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Popular in both Italian and British cookery, sage has long, grey-green leaves with a slightly furry surface. Its aroma is pungent and it has a strong, slightly minty, musky taste. Traditionally, it's used to flavour sausages and as a stuffing for fatty meats such as pork and goose. A little goes a long way - and it's never used raw.
All year round. Buy a pot from your local greengrocer or garden centre and keep a ready supply.
Choose the best
Look for fresh leaves with good aroma and colour, with no wilting or brown patches. Common sage has a deep, earthy flavour and aroma but you can also buy pineapple sage which, as you might expect, has a sweet pineapple scent (though the flavour is more like common sage); purple sage, which has a milder flavour; and the equally mild tricolour sage, which has a variagated leaf of pink, cream and green. Dried sage is also available.
Pick the leaves from the stem, wash, then use whole or chop.
Fresh cut sage should be wrapped in kitchen paper, placed in a perforated bag and stored in the fridge. It will last for up to 3 days. Dried sage should be kept in an airtight container and stored in a cool, dark place. It will last from four to six months. Pots of sage will survive well on a protected, sunny window sill.
Add to pasta sauces; use for meat or poultry stuffings; quickly fry in butter and use as a garnish for risotto or pumpkin dishes.
Sage has a robust flavour that is excellent as an accompaniment to pork. It is commonly used in stuffing or in sausages, and can also be sprinkled onto salads. Sprinkle sage onto pork or chicken before roasting, or combine with cheese and breadcrumbs for a topping for fish
The colour of downy sage leaves and their flavour varies but, in essence, sage is a very strongly aromatic and slightly bitter herb that can withstand long cooking times without losing its flavour.
The strong flavour means that a little goes a long way, especially if you're using dried leaves, so use sparingly. It goes well with pork, beef, duck and chicken recipes, and fatty meats in particular. In Italy it is commonly chopped, mixed with melted butter and served stirred into pasta or gnocchi. Fry the leaves with liver or kidneys, or try dipping them into a light batter and deep-frying - they can be used to garnish dishes or eaten as a snack. sage