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Some sage advice

I didn’t really think of this as I was whirring sage into gremolata in my food processor, but apparently this herb got its name because it has a beneficial impact on the brain. Think about it: Sage is the root of sagacious, like, sage advice. I’m not sure which came first, the herb or the adjective but sage, which is a lovely musty herb that grows really well in my garden (hurray), is believed to help you fortify your memory. Apparently this is because it helps protect a neurotransmitter in your brain that’s called acethycholine. Rosemary and gingko biloba apparently do the same and some herbal potions designed to help ward off Alzheimer’s disease have a combination of all three.

Sage is the herbal equivalent of the blueberry. It’s a small edible item that is reputed to have astonishing curative powers. Herbal and nutrition Web sites say it was prescribed in ancient times for pretty much every ailment, and the list of unpleasant things it’s supposed to reduce includes sweating, bad breath and menstrual cramps. Sage has a lot of tannins in it (tannins are also used to cure leather), and supposedly this means you can use it to brush your teeth. In  liquid form it can be used as a mouthwash, and is believed to help relieve sore throats (apparently sage helps reduce all types of swelling).

 I was especially intrigued by one report that said if you grind sage up into a paste it can act as a natural bug repellent; unfortunately, to make the paste you have to mix the crushed sage leaves with saliva.

I have a lovely big sage plant in my yard, that I grew from a cutting that someone gave me (really, it was  just a branch that I ripped off and then planted in my yard). In summer and fall, I stuff it under the skin of chickens and chicken breasts before I roast them; and I always put several clusters of sage leaves in a skillet or roasting pan underneath steak.

At the end of the growing season, I used to cut off numerous branches to dry them. I still have sage branches from three years ago. Because, frankly, they get dry and dusty and unappealing, so I never use them.

Last week, my friend Jennifer shared with me some recipes from the book “Under the Tuscan Sun.” One of those recipes is for sage pesto, which my mind immediately converted to sage gremolata — a similar garlic-filled green paste, but without the nuts and cheese.

I’ve been busily grinding up my sage leaves with fresh parsley (I used up all my own parsley and have been buying big lovely bunches of it on Wednesday and Saturday mornings from the tiny farmstand at The White Hart Inn), lemon zest, garlic, a touch of olive oil (just enough to hold the other ingredients together) and freshly ground pepper and coarse salt. It is utterly delicious on roast meats (add it before or after you cook the meat; obviously, it’s going to have more kick if you eat it raw, and it will be more mellow if you roast it). You can also mix it into a vinaigrette salad dressing or add it to a bowl of hummus. I apologize but I never measure before I mix my gremolata, so I can’t offer you a formal recipe. As a general rule, I use a big fat handful of sage leaves (trim off the stems) and about half as much parsley (or less; you don’t want the parsley to overwhelm the sage). I usually add about four largish garlic cloves, peeled and trimmed; and the rind of one lemon. A shallot would probably be an excellent addition, if you really like it zesty. After I’ve processed the ingredients into a paste (I don’t like it ground up too fine; it’s nice when you can still see bits of leaf and lemon rind), I squeeze lemon juice over it all, to help keep it a nice light green. And then I pack it into small plastic storage boxes and pop them in the freezer. Some people apparently freeze their pesto in ice cube trays, and then transfer the frozen cubes to freezer bags.

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