Two of the most iconic and indispensable elements of autumn's kitchen are sage and rosemary. Distilled in their pungent aroma and mellow, woodsy flavor is the very essence of the season.
They're also rife with more symbolism than a Russian novel.
The ancients believed rosemary enhanced memory and used it in marriage rituals. To this day the herb is symbolic both of romance and remembrance. Sage was associated with wisdom, strength, health and even immortality, and was used both as an actual antiseptic in medicine and as a symbolic purifier in religious rituals.
Well, that's all very interesting if one is studying ancient culture or singing catchy old ballads about lost loves. But in our kitchens today, we don't venerate these fragrant plants for the colorful myths of their past so much as for what they bring to our nose and palate.
And to that end, the important thing about these two herbs in fall cooking is that they're not merely the flavor of autumn. They pair naturally with the meats, poultry, and hefty produce that come into their prime this time of the year.
Yes, there was an ancient belief that sage helped with the digestion of fatty meat and poultry, and that may have been one of the reasons for its early pairing with such fall staples as pork, game, goose and turkey. But the reason the combination endures is because the flavors fit so well together.
Before we get into exploring how those flavors are brought into play with one another in the recipes, here are a few culinary facts and tips for getting the most from these herbs.
There are many varieties of both sage and rosemary, but for our purposes we'll stick to the common ones. The first and most important fact about any variety of sage or rosemary is that they're more fragrant and pungent than most other herbs; a little of them goes a long way.
Sage in particular can be a bit pushy, especially after it's been dried. It doesn't like sharing the stage and doesn't play well with some other herbs and spices, although it does pair well with citrus zest, nutmeg and onions. It also gets along pretty well with rosemary and thyme.
As is true of all herbs, drying intensifies its flavor and aroma, and dried sage can be unpleasantly sharp when over-used. A good rule of thumb is to use about one-third the amount called for when substituting dried for fresh.
Rosemary, for all its spiky attitude, is a little bit mellower. It pairs handsomely with most of fall's meat, game, poultry, and produce, especially winter squash and apples. And while drying does concentrate the aromatic oils of this herb, it doesn't sharpen them. When substituting dried rosemary for fresh, cut the amount by half.
Remember that those are general guidelines and not edicts etched in stone: if your dried herbs have been around for a while, they're not going to be as intense as they were when you first dried them or broke the seal of the jar, so let your nose and tongue be the final judges.
Pork Filets with Bacon, Sage, and Lemon
Tenderloins, regardless of whether they're beef, venison, or pork, get their name from the fact that this under-used back-strap muscle is always tender, but it's also the least flavorful meat on the animal. Wrapping it in bacon adds flavor and helps insure that the meat of this lean cut will stay moist. Here, it adds that insurance to pork tenderloins that have been cut into quick-cooking medallions just like beef filet steaks.
1 pair pork tenderloins, (about 2Â½ pounds) trimmed of silver-skin
2 tablespoons chopped fresh, or 1 tablespoon crumbled dried, sage
Grated zest from 1 lemon
Salt and whole black pepper in a peppermill
About 6 strips extra-thick-cut bacon
Â½ cup minced shallots or yellow onions
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 cup medium dry Madeira, sherry, or Marsala
1. Wipe tenderloins dry. Cut off tapered ends and set aside for another dish. Cut remainder into 1-inch thick rounds. Rub all sides with sage, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Cut bacon to fit and wrap each fillet. Secure with 2 toothpicks or twine. Heat lidded saute or braising pan over medium heat. Add fillets and brown on all sides, about 4 minutes altogether. Remove from pan.
2. Add shallots and saute until golden. Add garlic, toss, and return filets to pan. Add wine, cover, and simmer until just pink at center, about 5 to 8 minutes.
3. Remove pork to a platter. Raise heat under pan, bring cooking juices to boil, stirring and scraping pan, and boil until lightly thickened. Pour over filets and serve at once.
Pasta with Mushrooms, Sage, and Rosemary
This sauce pairs well with so many different pasta shapes from long noodles such as linguine or spaghetti, to corkscrew-shaped fusilli, to short, tubes like penne, and even fresh egg pastas like tagliatelle and fettuccine.
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 pound brown (crimini or baby bella) mushrooms or a mix of crimini and shiitake
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, peeled and minced
1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
Â½ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
1 pound fusilli, penne, linguine, or spaghetti pasta
About 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
1. Put dried mushrooms in heat-proof bowl. Bring 1 cup water to boil and pour over them. Let steep 15-30 minutes, then lift out of soaking liquid, dipping to loosen sand, and roughly chop. Strain soaking liquid through undyed paper towel and set aside. Wipe fresh mushrooms clean with dry cloth or paper towel. Quarters small ones, cut larger ones in chunks same size as quarters or thickly slice. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in 6-8 quart pot over medium high heat.
2. Put oil and shallot in large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Saute until translucent and colored pale gold, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, sage, and rosemary and toss until fragrant. Raise heat to medium-high, add both kinds of mushrooms and toss to coat the fat. Cook, tossing often, until beginning to color. Season with salt and pepper and add wine, stirring until it loses sharp, alcoholic aroma. Add mushroom soaking liquid, bring to boil, and cook until liquids are evaporated and thick, stirring often. Turn off heat.
3. When water is boiling, stir in handful of salt and pasta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, using package directions as a rough guide and beginning to check 1 minute shy of recommended cooking time. When almost done, gently reheat sauce over medium low heat. When pasta is ready, drain, immediately toss with sauce and 1/2 cup cheese. Serve at once, with remaining cheese passed separately.
White Beans with Sage and Rosemary
Hearty bean dishes seem to always be at their best in the fall, and this one, which takes advantage of both rosemary and sage, pairs handsomely with our favorite autumnal main dishes from simple roast chicken or turkey to pot roast and braised pork chops.
Canned beans are never quite as good as dried beans that you've rehydrated and cooked yourself, but you can make this with 4 cups of canned beans if you're pressed for time. Omit step 1 and put the beans with their packing liquid in a saucepan with 1 of the cloves of garlic and the herb sprigs. Bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce heat to a simmer, and simmer gently 5-10 minutes. Turn off the heat, discard the garlic and herb sprigs, and proceed with step 3.
1/2 pound dried cannellini (white kidney) or great northern beans
2 large cloves garlic, lightly crushed and peeled
1 sprig sage plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 sprig rosemary, plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
About 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small shallot, peeled and chopped
Whole black pepper in a mill
1. Pick over beans to remove stones and blemished beans, rinse well, and put in large bowl. Cover by at least 1 inch with water and let soak 4-8 hours or overnight. Drain.
2. Put beans in heavy-bottomed pot and cover with water by at least 1 inch. Bring slowly to boil over medium heat, skimming foam as it rises. Add 1 crushed but whole clove garlic and sprigs of both herbs and adjust heat to slow simmer. Simmer until beans are nearly tender, about 1-to-1-1/2-hours. Season well with salt and continue cooking until very tender, about 1-1/2-to-2 hours. Turn off heat and let cool. Remove and discard garlic and herb sprigs. Let cool.
3. When ready to finish beans, drain off but reserve cooking liquid. Wipe out pan and film bottom with oil. Add shallot and turn on heat to medium. Saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, mince remaining clove garlic. Add to pan with chopped sage and rosemary and toss until fragrant, about 1/2 minute. Add beans and toss to coat evenly. Add enough reserved cooking liquid to moisten and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to boil and adjust heat to simmer. Cook until beans are heated through and liquid is reduced, thick, and creamy. Turn off heat, taste and adjust seasonings, and serve warm.
Chicken Scaloppine with Garlic, Rosemary, and White Wine
Italian cooks often season roast chicken with garlic and rosemary. Here, they add the savor of a roasted bird to a simple scaloppine that goes together in just minutes.
2 large, boneless chicken breast halves (about 10-12 ounces each) or 4 small (weighing no more than 6 ounces each)
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
1-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
Instant blending flour in a shaker
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium or 1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
1. Trim chicken breasts and pat dry. Carefully split in half horizontally into 2 cutlets. Season well with salt and pepper and sprinkle with all but 1 teaspoon rosemary.
2. Heat butter and oil in heavy-bottomed skillet or saute pan over medium heat. When melted and hot, but not browning, dust all sides of chicken with instant blending flour, shake off excess, and slip into pan, skin-side down. Brown well on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Remove chicken to plate and keep warm.
3. Add garlic to pan and saute until pale gold, about 1 minute. Add remaining rosemary, stir, and add wine. Bring to boil, stirring and scraping well to loosen cooking residue. Cook until slightly reduced. Add chicken cutlets and any juices that may have accumulated in chicken platter. Simmer until chicken is just cooked through and sauce is lightly thickened, about 2 minutes longer. Remove chicken to warm platter and pour sauce over. Serve at once.
Roast Beef Tenderloin with Balsamic Glaze
Here, rosemary and balsamic vinegar add an autumnal richness to the retiring flavor of beef tenderloin. This is a great pull-out-the-stops company recipe for a really special occasion.
3 pounds center-cut beef tenderloin
4-5 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil
Whole black pepper in a mill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, plus 1 whole sprig
4 large cloves garlic, finely minced
10-12 very thin slices prosciutto, preferably Prosciutto di Parma
1-1/2 cups dry white wine or dry white vermouth
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1. If beef has not been trimmed by butcher, trim excess fat and remove silver-skin. Rub all sides with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Season with pepper, chopped rosemary and 3 cloves of garlic, patting into surface. Wrap completely with prosciutto and secure in 5-6 places with twine.
2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly brush tenderloin with more oil and roast to an internal temperature of 115 degrees (medium-rare), about 25-to-30 minutes. It will continue cooking as it rests, so don't overcook. Remove meat to platter, loosely cover with foil, and let rest 15 minutes.
3. Pour off but reserve any pan juices from roasting pan. Put pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil and remaining garlic. Saute until garlic is colored pale gold, add vermouth and deglaze pan, stirring and scraping to loosen cooking residue. Add whole sprig rosemary and pan juices. Bring to boil and cook, stirring often, until reduced and lightly thickened. Add accumulated juices from roast platter and simmer until thick. Remove and discard rosemary sprig. Whisk in 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, bring to simmer, and let thicken slightly. Turn off heat. Whisk in butter and pour into warm bowl or sauceboat.
4. To serve, thinly slice beef, drizzle with a little sauce, and serve with remaining sauce passed separately.