Perennial herb pruning season is nigh. The rosemary bushes are burgeoning, the sage shrubs are rampant and the blacksmith is sharpening my shears in preparation for the annual cull. (Ok, I made that last bit up, but wouldn’t it be charming if that still happened.)
Our sage has become particularly unruly and I’ll be cutting it right back almost to the base, leaving only a few shooting points. A kill or cure option no doubt, but they do turn terribly straggly and unkempt if you don’t show them a firm hand. The result of said firm hand is an armful of furry, fragrant leaves that need either using up. I can’t bring myself to compost such as harvest, so here is some sage advice for anyone in the same situation (oh come on, you surely can’t have expected me to hold off for long. Just one tiny, weeny pun? No? Ok, no more, I promise.)
Whilst the kettle boils, scrunch up 8-10 large sage leaves in your hands to bruise them and release the oils. Pop them in a teapot with boiling water and leave for 5 minutes before pouring. Something of a wonder drug, sage tea allegedly cures sore throats, fevers, hair loss and nervous excitement so any balding, flu-ridden nervous types out there (heavens) this is one for you.
Sage and Pineapple
I realise this is an unexpected combination. And the idea arrived in something of a roundabout way. There is a beautiful plant called Pineapple Sage (or salvia elegans if we going to be all BBC4 about it) which is a sage leaf that smells, predictably, of pineapple. There’s a bit more about it here if you’re interested. I don’t have pineapple sage any in my garden. But I do have a pineapple in the fridge and I did once see someone do something with mint sugar and pineapple, so…
- 1 tbsp chopped sage leaves
- 1-2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 pineapple
Heat a dry griddle until it smokes. Place a slice of pineapple on the griddle and cook until charred. Don’t move the pineapple around or you won’t get that pleasing black crust which adds a wonderful flavour. Repeat on the other side.
Meanwhile, put the sage and 1 tbsp of sugar in a pestle and mortar and pummel it until you have a green sandy mixture. Taste and, if you like, add a little more sugar until the fragrant sage and the sweetness of the sugar balance.
Crumble the sugar over the warm pineapple and serve. Odd but, I promise, divine.
I love this rosemary focaccia recipe from the River Cottage Bread Handbook so much that I even recreated the picture from the book. Only difference is… you guessed it… I’ve used sage instead of rosemary.
Crispy sage and anchovy canapés
Finally, something shamelessly poncy and fiddly. But I don’t care. I will defend to the death the combination of salty, oily anchovies and crispy, perfumed sage.
- 1 tin of anchovies in oil (not the fresh ones, they’re too mild)
- a bunch of small, unblemished sage leaves
- some crusty, wholemeal or seedy bread
- approximately 100ml flavourless oil (I’m using grapeseed)
Slice the bread as thin as a supermodel’s thigh and toast lightly. Once toasted, slice into tiny, delicate soldiers.
Pour the oil into a high-sided saucepan, it only needs to be 1 cm deep, and heat to 120-130 degrees. Any hotter and the sage will burn and go brown. Not pleasant. Carefully put the sage leaves in the oil a few at a time and fry for barely 10 seconds. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. They should go crispy and brittle.
Pop a sage leaf on each toasted soldier and top with an anchovy. For full effect, serve with a cocktail, a butler and a PG Wodehouse novel.