Sage is one of the more powerful herbs in the cook’s armoury, so it works brilliantly with other strong flavours
Elizabeth David, one of the great sages of food writing, was no fan of sage: “It deadens the food with its musty, dried-blood scent,” she wrote in Summer Cooking (Penguin, £9.99). Sage is a strong herb, true, so it can elicit a similarly strong response, but I’m pretty sure David was talking about dried sage, which can indeed be very powerful and musty. Fresh sage leaves, on the other hand, all felt-like and smooth, have a glorious, lemony scent and tend to enliven whatever they’re paired with. They retain that power and slightly musty notes, but do so in a way that works harmoniously, rather than dominating a dish.
Sage works best, then, with strong-tasting ingredients that can hold their own against it, which is why anchovies, liver or lemon are the classic pairings. For a quick, simple yet hugely satisfying meal, I often add a few leaves to a small pan of melted butter or hot olive oil, then drizzle it over stuffed pasta. This always feels like a very wise supper decision indeed.