Sage is a herb I return to at this time of year. It partners all the things I want to eat now: cheesy polenta, potato cakes, fried eggs, roast squash, plump gnocchi. As a young chef, I learned how to fry a sage leaf until properly crisp. It is a simple but precise little job, so I have included it here as a recipe in its own right, with some things I love to top with it. Sage advice, you might say.
Potato gnocchi with greens and sage (pictured above)
Gnocchi may sound like it’s laborious to make, but it is easier than it seems, and these light little dumplings bathed in buttery sage are worth a little loving labour.
Prep 10 min
Cook 2 hr 20 min
1.5kg medium floury potatoes (such as maris piper)
50g rock salt
70g ‘00’ pasta flour
1 good grating fresh nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 small bunch crisp sage leaves (see below)
25g butter or olive oil
1 head (250g) cavolo nero or winter greens
50g parmesan or vegetarian Italian hard cheese
Zest of 1 lemon
Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Wash and pat dry the potatoes, then pierce all over with a fork. Scatter the rock salt into a roasting tin, sit the potatoes on top and bake for one and a half to two hours, until soft. When the potatoes are ready, take them out of the oven and leave to cool until you can handle them.
It’s important you dothe next step while they are still warm – but be careful not to burn yourself. Halve the potatoes, scoop out the flesh, mash the potato flesh with a potato ricer or by passing it through a coarse sieve, then put on a clean work surface and sprinkle over the flour. Season well and grate over the nutmeg. Make a well in the centre, pour in the egg and gradually work to a soft dough. Take care not to overwork the mixture though: just knead until everything is just-combined or the gnocchi will be tough.
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Take a teaspoon of the mixture and drop it into the boiling water to check it holds together. If it doesn’t, you may need to add a little more flour and test your dough again.
When you’re happy, cut the dough into four pieces, roll each into long sausage shapes about 2cm thick, then cut each sausage into 3cm lengths. You can cook your gnocchi straight away or store them in the fridge on a tray for up to 24 hours.
Follow the recipe below to fry the sage leaves until crisp, then drain on kitchen paper. Put the sage pan back on a medium heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil and the butter, then add the greens and cook for four to five minutes, stirring until wilted.
Reduce the pan of water to a brisk simmer. To cook the gnocchi, drop in batches into the pan and cook until they rise to the surface – about two and a half minutes. Use a slotted spoon to add the gnocchi straight into the greens pan and leave to take on some of the butter. Save some of the pasta cooking water.
Finely grate most of the parmesan and lemon zest over the gnocchi, toss well, add 100ml cooking water and reduce to a thick sauce. Divide the gnocchi between two to four plates, grate over the remaining parmesan and finish with a little drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Perfectly crisp sage leaves
This is really a technique rather than a recipe, and one I do on repeat. I use butter and oil, because I like the taste as the butter begins to brown, but olive oil will work in place of the butter.
Prep 5 min
Cook 1 min
Makes a jarful
1 bunch fresh sage
1 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp butter, or 3 tbsp olive oil
Pinch the sage leaves off their stems. Heat a pan over a medium high heat, add the oil and heat a little before adding the butter.
When the butter has melted and begins to sizzle, add the sage leaves – in batches so you don’t crowd the pan – and cook until they are dark brown and crisp – this should take 20-30 seconds. You can turn the leaves carefully with tongs if you need to.
The leaves will turn a deeper, darker green when they are done. Once you see this, use a slotted spoon to transfer them quickly to a plate lined with kitchen roll, and sprinkle generously with coarse salt.
Ways to serve
• With fried eggs and yoghurt on toast
• On top of any pasta
• On top of cheesy polenta
• On top of buttery mash
• Scattered over roast vegetables or potatoes