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 risotto (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 (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
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
- 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
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
- 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
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.
- 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
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
- 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
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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Classic Italian foods such as pizza, bruschetta, pasta, rice, soups, and stews all typically include this blend of herbs. The mixture can be used to season lamb, pork, poultry, fish, and beef dishes. Sandwiches, meat marinades, salads, and flavored breads can also be seasoned with Italian herbs.
One popular use of Italian seasonings involves mixing them with butter and Parmesan cheese to make a spread to use on breads, crackers, and other foods. Vegetables that are particularly good when flavored with Italian seasonings include potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant. Italian seasoning can be used to flavor vinegar, olive oil, and other dips and sauces as well.
Italian seasoning blend is considered a staple herbal mix in most pantries. It can be purchased pre-mixed from grocery stores, farmer’s markets and most places where food supplies are sold. Italian seasonings are usually sold in a plastic or glass jar, though some fresh varieties can be purchased in sealed bags or other airtight packages. Blends can, also, be created from fresh herbs at home.
ESSENTIAL ITALIAN SPICES
Rosemary: The fresh, strong taste of rosemary enhances poultry, fish, and seafood. Italian cooks often add it to roasted lamb with potatoes and many grilled meats as well. Try it in any vegetable dish and in breads, especially focaccia. The woody stems are often used in place of skewers for grilling kabobs.
Sage: This herb is typically found in stuffings, poultry and meat dishes, sausages and soups. Italian cooks also use it, along with garlic, to flavor butter for pasta dishes. It enhances salads (especially bean salads), and dressings. Sage is traditional in Tuscan white beans and in Saltimbocca, a veal dish. Chopped sage can be added to cornbread for a different flavor combination.
Chilies: Italian cooks sometimes use pungent chili peppers to enliven sauces, stews, and seafood dishes. They’re also often found in Italian sausages. Experiment with different varieties for different effects.
Fennel Seeds: The distinct, licorice-like fennel is found in Italian meatballs and sausage and with roasted meats and fish. To enhance the flavor, toast the seeds lightly before adding to your dish.
Chives: For a mild onion flavor, Italian cooks use chives in salads and dressings, pasta dishes, casseroles, soups and stews. Dried chives are a convenient staple.
Marjoram: Like its relative oregano, marjoram is used liberally in Italian kitchens. It’s a versatile seasoning, compatible with many vegetables, meats and poultry. You’ll find it used in recipes for Italian soups, stews, sauces, and salad dressings.
Thyme: Its affinity for tomatoes makes thyme a good choice in Italian cooking. Aromatic and pungent, it takes just a light touch to season poultry, seafood, fish, meats, marinades and stuffing. Sprinkle thyme on top of blue cheese and serve with fresh figs for a great appetizer.
Bay: Bay leaves are an important addition to Italian broths, soups and stews, grilled meats, and roasted poultry. It generally takes just one leaf to fully season a large serving.
Onions: “Sauté onion and garlic” begins many an Italian recipe. Dried onion flakes, onion powder, onion granules, minced onion and onion salt provide maximum convenience. Add them directly to soups and sauces, dressings and casseroles.
Nutmeg: Not just a dessert spice in the Italian kitchen, nutmeg adds a rich scent and flavor to ravioli filling and tortellini dishes. You’ll also find it in recipes for Bolognese meat sauce and Italian stews.
Basil: A member of the mint family, basil has shiny green leaves and a fragrant aroma. Basil’s flavor is sweet and pungent. Good in all tomato, pepper and eggplant dishes. Try adding chopped basil to corn on the cob.
Salsa verde is used as a condiment or dipping sauce for grilled meats, fish, poultry, or vegetables.
- 2/3 cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 3 tablespoons drained capers
- 1 whole garlic clove
- 4 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
Put the parsley, capers, the whole garlic clove, the lemon juice, anchovy paste, mustard, salt, and pepper into a food processor or blender. Pulse just to chop, six to eight times. With the machine running, add the oil and chicken broth in a thin stream to make a slightly coarse puree. Leave this salsa verde in the food processor until ready to serve; pulse to re-emulsify just before serving.
Low-Fat Fettuccine Alfredo
Recipe makes enough sauce for 9 ounces fresh fettuccine pasta, cooked
- 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup half-and-half
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed but kept whole
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 pinch nutmeg
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until foaming. Whisk in the flour until mixture is smooth and golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk, half-and-half, garlic, 1/2 tsp salt, pepper and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer.
Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Discard garlic, stir in Parmesan and remove from heat.
Spaghetti Carbonara Low Fat Version
I prefer to use egg substitute instead of the traditional raw eggs in this recipe.
- 1 pound cooked whole wheat spaghetti,
- 2 bacon strips cooked, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped garlic
- 1/2 cup egg substitute
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves (for garnish)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Mix parmesan cheese with egg substitute. Set aside.
Heat a large sauté pan and add olive oil. Sauté garlic until fragrant. Add the cooked pasta to the garlic and sauté for about 1 minute to heat
the pasta up. Add the egg substitute mixture and cook until thickened but not scrambled.
Serve in individual portions and sprinkle each with the crumbled bacon and chopped parsley
Sicilian Pistachio Sauce
This orange-scented sauce from Sicily can be served with fish or vegetables, or as a topping for crostini.
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably kosher salt
- 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs, moistened with water and squeezed dry
- 1 cup shelled pistachios
- 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
- 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Turn on a food processor fitted with the steel blade and drop in the garlic. When the garlic is chopped and adhering to the sides of the bowl, stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the salt, bread crumbs and pistachios and process to a paste. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Turn on the machine and add the orange zest, orange juice, and lemon juice. With the machine still running slowly pour in the olive oil. Taste and adjust salt.
Yield: Makes about 1 1/4 cups
Advance preparation: This will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator. It will become more pungent.
Piedmontese Tomato Sauce
Good with gnocchi or as a side with grilled flank steak.
- 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
- 1 large tomato, cored, seeded and roughly chopped
- 1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
In a large skillet combine bell pepper, tomato, onion, oil and pinch salt. Bring to a simmer. Gently simmer, covered, until vegetables are very soft, about 12 minutes. Add vinegar and cook, uncovered, 1 minute more. Process with an immersion blender or strain through a mesh colander and transfer to a serving bowl and set aside.
- 2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 to 2 serrano chilies, cored, and seeded, depending on how spicy you like your food
- 1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/4 cup sliced blanched almonds
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup plus ¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
Place the basil, mint, garlic, chilies, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, and almonds in a food processor and pulse three times to start the chopping process. Add in the oil in a thin stream and pulse four or five times to create a thick paste (not a thin, oily sauce). Add ¼ cup of the cheese and pulse once to mix it in.
Season the pesto with salt, if it needs it.
Butter and Sage Sauce
Good sauce for ravioli or gnocchi and will cover a 8-9 oz. of fresh pasta.
Serves: 4 servings
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 8 sage leaves
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
While your pasta cooks, melt butter in a small saute pan and continue cooking until a golden brown color just starts to appear . Add sage leaves and remove from heat. Add lemon juice and the cheese. Drizzle over cooked pasta.
Easy Pizza Sauce
Makes enough sauce for 2 pizzas.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
- 1- 28-oz. container Pomi strained tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, 5 minutes. Add garlic and chili flakes; cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes, increase heat until sauce starts to bubble. Lower heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally until thickened, 20 minutes. Stir in honey, basil and salt and pepper to taste.
Homemade Italian Seasoning
Makes about 2 cups
- 1/2 cup dried basil
- 1/4 cup dried oregano
- 1/4 cup dried rosemary
- 1/4 cup dried marjoram
- 1/4 cup dried parsley
- 1/4 cup dried thyme
- 1/4 cup dried savory
- 2 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons dried sage
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Combine all ingredients; store in an airtight glass container.
Italian Parmesan Paste
This is a cheese rub that contains herbs and spices for flavor and olive oil and red wine vinegar to turn the mixture into a thick paste. Use this rub on any grilled meat to add great Italian flavor.
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons dried basil
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
Combine all ingredients in a processor and pulse just until combined. Pour into a nonreactive airtight container and refrigerate.
Chicken or Steak Italian Marinade
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 2 tablespoons dry parsley
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Mix above ingredients. Use to marinate chicken or steak for up to 3 days in refrigerator.
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/3 cup cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons white pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cups chopped parsley
Combine water, both vinegars, lemon juice, pepper, garlic and parsley in large saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature, cover and chill at least 2-3 hours. Drizzle over cooked vegetables.
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