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
parmigiano reggiano cheese (parmesan cheese)
pecorino cheese (sheep’s milk ripened cheese)
extra vergine olive oil
salt to taste
- 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).