Sage Stars With the Flavors of Autumn
By Robin Kline
Special to the Washington Post
Wednesday, November 12, 2003; Page F01
My ill-fated initiation to sage was in the form of a sodden, sorry turkey dressing that announced itself by aroma before it crossed the dining room threshold. That memorable run-in had me loathing the herb for years -- I didn't even want it in my breakfast sausage.
Sage has, well, an assertive personality, which can become overbearing.
What I didn't know then was that if sage is used with restraint, it becomes an essential flavoring agent that enhances all manner of dishes -- even dessert.
The personality of sage has been described as smoky, woodsy and not very refined, like the first sip of single malt Scotch. And, like single malt, it is to some degree an acquired taste. Although I might mix some sage with other herbs for an herb-flecked focaccia, I find it usually makes its best showing when it's the solo herb in a dish.
With its strong flavor, sage makes a happy mate to soothing, comforting foods like rice, potatoes, pasta and beans. Beans, risotto and polenta are my personal troika of ultra-comfort dishes, and they're all meant for cool-weather menus.
What changed my mind about sage? I added it to pork in my version of Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan's pork roast braised in milk. I wanted to add a flavor note to the creamy, nutty sauce in which the pork cooks. Having planted sage in the garden that year -- for its subtle color and beautiful leaves -- I picked it with caution and added it to the milk.
From that pork roast, my passion grew and sage now makes a regular appearance on my Thanksgiving table in my corn bread dressing.
Pork Braised With Sage and Milk
Slowly braising a pork loin in milk results in meltingly tender pork. The result is not the prettiest meal, but it is one of the tastiest. The milk cooks down into sage-infused curds.
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
3 cups milk (use either whole milk or half-and-half)
2-pound boneless pork loin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons oil
In a bowl, combine the sage and milk. Set aside.
Pat the pork dry and season generously on all sides with salt and pepper to taste.
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