I don’t always have the perfect plan up my sleeve. In fact, what I do in the kitchen (or in life for that matter) isn’t always flawless. Because I cook for a living most of my friends and family assume my preferred place is at a marble countertop with a chef’s knife in hand. I readily admit to feeling incredible happiness in the midst of a collection of colorful vegetables. I can also be found passing away the hours exploring flower gardens and farms in almost every country I visit. Kitchens and gardens are most definitely my happy places.
Despite my quirky habits I am driven by what inspires most of us — the desire to eat well without devoting my entire day to its preparation. For this reason and to this end I like to create my own flavor makers. Homemade herbal salts, infused vinegar and spice mixes are truly my favorite kitchen tools. I have learned this and so much more from my work in professional kitchens; preparation in advance is everything. It makes life’s surprises in and outside the kitchen so much easier to fathom. Whether I have few or many ingredients — indefinite or absolutely no time at all — my homemade pots and jars make cooking almost effortless and eating much more than worthwhile.
My favorite cupboard essential list starts with homemade sage salt. Ideally speaking, I try to always have rosemary salt, lemon zest pepper and honey vinegar at hand. Life is really good when I have spice jars filled with crushed pink pepper and fennel as well as a medley of dried mint mixed with dill and parsley. With a bottle of Sicilian holy oil made with oregano and spicy peppers and freshly made raspberry vinegar on the shelf, I have a perfect pantry picture. I can mix and blend indefinitely – especially when pungent garlic, shallots and red onions fill the baskets in my kitchen as well.
A well-stocked pantry of herbal salts is like having more than one bottle of perfume to choose from. Below an explanation, rather than a recipe, of how to make fresh sage salt. The other mixtures I have just described will most surely appear in my recipe writing journal — as slowly but surely I continue to write in this diary of life.
- 20 fresh sage leaves
- 20 grams of Himalaya mineral or Celtic sea salt.
Pick the sage leaves from the stalks. Save the stalks to make a broth. Mix the sage with the mineral or sea salt of your choice. Cut the sage leaves on a wooden cutting board into fine ribbons with a very sharp knife. Sprinkle the salt over the leaves and chop the sage ribbons slowly into the salt. This will take just a few minutes as the herbs will seem to dissolve into the salt on the board. The sage salt is ready when the leaves have turned into bright green, grassy crumbs.
Put the sage salt in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Save it on a cupboard shelf that is not exposed to heat or direct sunlight. The brightness of the green will fade after a week or so into a fern color. The salt keeps well for many months. Its pungent earthiness will mellow with time.
Use sage salt as a rub for meats and fish. Sprinkle it over fresh pasta, adding a grassy olive oil and some capers. Roast pumpkin with sage salt and red pepper flakes. Toss new potatoes with it, adding lots of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley. Season grilled mushrooms with sage salt, adding a bit of truffle oil.
I recently had the honor of preparing a summer garden tasting at the Fremont Township Community Garden with Lindsey Shifley. The dishes we prepared in advance went quickly and I found myself with empty platters and a burning need to make something new for the crowd of visitors. With salt, sage and squash within hands reach, I made zucchini noodles with lemon and red pepper and topped it off with sage salt in no time at all. This spontaneous creation turned out to be the favorite of the day.
More on this and the most beautiful organic garden I have ever visited is to come, I promise! Special thanks to Alicia Dodd — choreographer and gardener at this wonderful place and to Lindsey, my soffritto sister.