- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Do you have a jar of dried sage in your pantry? Does it see the light of day only once a year, at turkey-stuffing time?

If that jar is a few years old, toss it and replace it with fresh leaves. You won’t believe the difference it will make in your cooking.

Sage is more than a one-trick pony. Its unique flavor can add the right touch to many dishes. For a supply of the freshest sage possible (filled with essential oils), try planting some near the kitchen. Sage is not only easy to grow for cooking purposes, but it’s quite a showstopper in the garden, too.

Common sage (Salvia officinaliscqas lightly pebbled grayish green leaves and stunning blue flowers. It grows wild in the Mediterranean and thrives in full sun and well-drained soil amended with organic matter. The plant will grow and bloom in part shade, but it won’t be as stocky.

For use on the dinner table, it needs at least six hours of sun a day to help develop its trademark flavor.

This woody shrub grows about 2 feet high and spreads as wide. Water it when dry, give it a little fertilizer a couple times throughout the season, and sage will be happy. So will you.

In my garden, I’ve kept the same plant in a clay pot for the past three seasons. Each winter, I bring it inside. In early spring, I cut it back to encourage new growth and fertilize it. Sage begins blooming about the end of May and will continue through June.

All sages are salvias, but for the sake of discussion, we’ll call the culinary varieties sage.

There is a wide variety of sages that can be used in the flower garden and the kitchen:

• Tricolor sage (Salvia officinalis tricolor) is my favorite ornamental-culinary sage. It has irregular, variegated cream, green and pink leaves.

• Golden garden sage (Salvia officinalis icterina) has green and gold irregularly variegated leaves.

• rple garden sage (Salvia officinalis purpurea) sports dark purple new leaves that turn green with age.

All of these have basically the same flavor as common garden sage but in varying degrees of strength.

Some of the variegated sages are not as hardy as garden sage. Check this with your local nursery or garden center.

Pineapple sage (Salvia eleganscq) is an interesting variety. This sage has a different look and flavor from most. The flowers are a beautiful scarlet and bloom well into summer. They have a minty citrus flavor and can be sprinkled on salads or used in teas.

The leaves and flowers can be used for baking and desserts. And the red flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds.

In the kitchen, it’s best to use sage fresh, but dried leaves will also work.

Sage is not a subtle herb, so be careful when adding it. Too much can overwhelm a dish.

For dried sage, use the mature leaves. They contain the highest level of essential oils. Cut the foliage in the morning just after the dew has burned off. Hang them in a cool, dark location with good air circulation until dry. This will take a week or two. Store dried leaves in an airtight container out of bright light.

Sage can also be frozen. Just clean and pat it dry and place it in resealable plastic freezer bags.

Previously frozen sage works well with poultry; stuffing mixtures; rich and fatty meats such as pork, sausages and veal; and cheese dishes. Fresh is delicious in salads.

Whether it’s for looking or cooking, sage will add something special to the garden and your favorite dishes.

Lemon-and-sage chicken

Allow one or two pieces of chicken per person. The number of people served depends on the number of chicken pieces cooked.

Chicken thighs, breasts or legs with the skin left on

4 sage leaves per piece of chicken

4 to 6 large peeled and chopped garlic cloves per pound of chicken

1 lemon per pound of chicken, cut in quarters

Salt and pepper

Rub outside of each piece of chicken with sage. Pull skin up a bit to separate it from chicken. Tuck sage leaves under the skin. Place chicken and garlic in a baking dish. Squeeze lemon juice over and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight, if possible, or at least six hours, stirring once or twice.

Bake chicken in 350-degree oven for about an hour or until cooked through and juices run clear when pierced with a fork.

½Roasted red potatoes with fresh sage

cup olive oil

1 dozen small, waxy potatoes

1 to 2 whole heads garlic, separated into cloves and peeled

2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves only

1 bunch fresh sage leaves (about 3/

Salt and freshly ground pepper

6 ounces fontinawebster sted F- cheese or skim mozzarella, optional

Heat olive oil in a pan at high heat, and cook potatoes until lightly colored. Add garlic cloves, then stir well and cook for 2 more minutes. Remove from heat and pour potatoes, oil and garlic into a baking pan large enough to hold all of the potatoes in one layer.

1/4Sprinkle rosemary leaves and chopped sage on top of potatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and roast in preheated 375-degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until golden and tender. Add cheese during the last 10 minutes of baking, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

Quick and easy super sage pasta

Salt

About 12 ounces cheese ravioli

cup olive oil or butter

12 sage leaves

Juice of 1 lemon

½Bring a large kettle of salted water to a boil. Add cheese ravioli; cook until tender. While it is cooking, heat olive oil or butter in a skillet over low heat. Add sage leaves, and cook until leaves are crisp, about 2 to 3 minutes. Squeeze in lemon juice and pour over cooked cheese ravioli. Makes about 2 servings; recipe can easily be doubled.

1/3Pineapple sage smoothie

1 sliced banana

1 cup strawberries, trimmed and cut in quarters

1 cup raspberries

cup pineapple sage leaves, shredded

2 teaspoons honey or sugar

3 cups yogurt

Combine banana, strawberries, raspberries, pineapple sage leaves, honey or sugar, and yogurt in a blender or food processor until smooth and creamy. Pour into glasses and serve. Makes 4 servings.

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