Pasta with sage sauce

The vibrant leaves of fresh sage

The vibrant leaves of fresh sage are at their best at this time of year

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.

Sage leaves and garlic fried in butter are great with pasta

Sage leaves and garlic fried in butter are great with 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.

Spaghetti with mascarpone and sage sauce

Spaghetti with mascarpone and sage sauce

Ingredients

(serves 2)

  • 150g pasta, such as spaghetti, linguine, or tagliatelle
  • 125g mascarpone cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • Handful of sage leaves
  • Large knob of butter
  • 4 slices Parma ham (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 100g parmesan cheese
  • Maldon salt
  • Black pepper

Preparation

Finely grate the parmesan. Peel the garlic and slice each clove in half. Finely slice the Parma ham, if using. Wash the sage leaves gently and pat dry on some kitchen paper or a tea towel.

Method

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add salt, and cook the pasta.

In the meantime, add the butter and garlic to a frying pan and warm gently until the butter is melted. Break the eggs into a bowl and beat lightly. Add the mascarpone cheese and whisk until smooth. Season with a little salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

A few minutes before the pasta should be ready, add the sage leaves to the butter and turn the heat up to medium. Fry until they start to crisp but do not allow the butter to brown. Add the Parma ham, if using, and cook for a further minute or so. Remove the pan from the heat.

When the pasta is just al dente, reserve a large cupful of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the frying pan, along with quarter of a cup of the cooking water. Allow the pan to cool for a minute or two before adding the egg mixture. Stir well then add most of the parmesan cheese, reserving a little for serving.

Mix thoroughly, adding further cooking water as needed to achieve the desired consistency. Adjust the seasoning if needed and then serve with the remaining cheese sprinkled on top.

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