a test kitchen dossier
Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit in horto? (Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?)
– Medieval saying
Salvia officinalis – Derived from the Latin salvere, meaning “to be saved,” as in ancient times, sage was held as a medicinal plant. This name was corrupted popularly to sauja and sauge (the French form), and sawge in Old English, which has become our present-day name of sage.
Area of Origin
Northern shores of the Mediterranean coast. Sage grows wild in areas with limestone formation and very little soil all along the Mediterranean, from Spain to Croatia and Dalmatia. The region around the islands of Veglia and Cherso is known as the Sage region.
Common sage, the variety most often used for cooking, is a hearty plant which grows about a foot or more high, with wiry stems. The leaves are distinctive, about 1½ -2 inches long, with a silvery green color and a soft “peach fuzz” texture on the top, and marked veins on the bottom. Related to mint, sage has a hint of minty flavor with a rounded herbaceousness. It is, however, a rather strong herb.
Naturally, we get a little bit excited about the inviting, fuzzy texture and calming green hue of this wonderful herb. It is sensually satisfying both to the fingertips and palate, and we’ve caught ourselves more than once just fondling the sage on our test kitchen counter.
For most of history, sage was considered a medicinal herb. One of its names is S. salvatrix, or “Sage the Saviour.” An old French saying goes:
Sage helps the nerves and by its powerful might
Palsy is cured and fever put to flight…
In the Jura region of France, sage is often planted around graves because it is believed to mitigate grief. The Chinese love to drink tea made with sage leaves, and sage ale has been thought to be a curative for snake bites.
Cooking with Sage
Despite (or perhaps even because of) sage’s popularity as a curative, there are just as many culinary uses for the herb: Sage with brown butter makes an ideal sauce for veal or pasta, and sage pairs well with pork and rustic country pâtés. But perhaps the most ideal use of sage is with poultry – after all, what Thanksgiving table is complete without a sage rubbed turkey, or a sage infused stuffing? Sage is ideal in its dried form when used in savory rubs for roast lamb and pork.
This month we are exploring the classic uses of sage, along with a surprise or two. Veal Saltimbocca and Pork Tenderloin are typical uses of the herb, and here we present them in easy-to-make recipes which highlight the herbaceous loveliness of the fuzzy green leaf. Our Pastry Princess has taken a daring approach for an unusual dessert, highlighting many different qualities of sage in one dish, which looks complicated but whose components can each stand alone and serve as a mini pastry curriculum.
Photo by Lia Soscia