I was making some white bean dip recently to take to a birthday party. This is a go-to recipe for me, filled with mellow cannellini beans, lemon, fresh herbs, olive oil – all kinds of good stuff. As I was chopping some fresh sage, I paused, caught by the aroma.
I picked up a sage leaf and rubbed my thumb across its soft, velvety surface, bruising it enough to release another wave of scent. I held it to my nose, closed my eyes, and inhaled. It smelled clean and sharp, and at the same time ancient and deeply rooted in the earth.
My brain flooded with memories of a windowsill herb garden in New York; a Florida holiday with diminutive Great Aunt Lena, scanning the gravy for lumps through her cat-eye glasses; extended family in folding chairs; platters of roasted turkey receding endlessly toward a past horizon, and the dried stuffing mix that I must admit to really enjoying from time to time.
It makes sense to me that most of my memories connected with sage are concentrated around Thanksgiving and Christmas, turkey and stuffing. As marvelous and flavorful as sage is, I have only learned its broader uses as an adult.
One of my new "adult" favorites is a sage pesto. If you are only familiar with the more basil-heavy variety, you are in for a marvelous surprise. The little green leaves are a natural in cheddar studded cornmeal scones and add unexpected spice and depth to Triple Berry Vinegar. Tossed with hot pasta, as a dip for bread or crudités, or brushed on grilled chicken, the woodsy flavors of Sage, Bay and Garlic Dipping Oil prove that sage has as much a place on the alfresco summer table as in the traditional autumnal spread.
Casting familiar ingredients in new roles is one of the great pleasures of cooking. Experimenting with fresh herbs such as sage is a great way to add big flavors with minimal cost and calories. You might even make some new memories in the process.