It’s sage season, and our community herb garden has a patch of it that has overgrown its boundaries. Sage is no longer a polite little section of the garden. It’s grown to the point where it’s looming over other herbs, overtaking the space and is threatening to choke the oregano, parsley and thyme. It’s a rude herb that is a ‘close-talker:’ even our resident garden gnome now feels threatened.
There are the obvious options of using sage: Drying the leaves and keeping them until winter. Using the fresh leaves in the cavities of poultry, or crumbling the dried herb in stuffing. But infusing your oil is one of the best ways to keep the fresh summery taste of the herb.
Botulism bacteria can grow in this type of environment, even in a sealed bottle.
Flavoured olive oils and dressings make great gifts, but botulism is a potential danger. One potential danger involves putting anything in the oil that contains any trace of existing juices. That would include garlic, lemon peel, fresh peppers, and fresh herbs like sage. The oil will not support bacterial growth but the moisture found in fresh herbs or vegetables will. Botulism bacteria can grow in this type of environment, even in a sealed bottle. There are three ways to avoid botulism.
- Mix all the ingredients, refrigerate them and use them within a week:
This is the best way if you are using fresh ingredients such as fresh basil, fresh rosemary or garlic. Garlic is ideal for adding to pasta dishes, that you can then top with a little grated dry cheese. Fill a decorative 1-litre bottle with extra virgin olive oil. Add a clean head of garlic (whole if desired), and leave to marinade for a few days. You can also use lemon peel, fresh or dried peppers, ginger, rosemary sprigs, etc.
- Use only dried version of the herbs and spices. Dry your citrus peel before infusing it olive oil, make sure your herbs are dry and crumbly before adding them to your cold olive oil. Strain out the herbs after a few days.
- Fry your garlic and sage and use them with the olive oil that day – strain the solids out, and use the cooled version of olive oil within the week as well. It’s great on salads, and adds another subtle flavour to stir-fries.
It was garlic season, and having attended the annual Garlic Festival at Wychwood Barns in Toronto this weekend, I had quite the collection to play with. I’d eat garlic with garlic if it didn’t mean alienating everyone around me within a five kilometre radius.
- Use your choice of garlic, and some fresh sprigs of sage. Generally, two tablespoons of herbs per cup of oil is a suggested measure.
- Toss your garlic and fresh sage into a sauce pan, and cover with enough olive oil to cover everything.
- Set your burner to medium-low heat (you’re not trying to cook the oil,) bring the heat up to 180°, let the oil cool, then strain out the sage and garlic. This makes the oil infuse more quickly and reduces some of the risk of bacteria growth, but it can also leave the oil with a slightly “cooked” flavour.
- Use the cooked sage and garlic in a stir-fry or smear it across a slice of baguette.
- Pour the cooled oil into an attractive bottle and refrigerate. Remember, olive oil solidifies when refrigerated, so you may need an wide mouthed jar or bottle if you want some of the stuff fast.