What’s her chops

Rachel Roddy’s pork and sage

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Rachel Roddy Rachel Roddy is an award­win­ning food writer based in Rome and the author of Five Quar­ters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome (Salt­yard) @rache­leats

There is an an­cient phrase that says, “Why should a man die who has sage in his gar­den?” I would like to al­ter this: “Why should a man die who has sage in his gar­den, or in a pot on his, or her, kitchen shelf?” Ac­tu­ally, as I write this, far from home, the plant is in the sink. The inch of wa­ter has prob­a­bly long been drunk, so the dusty branches and mole­skin leaves will be parched and crisp. The woman may not die, but in her hands, the plant might.

The generic name for sage, Salvia of­fic­i­nalis, is de­rived from the Latin

sal­vere, to save or cure – hence the proverb. The an­cient Ro­mans used sage as a gen­eral tonic, believing its prop­er­ties to be many, from sooth­ing sore throats, joints and snake bites to sharp­en­ing minds. A me­dieval tra­di­tion says the growth of sage in the gar­den is a sign of the pros­per­ity of the house. If my plant stranded in the sink is any­thing to go by, our fu­ture is look­ing parched.

Sage flour­ished on the sunny side of the gar­den of the house I grew up in, de­spite the vig­or­ous games that took place over it. Our cat, too, was drawn to the soft, vel­vet-like leaves and would curl up in the mid­dle of the plant. As the old­est, I was en­trusted with scis­sors and sent out to pick herbs. Mint was my favourite; I would roll the leaves be­tween my sweaty palms and take great sniffs. Rose­mary I liked for its pine tree-like nee­dles, sage for its sil­very-green leaves and its smell re­call­ing moth­balls and places closed for too long (ie my grandma’s wardrobe). The sage picked was prob­a­bly des­tined for stuff­ing, which I liked very much, even though the as­so­ci­a­tion was so set in my mind I could taste wardrobe in stuff­ing too.

When I smell sage, there is still wardrobe, but in the best way, as I love and ap­pre­ci­ate its pow­er­ful, al­most meaty scent. I use it nearly as much as I use rose­mary, basil and oregano. It is an ob­vi­ous thing to say, I know, but it is im­pres­sive how the na­ture of a dish – braised meat, for ex­am­ple – can be al­tered com­pletely by the use of a dif­fer­ent herb.

A de­li­cious way to eat sage leaves is to swish them through bat­ter then fry them. The com­bi­na­tion of crisp out­side giv­ing way to ten­der leaf in­side is so mar­vel­lous. Sage sautéed in but­ter for filled pasta, or sim­mered with white beans, are prob­a­bly the most ev­ery­day ways I use it. Pump­kin and sage too, are an­other Fred and Ginger of this kitchen. Then there is sage and pork, no­tably Mar­cella Hazan’s pan-roasted pork ribs, which I have adapted to chops, al­most as loved and made as her but­ter and tomato sauce and her bean soup.

Like so many recipes, this is more a way than a spe­cific set of in­struc­tions to be fol­lowed slav­ishly, and quan­ti­ties are flex­i­ble ac­cord­ing to taste. It is straight­for­ward: brown the pork; add sage, gar­lic and, in my case, ju­niper for its woody nip; then add a great whoosh of wine and let heat, time and the odd prod do its work. As I un­der­stand it, this is clas­sic Ital­ian cook­ing: a stove­top sim­mer/braise that leaves the meat ten­der and cre­ates the sim­plest sauce. I of­ten serve these chops with bread or mashed potato, but on this oc­ca­sion I used po­lenta.

I took Mar­cella and Anna Del Conte’s ad­vice for the po­lenta – two firm and trusted voices swirling around the kitchen along with the win­ning scent of pork and sage. I wel­come more ad­vice if you have any. At first I thought: bug­ger, noth­ing good will come of this; too much wa­ter, not enough po­lenta. But then, like a good plot or a pan of cus­tard, the po­lenta be­gan to thicken. Po­lenta does re­quire you stir, and stir for a good while, but mu­sic and a glass of wine help turn a task into a good thing. You could, of course, use in­stant po­lenta, which saves time. Once ready, for the po­lenta

Add sage, gar­lic and ju­niper for its woody nip; then add a great whoosh of wine and let heat and time do its work

to re­main soft and creamy, you must move swiftly, putting blobs on plates and pork on top. Like a soft, grainy pil­low, po­lenta is an ex­cel­lent part­ner for pork cooked this way, even more for all the sticky, sage-scented juices that curl round the po­lenta like a moat, be­fore be­ing soaked up. I just wish I had had the fore­sight to scrape the left­over po­lenta into a tray, ready to cut into neat squares to fry later, rather than leav­ing it to set firm into a pan­shaped lump: not very sage of me.

Pan-roasted pork chops with sage, ju­niper and po­lenta

Serves 4 4 tbsp olive oil 4 pork chops or 1kg sin­gle ribs 2 gar­lic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced 10 sage leaves, 4 of them chopped 4 ju­niper berries, gen­tly crushed (op­tional) 250ml dry white wine Salt 250g white or yel­low po­lenta

1 In a fry­ing or sauté pan with a lid, warm the olive oil over a medium flame and brown the chops un­til they are coloured deeply on both sides.

2 Add the gar­lic, sage leaves and ju­niper to the pan and stir, then add the wine and a pinch of salt. Al­low the wine to sim­mer briskly, then re­duce the heat to a very low sim­mer, half cover the pan with the lid and cook for 40 min­utes, turn­ing the chops/ribs ev­ery now and then, un­til they are ten­der and the meat is start­ing to come away from the bone and the liq­uid rich and sticky. If at any point the pan looks too dry, add a lit­tle wa­ter.

3 In a heavy-based pan, bring 1.3 litres of wa­ter to a sim­mer, then add a pinch of salt and the po­lenta, sprin­kling it grad­u­ally, all the time whisk­ing. Re­duce the heat to medium low, and stir, in a fig­ure of eight with a long wooden spoon for 30-40 min­utes, by which time the po­lenta will thicken. It is ready when it is thick and creamy and pulling away from the edges of the pan. Taste for salt. Serve the pork on the po­lenta, pour­ing the sticky juices over it.

Cook’s tip Herbs in pots keep bet­ter than in bunches. In the ab­sence of a gar­den or win­dow box, keep fresh herbs stem down in a glass of wa­ter cov­ered by a plas­tic bag or, bet­ter still, a shower cap, and put in the fridge.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.