Sage is one of the key flavors in Thanksgiving turkey stuffing, but that’s maybe one of the few times we notice the herb in a dish. On our daily walks/bike rides around Oak Park, however, we see it everywhere; the recent rains have helped sage grow abundantly. Sage was sprouting in our Oak Park garden for years before I started cooking with it, and I feel I must now make up for time lost.
A classic recipe for fresh sage is a traditional Italian pasta dish that uses the herb, accompanied by butter and Parmigiano cheese. That’s it. So simple and so good. A member of the mint family, sage provides a somewhat piney tingle, and a citrus-like herbal freshness, with just a touch of earthiness — flavors that are balanced beautifully by the richness of the butter and cheese.
Not all sage should be eaten. The technical term for the edible sage we have growing in our garden is salvia officinalis. You should google a photo of that plant if you want to confirm that the sage growing in your garden is, indeed, OK to eat.
Indigenous peoples of the Americas used sage to smudge, which is a time-honored technique for cleansing or purifying one’s domicile. We’ve tried smudging at our house, and it involves lighting a bunch of dried sage and gently wafting the smoke around the rooms.
Colleen McCann, a shaman and a proponent of smudging for spiritual hygiene, writes: “Scientists have observed that sage can clear up to 94 percent of airborne bacteria in a space and disinfect the air. When sage is burned, it releases negative ions, which is linked to putting people into a positive mood. The Latin word for sage, salvia, stems from the word “heal.” Other qualities believed to be associated with sage when burned are giving wisdom, clarity, and increasing spiritual awareness.”
Perhaps … but I just like the way it tastes.
Recently, some of the more adventurous — and perhaps foolhardy — youngs have taken to smoking sage to get high. According to Newsweek, “an herb in the sage family called salvia divinorum … has been used in religious ceremonies by the Mazatec people of Mexico for centuries. They associate it with the Virgin Mary, and believe ingesting salvia enables them to speak with her. … Salvia is one of the most potent hallucinogens in nature.”
All that may be, but I prefer to just eat the stuff pan-fried, which is how I usually prepare sage. I have noticed no hallucinations.
Recently, I picked up some outstanding house-made salami at Gaetano’s Forest Park. Scrambled eggs with salami is a common dish in the Jewish culinary tradition, and the salami from Gaetano’s is simply superb. Chef Gaetano makes all the sausage he sells (except for the prosciutto de Parma), and I am knocked out by both the salami and the mortadella. The guys behind the counter slice the sausages super-thin, perfect for sandwiches or when using as an ingredient.
Delicately spiced and amazingly tender, Gaetano’s salami is a wonderful complement to eggs and sage. Before adding sage to the eggs, I gently fry the leaves in butter, olive oil or both (my preference). When the leaves start browning, pull them out of the fry pan and sprinkle with salt; as the leaves cool, they crisp up. Fantastic.