We may determine the arrival of fall by the change in color of leaves but for me, it's also about the smells in the air. I love that moment when you realize that the air no longer smells sweet like summer but crisp from a cold snap with a hint of smoke from burning raked leaf piles. Around my house, the air is also heavy with the aroma of fall cooking-- apple pies, butternut squash soup, and roasted chickens. And where there's roasted chickens, there has to be sage.
I love sage-- the way it smells, tastes, looks and feels. The leaves are long and dark green with tips of purple, covered with a velvety fur. It has a strong, woody flavor and is also good for you, being a good source of calcium and Vitamin A.
Buy it fresh and it will keep for at least a week when stored in your refrigerator, the stems wrapped in a damp paper towel and kept in a plastic sandwich bag. Dried sage will keep for up to six months when stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark space.
Sage goes well with pork (think breakfast sausage-- that's the flavor you're no doubt tasting), chicken, turkey, and winter squashes.
But my favorite thing about sage? Throw it in some oil or butter and it crisps up beautifully. See for yourself by making this brown butter sage popcorn, a perfect autumnal snack to share with others after a day of apple picking or while watching a football game.
Brown Butter Sage Popcorn
Note: Brown butter is melted butter that is cooked until the milk solids are toasty brown. It's probably the most delicious substance on earth but can be tricky to make because there is a fine line between brown and burned.
Finely chop 1/4 cup of fresh sage leaves and place in a small, preferrably light colored pan with 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Turn the heat up to medium high until the butter melts. The butter will foam up, then once the foam dissipates, reduce the heat to medium low. Take a wooden spoon and stir the butter frequently. Do not walk away or turn your attention away from the butter because you need to keep an eye on it to make sure the milk solids don't burn. You're looking for the butter to turn a golden brown color and take on a sweet, nutty aroma, so a light colored pan helps with noticing the color change. Altogether, it should take about 5-7 minutes to brown. Pour the brown butter into a glass measuring cup and set aside while you pop the corn.
Pop 1/2 cup of yellow popcorn kernals in an air popper according to the machine's instructions. If you don't have an air popper, you can make it on the stovetop. Once you've made the popcorn, add it to a big bowl, pour on the brown butter, making sure to scrape in all those tasty bits of sage. Salt to taste with fine grain sea salt (I use 1 teaspoon) and mix. Serve it up right away and when the bowl is empty, I highly recommend using your fingers to pick and lick up any remaining crispy sage pieces that clung to the sides of the bowl.
Be sure to try using this sage brown butter on butternut squash ravioli or mix in toasted pumpkin seeds, for diping pieces of crusty bread for a twist on bread and butter too!