Looking for Sage Advice

In the spring, my dear friend Jennifer with the green thumb gave me a big pot of culinary herbs as a housewarming gift. Containing a mix of rosemary, lemon thyme and sage, the pot went straight to the back deck, joining the lavender and oregano.

All summer long, I snipped sprigs from my lively herb garden and brought them into the kitchen for extemporaneous bursts of color and flavor, throwing them in everything from vinaigrettes to garnish.


My wildly growing sage, ready for the kitchen. (Kim O'Donnel)

Snip there I'd go again with the oregano, the thyme and my newly sprouted basil. But the sage, which was growing like crazy, was largely ignored, and frankly, other than Thanksgiving stuffing, I was at a loss over what to do with it.

It was a shame, really, because sage (aka salvia officinalis) is quite beautiful and fragrant in a men's cologne sort of way. It even feels nice between my fingers, almost velvety to the touch. Yet, I couldn't get past my reticence, and the sage plant, left to its own devices, has taken over the pot, practically pushing out the lemon thyme.

Now I've got so much sage I really must get over my trepidation and start cooking. But before I get started, I'd like your advice: How should I play with my sage?

It's been years since I fried sage leaves in brown butter to top off a bowl of ravioli, but I'm thinking I want to expand my sage-y horizons.

I had a very good pizza recently at Liberty Tavern, a new spot in Clarendon. The thin crust was topped with cheddar cheese, thinly sliced apple and sage, a mélange of fat, sweet, acid and savory that really works. Now I'm inspired to replace the rosemary in my savory apple pie recipe with yes, some of that sage.

Bobby Flay, in his "Bold American Food," a book I bought well before cooking school was even on my radar, suggests sage aioli, a different take on the classic garlic mayo as well as sage pesto, which I'm game to try -- a gentle puree of sage, garlic, nuts (I'm thinking walnuts) and olive oil. He uses the pesto to flavor white beans, which sounds like a winner, and I'm thinking how nice it would pair up with roasted chicken, a bowl of polenta or a plate of slow-roasted tomatoes.

Jeff Cox in "The Organic Cook's Bible" suggests minced sage, parsley and onions in a batter for onion rings. Hmmm, sage in one's batter - wonder how they work for fried chicken? Or savory pancakes?

Due to allergies, I can no longer eat mushrooms, but I'm wondering if anyone has done a sage and mushroom combo, sauteed with shallots, then mixed with goat cheese, thrown into a bowl of short pasta. Sounds nice, no?

So help a girl out and give me your best sage shot, folks. Share your favorite ways of playing with sage in the comments area below.

By Kim ODonnel |  September 19, 2007; 11:16 AM ET Herbs
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I use sage in saltimboca. My mother always did it with veal cutlets, but I lean to chicken. It works nicely with the salt of the prosciutto.

Posted by: Alexandrian | September 19, 2007 12:17 PM

Fry it! It's best fried. I roast butternut squash with onions and sage and mix it with cheese ravioli. Top it with parmesan and fried sage. It's what I'm eating for lunch right now!

Posted by: atb2 | September 19, 2007 12:49 PM

I roll up sage, a slice of bacon, and a wedge of onion in a thin turkey cutlet and secure with toothpicks. I brown them in a pan and finish them in the oven with a little white poured over them.

Posted by: alfiela | September 19, 2007 1:20 PM

Hi Kim,
I second the idea of using it on ravioli with a little brown butter. Sage pairs beautifully with squash. You could do a light bread crum stuffing for acorn squash with some onion, sage, dried cranberries.

Posted by: tdp | September 19, 2007 1:44 PM

I've made a lovely risotto that is finished with chunks of fresh mozzarella, strips of prosciutto, and fresh sage.

Posted by: Charlottesville | September 19, 2007 2:11 PM

Sage has taken over a 3x3 area in my back yard. I use it in lots of stuff. Slide leaves under the loosened skin of a roasting chicken (or turkey). To season a chicken saute ( especially the pan sauce). It works well in beef stews or pot roasts. On a pork loin roast. In fact on pork loins, I puree onions, garlic, sage with s&p and totally coat the roast. I've put a few leaves in with string beans or peas.

Posted by: mike | September 19, 2007 2:16 PM

On a similar vein as Mike who uses sage with pork loin, sage goes great with any pork. Mix with some ground pork, salt/pepper, a little basil, and whatever other taste you really enjoy and make some simple pork sausage patties to grill or pan fry.

Posted by: Paul | September 19, 2007 2:31 PM

Kim,

Can I come over and take the extra off your hands? I miss the sage patch off my great-aunt's car port. We'd use it fresh in sausage and chicken. I'm with the users who'd fry it and make a beautiful brown butter sauce with ravioli. It would probably go nicely with some orzo and lemons. Try cutting the strong herbal essence with a little honey. Great, now I'm hungry again.

Posted by: LisaLuvs2Cook | September 19, 2007 2:42 PM

I have successfully used sage in the following recipes:

From epicurious.com:
DELICATA SQUASH WITH ROSEMARY, SAGE, AND CIDER GLAZE (made this last week for the first time)
CREAMY MACARONI WITH SAGE (mmmm)

Also, Martha Stewart makes a cannellini bean-sage dip that you can either spread on crostini or stuff in cherry tomatoes, or whatever. The cherry tomato recipe is in her hors d'ouevres hardback book with the pink and orange ribbons.

All three recipes require you to brown the sage in butter or make sage brown butter.

Posted by: New England | September 19, 2007 4:20 PM

There's a very simple bean dish in the Moosewood Restaurant Low Fat Favorites cookbook--saute garlic and fresh sage in olive oil, add cooked cannellini and tomato, cook together, top with lemon juice, enjoy. It's good over pasta or with good bread.

Posted by: thistle | September 19, 2007 5:06 PM

Kim--

Sage is definitely the most robust herb in my garden, though the thyme is really thriving right now also. One of my favorite cookbooks is "The Herbal Kitchen," which has fantastic recipes for all courses using fresh herbs. Some of its standout recipes include: pan sauteed pesto-stuffed chicken breasts (calls for basil pesto, but sage pesto with walnuts works fine), roasted cauliflower with apples and sage, and adobo chicken marinade that uses fresh sage and oregano. Dave Lieberman on Food Network has a sublime and simple oven roasted chicken with garlic, sage, prunes and apricot jam (perfect for fall). And when I auditioned for the next food network star I concocted a pizza with sage pesto, goat cheese and caramelized butternut squash. And of course there's always saltimbocca. Just my two cents on an under appreciated herb.

Posted by: Sean | September 19, 2007 5:25 PM

My two favorites recipes for adding sage are homemade tomato sauce and minestrone. I add basil and oregano too, of course, but the sage brings a wonderful, savory gracenote to both dishes that I really miss if it's not there.

Posted by: Aimily | September 19, 2007 5:32 PM

a recipe from a cooking class i took years ago for a simple and elegant roast chicken -- cut slices from a goat cheese log, place a sage leaf or top atop each slice of cheese and then put that between the skin and breast of a chicken before roasting. typing this up it dawns on me you could probably do the same for cornish game hens....

Posted by: conniecook | September 19, 2007 7:09 PM

I'll offer one warning in using sage: if you use it in a casserole or stew that you plan to use over several days, be very careful about how much you add. The flavor seems to have a tendency to get more and more assertive over time, and a sage flavor that is ideal while you're cooking can be overwhelming a day or two later. I've learned this the hard way when using it in bean stews (beans meld beautifully with sage.)

Posted by: Anonymous | September 19, 2007 11:23 PM

Stuff a pork tenderloin with provolone (or scamorza or smoked mozz), sausage, sage, and peperoncini. Roast it over carrots, onions, celery, etc. with some broth, then puree the veggies and broth for a nice riff on mirepoix.

Posted by: sciascia | September 20, 2007 8:18 AM

Cooks Illustrated has a wonderful light recipe for pork loin with apples and sage. You brown the loins in a skillet, then finish then on a separate pan in the oven. Sautee an onion in those drippings, then add some sliced apples, light cream cheese, chicken stock and sage and simmer to make a creamy sauce (can't remember if you add the sage before or after simmering). It's so easy and good.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 20, 2007 10:53 AM

I know this is a sage discussion, but can you address the lemon thyme at some point? I have some and have been stumped about what to do with it. It doesn't sub in for regular thyme very well.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 20, 2007 10:54 AM

Kim, after this year's drought here in the Shenandoah Valley, I am using sage and grasses as landscape plants, along with silver artemesia for kind of a mediterranean look - they never need watering. I add branches of all of them to bouquets and also cook with the sage. An easy one loosely based on the San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook: Slice a 1 pound bonelesspork loin in stew-sized bites, brown with half an onion in a skillet, sprinkle with a little flour, add chicken stock and a little wine to cover. Peel and cut up 2 waxy potatoes put all in a crockpot and cook on low until potatoes are done. Add plenty of chopped sage and, right before serving, a teaspoon or so of whole grain mustard.

Posted by: Theresa | September 20, 2007 11:23 AM

I became a fan of fresh sage after trying a Gourmet recipe at Epicurious, Bacon and Sage Panfried Trout. Now I especially like fresh sage added to cannellini beans and in pork dishes.

Posted by: Mary O | September 20, 2007 11:30 AM

I've done a lot of what posters above have done, but I'll share a few others. I love sage! It might well be my favorite herb - especially because it pairs so well with parm, my favorite cheese.

Anyway, I did a pizza recently with a thin smear of creme fraiche topped with a layer of duxelles. On top, I laid out thin slices of prosciutto, then chiffonaded sage, crumbles of goat cheese and some mozzarella. Lovely!

Also, I recently roasted butternut squash cubes. While roasting, I sauteed sweet turkey sausage, onions and mushrooms. I deglazed with white wine and broth, then thickened, adding squash and cooked pasta to heat it up. At the last minute, I tossed in some parm and some sage.

Posted by: K | September 20, 2007 12:28 PM

Put fresh sage, basil, thyme, marjoram and rosemary into the food processor with peeled garlic cloves, dried onion flakes, olive oil and salt. Make is into a pesto like paste, adding it to the cooking of lamb,chicken,turkey, beef, duck, vegetables, or a dip for bread. Store in a glass jar,in the refrigerator. Dilute with more olive oil as it gets too thick. It is delicious in escargot snails with butter and red wine.

Posted by: Lydiasings | September 20, 2007 3:49 PM

It's delicious fried ... but, what about a sage and walnut pesto??

Posted by: nicole | September 20, 2007 5:37 PM

Easy peasy white bean dip:

cannelinni beans (cooked)
olive oil
chopped garlic
sage
salt

Whiz up the beans and olive oil in the food processor. Once creamy, add the sage and garlic. Salt to taste. So delicious!

Posted by: lca | September 20, 2007 6:03 PM

1) Try adding some finely-shredded sage to tabbouleh, instead of mint. Use less.

2) While cooking fine pasta, saute some thinly-sliced onion in butter or a butter-oil mix (straight oil just doesn't work in this one). Be aggressive: You want the onion to be golden/brown. While draining the pasta, frizzle about 1 tbsp. of sage per portion in the butter. Be careful not to burn it. Dump the pasta back in the saute pan and toss with salt and pepper; top with grated cheese (Romano; Parmigiano is too subtle).

Posted by: Pete | September 21, 2007 9:01 AM

Your sage plant should survive the winter.
Since it is not planted in the ground, you might need to move the pot to a protected area. Sage has survived in my raised herb garden out back for at least 6 years so far.

Posted by: Steubenville | September 21, 2007 9:50 AM

Hi, Kim--
After reading your blog about sage, I've been experimenting with my own--mine's growing furiously in a half-whiskey barrel on the deck. I split a butternut squash in half, scooped out the seeds and dusted it with nutmeg. Then I topped each half with a strip of reduced-fat, center cut bacon and lots of fresh sage. Baked it covered for awhile, then to crisp the bacon, lifted off the top of the baker. It was delicious, quick and easy! My husband loved it, too.
Also, I marinated a pork loin in mango-orange juice, some white Zin and fresh garlic for several hours, then discarding most of the marinade, drizzled the top of the loin with peach chutney and sprinkled on fresh sage. It also turned out to be tasty.

Posted by: Rebecca in VA. | September 25, 2007 9:23 AM

Hi Kim - I've made sage pesto the last two years. I use walnuts and walnut oil, and about twice the amount of parsley that I'd use in basil pesto (about 2/3 sage and 1/3 parsley). Lovely with plain pasta or for making a crust on pork or chicken.

Posted by: John | September 25, 2007 9:26 AM

Attended a cooking class taught by Deborah Madison in fall a few years ago, and she did a delicious crostini of toasted bread slices, fresh mozzarella, and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, topped by sage leaves and run under the broiler until the cheese was bubbly. It was a wonderful!

Posted by: Patti | September 25, 2007 8:26 PM

Look up the tuscan dish "Faggioli al ucciletto" as it uses sage and tomatoes to dress some simple cannelini beans - very tasty. I've made this before, but probably had the perfect version in an osteria in Florence last week (got back Saturday).

Also, sage needn't be fried to use in a butter sauce. How about gently cooking minced sage with minced garlic in a bit (or a lot) of butter until the sharp taste is softented in both the sage/garlic, then adding salt/pepper/dry white wine and reducing, then tossing in some linguini? Very tasty I can assure you.

Posted by: Arlington, VA S | October 1, 2007 11:47 AM

Years ago I took a French cooking class sponsored by Montgomery County for adult education. One of my favorite recipes from the class is the following:

STUFFED TENDERLOIN OF BEEF

1 filet 2 or 3 pounds 2 T dijon mustard
2 T mashed green pepper corn 8 fresh sage leaves
3 T butter 1/4 C canned beef broth
2 T vermouth salt, pepper, allspice

Grind pepper corns in processor. Open filet and flatten. (Slice in half horizontally.) Spread with mustard, pepper corn, and sage leaves. Reform filet and secure with strings. Rub outside with butter, then salt and allspice. Bake at 425, 12 minutes per pound for medium rare, 25 minutes per pound for medium.
Let rest 10 minutes before carving. Deglaze pan with vermouth and broth. Let it set in oven a few minutes. Then use sauce from the pan to serve over sliced beef.

Posted by: Marilyn | October 6, 2007 6:27 PM

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