Sage is one of my favourite herbs. It is available fresh from the garden for most of the year, but is at its best now, covered with vibrant new growth. It is an odd herb in some ways, as it must be used sparingly in some dishes else it becomes overpowering and somewhat medicinal in taste, but in others it can be used in large quantities. Stuffed pastas, such as ravioli, are often dressed with butter in which sage leaves have been fried, and then sprinkled with a little hard cheese such as pecorino or parmesan. Simple is often best, and this is just about my favourite way to enjoy ravioli.
When we have an abundance of small tomatoes, I like to scatter a large handful of sage leaves on the bottom of a roasting dish, halve the tomatoes and place cut side up on top of the sage, drizzle with olive oil and season, then roast until the tomatoes are almost caramelised. This makes a rich and delicious sauce. When we are in a hurry, though, sage, butter and some grated parmesan are all we need for a quick dish. The sage leaves are fried in the butter until crisp but without letting the butter brown. The pasta, usually spaghetti, is added along with a handful of cheese. Ordinarily this would result in a clumpy mess, but the addition of half a cup or so of the pasta cooking water makes a quick sauce from the butter and cheese, helped by the starch released from the pasta.
This week, we had some mascarpone cheese left over from another dish, so I thought I could use it to make a slightly more saucy version of the quick sage pasta. The sauce combines mascarpone with eggs and a handful of parmesan. As with other egg based sauces – such as carbonara – it is critical that the sauce is not over heated or it will turn into scrambled eggs. Residual heat from the pasta and that retained in the pan is enough to gently cook the eggs and produce a smooth sauce. Judging when the pan is cool enough for the eggs to be added is a little tricky, though. The consistency is adjusted with a cup or so of the pasta cooking water so that the sauce coats the pasta but is not at all claggy.