A terrace in Milan overflowing with decorative pots, a stretch of green field sidling up to sliding glass doors in Nerviano, at the bottom of the steps in a Parisian backyard, a narrow strip of balcony in stone and ironwork in Nantes; tiny plants cupped between two hands and enormous brushes of sage flowing; leaves tiny and delicate, leaves vast and plump. Thriving.
Just a step outside, a hand stretched out a window, no exertion at all, I pluck a leave or three from the plant, pinch just at the base of the willowy stem. I cradle a handful of leaves in my palm delicately or drop them one by one into my apron gathered up into a makeshift basket. Rosemary, hardier, unyielding, more resistant to my touch, must be snipped off with scissors before joining the sage. Sage being so much more willing to follow me into the kitchen and become some divine creation. Feathery soft to rosemary’s spiky, prickly personality.
We paired a deep, emotionally wrought, wildly vibrant burnt orange with a softly opulent, quietly subdued sage. When the sun swept through the room, those orange walls cried out in fury or flaunted a pumpkin enthusiasm, yet retained its holy orangeness through thick and thin. The sage walls, as opposite in personality as in position, glowed like a bashful schoolgirl winning a prize. Suffused with light, the walls flushed a golden warmth. When the sun moved across the room, as the day waned, the walls were permeated with muted sage.
And he a handsome pigtail wore;
But wondered much and sorrowed more
Because it hung behind him.”
- William Makepeace Thackeray
Sois sage! Fait pas de bêtises! This lighthearted warning from parent to child to behave, be a good child, not to get into mischief can be heard morning, noon and night in every French home. The expectation, the admonition, the warning lies smoldering just underneath the surface: “Study hard, behave in school, follow the rules and listen to your elders” swathed in humor and kind words.
Sois sage! From lover to lover, wife to husband, husband to wife, a peck on the cheek as the one shows the other out the door. Sois sage! Behave! The phrase hangs between the two of them, part recommendation, part sage counsel, part warning, half playful teasing, half implied judgment. Eyes meet, daring the other to lean in the wrong direction, forcing an innocent grin. Sois sage!
Sage comme une image! As good as gold. Or maybe just a dot too good… is the innocence exuded for real or simply a front, a painted face? Sage comme une image! Seen and not heard. The picture of innocence. As still and quiet as a photograph.
Warm and tender, scones are best known as teatime snacks slathered with butter, jam and clotted cream. Added a flavorful smoked cheese and pairing it with sage and spring onions, creates a wonderful treat to accompany a soup or salad lunch, a grilled meat dinner or a cheese and salumi platter for a scrumptious late afternoon wine party. Sage scones will work wonderfully with any full-flavored hard cheese such as cheddar, smoked cheeses or nutty gruyère, comté or similar.
JAMIE & ILVA’S SAGE, SMOKED CHEESE & SPRING ONION SCONES
3 cups (380 g) all purpose flour or 3 ¼ cups (390 g) pastry/cake flour
1 tsp sugar
¼ cup (45 g) non-fat dry milk powder or buttermilk powder
¾ tsp salt
1 Tbs baking powder
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup (150 ml) milk, buttermilk or water *
8 Tbs (120 g) cold butter
3-4 tsp sage leaves, chopped
9-10 tbs grated smoked cheese
1-2 trimmed and thinly sliced spring onion/scallions, optional
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp cold water for egg wash
More grated smoked cheese or grated Parmesan cheese for topping
* Milk gives slightly richer scone, buttermilk a slightly more tender, higher-rising scone with a touch of tang.
Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Line one or two baking sheets with parchment.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients, including the chopped sage, grated cheese and sliced spring onion. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla until well blended.
Cut the cold butter into cubes. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients using only the tips of your fingers, or cut the butter in using a pastry cutter – this fat between the thin layers of flour is what gives the light, tender, flaky texture to the scone. Work quickly and rub until the mixture resembles course sand, but making sure you stop before the butter is completely rubbed in (there should still be tiny pieces of butter).
Add the lightly beaten eggs and gently blend into the flour/butter mixture, avoiding over mixing or kneading; stir just until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Over working this dough will give you tough scones.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and fold and gather it together just until it homogeneous. Cut the dough into two pieces and push each into a roundish shape. Place each piece of dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and gently and lightly press or roll into a disk about 7” (about 18 cm) and ½” (1 cm) thick – no thinner.
With a sharp knife, slice each disk into 8 wedges, gently pushing the wedges apart to separate. Alternately, use a round biscuit cutter to cut out thick rounds of dough.
Brush each scone with the egg wash, then sprinkle with grated cheese. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 7 minutes. At the end of the 7 minutes, turn the oven off and, without opening the oven door, leave the scones in the oven for an additional 8 – 10 minutes until golden brown.
The scones are best hot from the oven or warm.