Earlier this year at the start of summer, I bought a bunch of packets of herb seeds. I planted them in teensy pots and waited for them to sprout. Some sprouted almost immediately, others took a little longer, and one bunch did not sprout at all. I had three little baby plants in one pot with wrinkly leaves so I assumed these were the mint that I’d planted. I potted two out for myself and took the other two over to a neighbour’s house. She was delighted as she’d been sipping Pimms in a pub that afternoon and saying how she should grow some mint at home. A few weeks later, I was out in the garden checking on my plants and thought I’d pick some mint. Only, by this time the plant was considerably bigger, and now looked nothing like mint at all. The little wrinkly leaves had turned out to be… sage.
I only hope my neighbour never tried to put them in a Pimms cocktail!
It wasn’t a totally daft mistake to make though – sage (Salvia Officinalis) is in fact part of the mint family. It is a perennial that grows into a shrub up to two feet tall. Its fragrant flowers vary from white to blue to pink and are rich in nectar, which makes a wonderfully fragrant honey. It has been a prized medicinal herb for centuries, being touted as a cure for everything from snake bites to epilepsy. In fact, in the 17th century, sage was so highly prized that the Chinese were willing to give Dutch traders three to four pounds of tea in exchange for oue pound of European sage leaves. Sage is the flavour used in vermouth and various bitters and is known to contain powerful antioxidants which slow spoilage.
The classic partners for sage are onions and pork, but I thought it’s slightly bitter flavour would pair well with sweet, roasted butternut squash in a risotto. And I was not disappointed. This easy seasonal risotto perfectly combines bitter, sweet and salty flavours in a warm, comforting bowl of rice. Autumn isn’t so bad after all!
ROASTED BUTTERNUT & SAGE RISOTTO (serves 2)
2 shallots, finely chopped
20g butter, plus 20g cubed for later
2 Tbsp olive oil
300g short-grain risotto rice (I used arborio)
100ml dry white wine
750ml vegetable stock
about 1.5 cups of roasted butternut cubes
100g grated Parmiggiano
5 sage leaves, very finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
To prepare the butternut, peel and de-seed one small to medium butternut squash and cut the flesh into small cubes. Toss with olive oil and roast at 190C for about 30 minutes or until soft.
Melt the butter together with the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the shallots and saute until translucent and soft but do not let them brown. Add the rice and cook for a minute or two, stirring constantly stir so that each grain is well-coated with oil/butter. Add the white wine and keep stirring until the liquid has been absorbed almost completely.
Add the stock (I used Kallo organic) a ladleful at a time (probably about 150-200 ml per ladle). Keep stirring until each ladleful has been completely absorbed, but do not let the rice dry out and stick to the pot. Once each ladleful is absorbed, add the next until the stock has all been added. The rice should be soft but each grain should retain some bite in the centre, perfectly al dente.
Stir in the roasted butternut, two thirds of the chopped sage, the Parmiggiano and remaining butter in cubes, and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve either in wide, shallow bowls garnished with more grated Parmigiano and the rest of the chopepd sage leaves.
I’m submitting this as my entry into Weekend Herb Blogging (the event created by my friend Kalyn and admnistered by Haalo), hosted this week by the lovely Haalo herself. Amazingly, WHB is celebrating it’s four year anniversary this week!