This week's look at what's new, bountiful or mysterious in the produce aisle.
Sage takes center stage this time of year. It eases digestion, so it is no surprise to learn that it is often paired with goose, duck and pork and in poultry and game stuffings. In some households, sage stuffing in the Thanksgiving turkey is sacrosanct. This herb from Mediterranean climes is known for its medicinal as well as culinary uses. Its generic name "Salvia" comes from the Latin "salvus," which means healthy or safe and refers to the herb's alleged healing powers. It is said to soothe stomach aches, sore throats and canker sores, just for starters. The narrow, oval leaves of this pungent herb are slightly bitter and are reminiscent of mint.
How to buy it: Sage is available in small bunches or packages year-round in many supermarkets. (A perennial, it is also easy to grow in your own back yard.) Look for leaves that have a fresh, gray-green color. Rub the leaves of the sage between your fingers to test for its pungent aroma.
How to store it: Refrigerate the sage wrapped in a paper towel and sealed in a plastic bag for up to 4 days.
How to use it: Sage can overpower so use it judiciously. At least one Thanksgiving stuffing has been ruined by an overenthusiastic cook (yours truly) with a big bunch of sage. You can fry sage leaves quickly (about three seconds) in olive oil, toss with coarse salt and put them atop a mound of mashed potatoes. Add sage leaves and Dijon mustard to pan drippings and saute briefly for a quick sauce for veal chops or chicken thighs. Toss new potatoes with melted butter and a few minced sage leaves and roast. Add whole sage leaves to your favorite cream sauce for ravioli or fettuccine and remove them just before serving.
Sage pairs beautifully with rosemary, so mix the two together--in moderation--in your favorite red wine risotto or with sausage, peppers and pasta. Combine with other herbs such as parsley and marjoram in your turkey stock.
Make a compound butter by working together finely minced fresh sage and room-temperature butter. Spread the butter on Cornish hens, pork loins or chickens before roasting; or use it to saute pork chops.
Mix chopped sage leaves with your favorite white bean recipes; or use it to perk up polenta, couscous or bread recipes.
And remember: sage is plentiful and relatively inexpensive. So never think you have to use it all up in one meal.