Herbaceous Part 1: Fistful of Sage

On three sides of my house, herbs grow wildly. To the east, a swath of spearmint runs the length of the garage. To the west, stalks of sage cluster around the chimney and tarragon plants crawl along the flower bed. To the south, three varieties of rosemary have grown twisted together, forming a spiny, fragrant hedge. In a planting bed on the southwest corner of the property, a large thyme plant makes a nice purple flower embroidered rug for the soil.

IMG_0112Minty fresh.

IMG_0102Rosemary hedge.

IMG_0106Carpet of thyme.

IMG_0109Pebbly, fuzzy sage.

IMG_0110Pardon the ragged/muddy tarragon. This was taken the morning after days(!) of severe thunderstorms.

Left on its own on the north-facing patio is a plastic cauldron of chives, which my mother refuses to eat because she’s convinced a raccoon has probably pissed in the pot.

IMG_0114Cauldron of chives. This used to be the vessel we stored candy in for Halloween, like 10 years ago.

With all this flippin’ verdant herbage just sprouting everywhere, I’ve decided to try and highlight fresh herbs in my cooking. This is the first part in a series titled “Herbaceous.”

We start with sage, the stalwart herb cornerstone of Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t think of sage too often outside of Thanksgiving, which is a shame because I adore the plant. It has such a lovely crumpled feeling and faded minty musk. It goes really well with mushrooms, which is what led me to this risotto.

This was such a satisfying dinner. I urge you to give it a try.

Mushroom & Sage Risotto, serves 8 with 1/2-ish cup portion each

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Ingredients

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

1/2 cup white wine, optional (See note on #2 in the method.)

5 cups vegetable stock/broth

3 Tbs. unsalted butter

16 oz sliced mushrooms (I like button or cremini because they’re easy to find and affordable.)

1 yellow or white onion, chopped (Use whatever size onion you like. I love onion and tend to use a medium or large one.)

1 clove garlic, grated or minced

1 generous tablespoon fresh sage leaves, chopped (If using dried sage, start with 1 teaspoon and add more to taste. Dried herbs can be stronger with more concentrated flavor.)

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Method

1. In a small saucepan, heat the stock/broth over medium heat. In a large dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes. Add the sage and cook for another minute. Add the dry rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to coat each grain in the butter and veggie mixture.

2. Add the wine and cook, stirring regularly, until absorbed. (Note: If you don’t have wine or if you don’t like the taste wine imparts to food, just skip it–I usually do–and either use water or extra stock. If you use wine, I’d opt for a dry wine instead of something fruity.) Add the warm stock 2 ladles at a time. Stirring constantly, add the next round of stock when the previous has been absorbed by the rice. This is the labor intensive part of risotto making. It’ll likely take about 20 minutes.

3. When the stock is gone and the rice is cooked but still has a bit of bite to it, turn off the heat on the stove. Stir in the cheese and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve as a main with a side salad of bitter greens dressed with a vinaigrette, or serve as a decadent side to pork chops.

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