Please tell me I’m not the only person who buys big bundles of herbs and doesn’t know what to do with them. Am I? Whenever I am at the farmers market, I am so tempted: the funky basils, so aromatic; huge bundles of thyme, so twiggy; broad flat leaves of parsley; spindly, waxy rosemary needles; mint bunches, sweet and summery … I am powerless in their presence and I always say yes. A week later at home, after having indulged and enjoyed what I can, I find myself struggling to think of a new way to use up the last of the herbs lest I have to compost the remainder. Heaven forfend.
So I have made it my mission to hunt for recipes that call for – even better, that feature – herbs. Pestos, gremolatas, infusions, juices, (mojitos, anyone?) … they all get filed away under the “What To Do With All Those Herbs” category in my head.
Sage is one such irresistible herb and I always have more than I need. The smell intoxicates me and I am compelled to simply carry it with me all day long or, what the heck, just wear it so the aroma never leaves my side. Alas, I have decided to focus on actually cooking with it. And so the simplest solutions are brilliant for a reason: sage and winter squash or pumpkin – of course, I don’t care how unoriginal that is, it’s delicious. Sage in a stuffing or dressing for Thanksgiving – also of course. A delicious mainstay at the feasts of many.
But earlier this year I found myself with an abundance of sage in the spring. Every time I smelled it I thought of Thanksgiving and butternut squashes but I could do nothing of the sort with it at that time of year. So I got creative. I went looking for desserts.
I am drawn to sweet applications of herbs traditionally found only in savory dishes. Like the basil ice cream I had once at Justus Drugstore or the rosemary caramel chocolate at Christopher Elbow. In my own kitchen, I regularly make Rosemary Remembrance Cake from Nigella Lawson’s book Feast; now when I get rosemary in my CSA share, I don’t think potatoes, I think cake. And I don’t just think cake, I think, “Cake!!!”
So thanks to Nigella’s initial inspiration and that abundance of springtime sage, I found my way to a Rustic Sage Cake. It is a fantastic showcase for the herb. It’s the headline, not just a side-show. And – like lavender, which is good in chocolate chip cookies (available at Eden Alley) – the clean flavors of sage give an otherwise rich dessert a bit of reprieve, a breath of fresh air.
Lately, in addition to a too-many-herbs problem, I have been having a too-much-bread problem. Please tell me I’m not the only one who ends up with lots of left-over, day-old bread in need of eating soon. Am I? Well, it happens. And it’s happened enough that I’m starting to get good at bread pudding. Recently when I realized that I had too much bread AND too much sage AND too much rosemary … I had an idea. Sweet Herb Bread Pudding. These are the secrets of my kitchen: poor meal planning and lack of self- control at the farmers markets. Which results in overages. Overages that coincide quite deliciously.
I am making this dish now at the end of the year…a time when it feels good to assess what you have, clear out the extras, enjoy abundance and richness, and then start the new year out right with something clean and fresh.
Happy Eating and Happy New Year!