Wholesome soup with a sprinkling of sage

Sage has a soft, yet sweet savoury flavour. It has also been prized for its health-promoting qualities for millennia. Its reputation as a panacea is evident even in its scientificname Salvia officinalis, derived from the Latin word, salvere, which means “to be saved”. Sage leaves are greyish green in colour. They are lance-shaped and feature prominent veins running throughout.

Sage is available fresh or dried in either whole, rubbed (lightly ground) or powder form.

Sage is native to countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Whenever possible, choose fresh sage over the dried form since it is superior in flavour.

The leaves should look fresh and be a vibrant green-grey. They should be free from darks spots or yellowing.

To store fresh sage leaves, carefully wrap them in a damp paper towel and place inside a loosely closed plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator where it should keep fresh for several days.

Dried sage should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months.

Since the flavour of sage is very delicate, it is best to add the herb near the end of the cooking process so that it will retain its maximum essence.

Like rosemary, sage contains a variety of volatile oils, flavonoids, and phenolic acids.

The rosmarinic acid in sage and rosemary also functions as an antioxidant. The leaves and stems of the sage plant also contain antioxidant enzymes.Now, for a recipe.

Butternut Squash and Sage Soup

Ingredients

Butternut squash: around 1 kg

White onion: 1, medium-sized

Unsalted butter or olive oil: 1 tbsp

Honey: 1 tbsp

Sage leaves: 6-8

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable stock: 500 ml

Fresh cream: 75-80 ml

Method: Preheat the oven to 400 degree F (200 degree C). Prick the squash with a fork and place it whole on a flat pan.

Roast for 45 minutes in the oven until the squash softens. Cool the squash, then cut it into half and remove the seeds. Peel the halves and cut into 2-inch chunks and set aside. Peel, trim and coarsely chop the onion and set aside. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. When it starts to brown, add the onion and sauté for about four to five minutes until it becomes translucent and starts to brown.

Add the honey to the onions and cook until it bubbles. Add the squash chunks and sage. Season with salt and pepper. Add enough stock to cover the squash by an inch. Bring the soup to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook the soup for 45 minutes to an hour until the onions and squash turn very tender. Add more liquid if necessary to keep the squash submerged. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool. Puree the soup in a blender. Strain through a coarse strainer if you want a smoother soup. Season it with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the finished soup back to a boil. Ladle it into bowls and serve with a spiral of fresh cream.

BHOLANATH JHA

Chef de Partie, Taj Connemara

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