Sage Pesto

By • October 15, 2010 • 8 Comments



Author Notes: Sage is said to be hard to take root. That’s why our gardener and friend told us: ‘I’ll plant three specimens because some will surely die.’ Well, they probably will someday, but now, after two years, my sage is not only growing flourishing and luxuriant; it’s become so uncontainable that throughout these two years we’ve had to move several plants elsewhere because they ended up being choked by its exuberance. Good if you consider that the earth in my garden is but landfill and that the space allowed for planting is no more than 1.6 ft wide (though I suspect that the cultivated land that existed before our house was built has something to do with it…). Honestly, we’ve thought about removing the sage and re-plant but one specimen more than once; but it’s such a beautiful plant that it’s impossible to take it away from its place. Besides, when in bloom in spring it’s absolutely charming. Its long stems and lilac flowers are even more gorgeous than lavender. They say one should cut the flowers away to have more leaves, just like you do with basil, but I always wait for the flowers to fade. I love the sage corner in my garden, and the blooming contrast with the red foliage and tiny white flowers of Photinia shrubs and the soft pale pink buds of The Generous Garden rose. And most of all I adore the pungent intoxicating smell sage exhales on summer nights after raining or watering.Of course, the problem with having all this sage is ‘ok, what about it now?’ Apart giving bunches to friends and relations, it’s a shame to throw branches and leaves away after pruning. So I remembered a Florentine lady’s recipe I had the chance to taste some years ago in her Chianti B&B (actually, the same place where my husband and I later had our wedding dinner) but of which I’d never had the ingredients: the sage pesto. As the word itself reveals, pesto is a particular Italian sauce made by pounding (pestare in Italian) basil leaves in a mortar together with pine-kernels and ripened cheese. The original recipe comes from Liguria, a region famous for basil growing, and it is used to season pasta, usually trofie or orecchiette.
Sage pesto is a bit different from basil pesto and if you expect something like the latter you could be disappointed. Sage has definitely a much more pungent, almost bitterish touch compared to basil (for basil pesto I mean the traditional Italian recipe, not the original Ligurian recipe with potatoes and string beans), but it’s fresh and very aromatic. The procedure is the same for both basil and sage pesto, apart from the fact that we can use a food processor instead of pestle and mortar (yes, time is a hard master…). In the list of ingredients below you will find both parmigiano reggiano and pecorino as ripened cheeses. If pecorino is hard to find, you can use parmigiano reggiano exclusively. I add pecorino because it gives pesto a doughier and an unquestionably full-bodied touch compared to parmigiano. Moreover, being Tuscan I can’t do without it (pecorino is a Tuscan specialty, though you can find good pecorini in Latium and Sardinia as well) . Pecorino and parmigiano quantities are equal, but you can change them according to your own personal taste. The same can be said for pine-kernels: you can halve their quantity and add the same amount of nuts if you like. Don’t be afraid to experiment: that’s the fun of it!
Rita Banci

Serves 5-6

  • 1.8 ounces sage leaves
  • 1.3 ounces parmigiano reggiano cheese (parmesan cheese)
  • 1.3 ounces pecorino cheese (sheep’s milk ripened cheese)
  • 1.8 ounces pine-kernels
  • 150 milliliters extra vergine olive oil
  • salt to taste
  1. Carefully wash sage leaves and put them into the food processor. Add pine-kernels, the cheeses, and a little olive oil to soften. Turn the food processor on and mince until you get a creamy mixture. Put salt and more olive oil to make the pesto softer. Pesto can be kept refrigerated for several days as long as you cover it with a thick layer of oil; otherwise it oxidizes and becomes black (though it’s still good to eat).
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Mrs._larkin_370

almost 4 years ago mrslarkin

Mrs. Larkin is a trusted source on Baking.

Wow, this looks amazing! I'm not a big sage fan, but this I will try. Rita, how do you say sage in italiano? No luck this year with my sage plant. Next year, I will plant 3, not 1!

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almost 4 years ago Rita Banci

Sage is "salvia" in Italian. Yes, you'd be try to plant more than one, so you're sure some of them will grow. Hope you try to make it: it's so easy and tasty!

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almost 4 years ago Rita Banci

So, this is the way my grannie fries sage leaves: she prepares a batter (neither too thick nor too runny) with flour and water (and a pinch of salt, too). Then she dips in the leaves (previously washed and dried) and fries them in a heated pan with extravergine olive oil. It takes few second for the sage to be cooked. My mom says that you can add a pinch of baking soda to the batter: in this way sage will be fluffier. Hope you enjoy it!

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almost 4 years ago Rita Banci

@ luvcookbooks: thanks a lot! I'm having lunch with my grannie today, so I'll ask her how she fries sage leaves!
@ dymnyno: I know what it means having an exuberant sage! Mine chocked out the lavender bush and I had to move it... (it chocked out rosemary, too, but I was told that rosemary and sage can't grow together side by side...)

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almost 4 years ago dymnyno

I like this idea. My sage bush is huge...choked out the zucchini! It grows all year so I will be making this to try soon. thanks!

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almost 4 years ago luvcookbooks

Meg is a trusted home cook.

I have an exuberant sage plant in my garden as well. I love sage in bread stuffing and love rubbing a leaf on my hands when I leave the house (it's right outside the door) but otherwise didn't know much to do with it. This sounds really wonderful and like it has a less rich taste than basil pesto.

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almost 4 years ago Rita Banci

Yes, to me it's a good way to make something of all this sage (apart from using it together with rosemary to aromatize meat). My grannie fries the leaves, too. They can be eaten as appetizers or fingerfood but also as a side dish. I don't remember how she makes them, exactly, but I can ask.

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almost 4 years ago luvcookbooks

Meg is a trusted home cook.

that would be great. it's fall in new york city and the sage should be eaten or preserved before it's too cold. I'm so happy you're on this site.