passing Parmesan separately.

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