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Take a Fresh Look at Fresh Sage

Sage, especially dried sage, is synonymous with Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing. But in recent years, fresh sage has shown up in many restaurant dishes. Basil had to have a little competition.

More than that, fresh sage perks up foods that have a less than robust--but not necessarily bland--flavor.

Pork, veal, cheese, beans, pasta, potatoes, squash and onions, as well as poultry, respond to a shower of fresh sage. Its slightly pungent, bitter quality provides interesting definition and an enhancing taste.

Available in most supermarkets, fresh sage seems to hold up a few days longer than many other fresh herbs. Its narrow, oval, gray-green leathery leaves should be firm and it should have a fresh color and aroma. Refrigerate up to four days, wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel and sealed in an airtight plastic bag. From my experience, it’s an herb that stands out best when it’s added as a final flourish, just before serving.

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Consider the advantages of sage in pasta with prosciutto, cucumbers and peas, in which the herb provides the flavor high note. In a pork loin roast with balsamic vinegar and sage, the herb rounds out the dish. Roasted acorn squash wedges with allspice and honey need sage to accent the intrinsic flavor of the squash. These dishes show that sage is an herb that deserves wider use. Try them, then experiment with sage.

ROASTED SQUASH WITH ALLSPICE, HONEY AND SAGE

These bronzed squash wedges look great. They can be used as garnish on a platter with roasted poultry, game or meat or served as a vegetable, attractively mounded in a bowl. The hard skin of the squash is edible; it becomes very tender during roasting.

1 tablespoon oil

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2 large acorn squashes, split, seeds and membrane removed, each half cut into 4 wedges

3 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

3 tablespoons orange juice

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1/2 teaspoon allspice

2 teaspoons minced fresh sage

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Sage sprigs

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Oil shallow baking pan lined with foil. Place in 400-degree oven until oil is hot. Add squash in single layer and roast about 35 minutes.

Combine honey, brown sugar, orange juice and allspice in small dish. After 35 minutes, drizzle honey mixture over squash. Shake pan to be sure squash is coated with honey mixture. Use spatula to turn squash. Bake until squash is just tender, not mushy, about 15 to 25 minutes more, depending on size of squash.

Sprinkle with minced sage and salt and pepper to taste and serve on platter or mound in serving bowl; garnish with sage sprigs. Serve hot.

Makes 6 servings.

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Each serving contains about:

130 calories; 55 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 29 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 2.03 grams fiber.

CAPELLINI WITH PROSCIUTTO, CUCUMBER AND PEAS

1/4 pound capellini or angel hair pasta

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2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for passing

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 tablespoon minced fresh sage

3 ounces thin-sliced prosciutto, cut into thin strips

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1 cup diced, peeled and seeded cucumber

1 cup frozen tiny peas

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cook capellini in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes.

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While pasta cooks, combine cheese, cream, sage and prosciutto in large shallow pasta bowl.

When pasta is nearly cooked, add cucumber and peas to boiling water. As soon as water returns to boil, remove from heat. Drain capellini mixture, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water, and immediately transfer to pasta bowl with sauce. Toss well to mix, adding reserved pasta liquid if pasta is too dry. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Pass extra grated cheese in separate dish.

Makes 2 servings.

Each serving, without extra cheese, contains about:

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426 calories; 894 mg sodium; 42 mg cholesterol; 12 grams fat; 58 grams carbohydrates; 22 grams protein; 2.65 grams fiber.

ROAST PORK WITH BALSAMIC VINEGAR AND SAGE

Serve the roast with parsleyed potatoes and buttered green beans.

1 (3-pound) boneless center-cut pork roast, trimmed of all but very thin layer of surface fat

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3/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

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1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon hot sauce

3/4 teaspoon minced garlic

1/3 cup beef broth

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1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon minced sage

Sage sprigs

Season entire surface of pork with salt and pepper to taste. Put in shallow roasting pan lined with foil. Roast, uncovered, at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

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While pork is roasting, combine vinegar, brown sugar, mustard, hot sauce and garlic in small bowl to make basting liquid. Reserve 3 tablespoons for sauce.

After 30 minutes of roasting, pour off drippings so fat has time to separate out from pan juices. Baste meat with vinegar mixture. Roast until meat registers 170 degrees, about 35 minutes more, basting meat often with vinegar mixture. Transfer meat to warm platter and tent with foil until sauce is finished.

Bring reserved 3 tablespoons vinegar mixture, beef broth and skimmed pan juices to boil in small non-stick skillet. Simmer, uncovered, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in butter until melted. Taste and adjust seasoning and hot sauce. Keep warm.

Transfer meat to cutting board. Slice meat into thin slices. Arrange slices, overlapping, on platter. Add any meat juices to sauce, then drizzle sauce over meat. Sprinkle with minced sage. Garnish platter with sage sprigs. Serve hot.

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Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Each of 6 servings contains about:

239 calories; 582 mg sodium; 96 mg cholesterol; 11 grams fat; 4 grams carbohydrates; 27 grams protein; 0.01 gram fiber.


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