This Fall’s Featured Herb is Sage.
Sage belongs to the family Lamiaceae (aka the mint family), to which many herbs, like rosemary, basil, lavender, thyme, marjoram, oregano and mint also belong.
The botanical name for sage is Salvia officinalis. Salvia is the genus, and officinalis the species. Salvia is derived from the latin word salvus, meaning health. In Italy, “salve!” is a common greeting, and when someone sneezes, one says “salute.”
Officinalis is a Latin word which literally translates to “belonging to an officina, or office,” historically a monastery store room where medicines were stored. Officinalis is commonly used with plants historically used as medicines. During the middle ages, sage was an especially popular herb in monastery gardens.
Sage is a evergreen perennial woody shrub. Its soft “furry” oblong leaves are most often a gray-green color. Modern cultivar leaves can have purple, pink, yellow and cream tones. The size of the leaves can range considerably, from one inch long to several. Sage flowers bloom in the late spring and summer, and are commonly blue or purple, but can be white or pink.
Sage is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region. It has a long history of medicinal and culinary use. Pliny the Elder, Theophrastus, Dioscorides, Galen and Charlemagne all wrote highly of sage’s perceived medicinal properties, from warding off evil to being a local anesthetic and hemostatic for snake bites. It was one of the four ingredients in Four Thieves Vinegar, believed to ward off the plague.
Sage appears in many European and Middle Eastern cuisines. In traditional Italian cooking, it is often paired with grilled meats. In British and American cooking, we often see it during the holiday season flavoring turkeys, chickens and stuffings, as well as in cured meats and soups.
Sage is a natural source of many strong antioxidant, antitumor, antibacterial and antiinflammatory compounds, including flavonoids and polyphenols. Sage is high in camphor, which has anesthetic and antimicrobial properties. Research indicates sage may help remedy such diseases as depression, dementia, diabetes, diarrhea, lupus, hot flashes, heart disease and cancer. Sage may help contribute to longevity and memory. 1, 2, 3
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This Fall’s Featured Recipe is for Sage Pumpkin Gnocchi
Gnocchi are soft pasta dumplings. Historians believe gnocchi are the earliest form of pasta. In the Renaissance period, gnocchi are said to have been eaten at banquets celebrating special occasions. While their specific origins are unknown, gnocchi are most associated with the northern region of Italy.
Gnocchi are made with a variety of ingredients, depending on the foods available in region where they are from: flours of wheat, corn or chestnuts and with vegetables, like potatoes, spinach or pumpkin. Their accompanying sauces and cooking styles also vary by region. Some use a fork to press ridges into the dough, others simply cut the gnocchi into little bite-sized pillows.
The word “gnocchi” is thought to come from the Italian word “nocche,” meaning knuckles or knots, alluding to their shape.
Gnocchi are also popular in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uraguay, brought by Italian immigrants who moved there. In these countries, there is a tradition of eating gnocchi on the 29th of each month. 4
This tradition was how I was first introduced to gnocchi, by my Argentine housemates in college. With the whole household rolling and cutting the dough, we made quick work of cooking up a feast of gnocchi, made from potatoes and flour, and dressed in pesto and marinara.
Our autumn-themed gnocchi recipe calls for browning the ingredients and gnocchi, amplifying their umami and adding a delicious toasty flavor. The gnocchi could also be boiled until adente, or baked in one’s favorite sauce. Uncooked leftover gnocchi can be frozen for up to three months.
To reduce preparation time, one could roast the pumpkin halved or use canned pumpkin puree. Jarred dried ground sage could be substituted for the crisped sage leaves. Gnocchi dough could be quickly rolled out into pan-sized pancakes, browned, and then sliced into wedges.
Sage Pumpkin Gnocchi
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes (includes roasting squash and sauteing)
Yield: ~2 servings
1 pumpkin (aka winter squash, like butternut or acorn) (yielding 1 cup puree for gnocchi + roasted cubes for topping) peeled & cubed
2 teaspoons medium to high heat oil, like palm, coconut or peanut
0.75 cups (96 grams) favorite flour
salt & pepper to taste
1 bunch fresh sage, stems removed
6 crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch leafy greens, like rabe, kale or spinach, stems removed
6 garlic cloves, sliced
1. Peel and cube the pumpkin.
2. Lightly toss cubes in oil and generous pinch of salt, and spread in single layer on baking sheet.
3. Roast pumpkin cubes at 350F until browned on bottom and soft.
4. While pumpkin is roasting, prepare sage. Remove sage stems and discard.
5. Saute fresh sage leaves in pan, with a little oil and a generous pinch of salt, just until fragrant, green color darkened and crisped.
6. Place ~2 cups (210 grams) of roasted pumpkin cubes into food processor (to make ~1 cup of puree), and reserve the rest of the cubes.
7. Puree pumpkin in processor until smooth.
8. Add flour and pinch of salt to processor.
9. Pulse just until blended.
10. Place gnocchi dough onto lightly floured counter top. Coarsely crumble ~1 Tablespoon crisped sage leaves onto dough and lightly knead to incorporate. Reserve remaining sage leaves for garnish.
11. Divide dough into 4 pieces and roll each into a ball.
12. Roll out each dough ball into a long rope ~0.5 inch in diameter.
13. Cut rope into ~1 inch pieces.
14. Saute gnocchi in pan with 1 teaspoon of oil, on low heat, until crispy golden brown on both sides and cooked through.
15. While sauteing gnocchi, in second pan, saute crimini mushrooms, leafy greens and garlic in remaining teaspoon of oil. Add reserved roasted pumpkin to pan near end of cooking, to heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste.
16. Plate gnocchi. Top with sauteed vegetables, and garnish with crisped sage leaves.
1.Hamidpour, Mohsen et al. “Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Medicinal Property of Sage (Salvia) to Prevent and Cure Illnesses such as Obesity, Diabetes, Depression, Dementia, Lupus, Autism, Heart Disease, and Cancer.” Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine 4.2 (2014): 82–88. PMC. Web. 27 July 2017.
2. Opara, Elizabeth I., and Magali Chohan. “Culinary herbs and spices: their bioactive properties, the contribution of polyphenols and the challenges in deducing their true health benefits.” International journal of molecular sciences 15.10 (2014): 19183-19202.