Update: I thought this was sage. It is actually rock rose (jara in Spanish). The leaves are very similar but when they’re in flower or have fruits they look different! The good news is this isn’t toxic as I’m still writing this myself!
One of my favourite things to do when I visit my home town is to have a walk in the countryside.
It’s a great chance to observe the extremely rich flora, as there are hundreds of aromatic and medicinal herbs, and that’s not even counting the trees.
A couple Christmas holidays ago we were having a very leisurely and exploratory walk as we enjoyed the winter sun, pointing at the various terrain and landscape features, and this and that plant.
I’m quite capable of identifying “the basics”: rosemary, thyme, blackberries… but the rest more often than not eludes me. I’m familiar with their appearance, but I do not know what their name is or what they are good (or bad) for.
Suddenly, Devvers started walking towards a bunch of shrubs with excitement, and declared them to be sage.
I had been ignoring these bushes for tens of years, and they turned out to be sage!
I immediately thought of the malfatti that we made a while ago. The amount of malfatti we could have made with all this sage, all these years… if I had known about malfatti or even sage!
But I had a bit of an excuse: sage is not widely used in Spain’s cuisine (at least not in my region!). We even had to search for its translation because I didn’t even know it off the top of my head (it’s salvia, if you’re interested).
Once we were abundantly satisfied that it was sage, we got very excited about the idea of cooking with local sage leaves, so we picked a few and I started thinking about what to make with them, which turned out to be…
A sage and cheese omelette!
I made several omelettes with toasted bread for all of us! It might really sound like a lot of work, but it was actually great to have some ‘me time’ alone with the pans and stuff in the kitchen after all the Christmas kerfuffles. A variation of ‘walking meditation’—a frying meditation? 🤔
The process is very simple but I took pictures anyway, because the sage leaves were so pretty:
- sage leaves, as many as you want per person
- 2 eggs per person
- cheese (if you want to!) – I think I was using Emmental or something like that
- olive oil
Clean the leaves—I did this by placing them in a bowl with water for a while, and rubbing the dust and soil away very gently with my fingers.
Then drain them well using a colander, and shaking the excess water out:
Place a frying pan on a moderate to high heat and when it’s hot, add a generous portion of oil and the sage leaves. We want to lightly fry them until they get cooked and a touch crispy, but not burnt.
Then add the cheese, and perhaps reduce the heat a little bit so the cheese has time to melt and soften uniformly, and stir.
Add the beaten eggs before the cheese is totally melted, then stir everything together.
Wait for a bit until the lower side sets and the top is not so runny, then flip it using a flat dish (here’s how I do it).
Wait until the second side sets, and on to the next omelette!
You can then serve it with some toasted bread—of course it’s nicer if it’s a artisanal hand-made sourdough loaf like mine 😌 (it was rye + white flour, with plenty of pumpkin and sunflower seeds, and linseed).
An abundance of olive oil
One of my favourite moments of cooking this was when my mum entered the kitchen and asked me which oil was I going to use. I said I planned to use the olive oil that was on the counter.
“Would that be ok?”, I asked.
And she not only said “yes”, but told me that if I ran out of that oil, I should help myself to the big 5 litre bottle that was on the cupboard.
This is the best possible situation one could ever be in!
The oil was from the local cooperative and it was piquant and fresh. Yum!
Now, all that you didn’t know you wanted to know about sage
I found out that this variety of sage is endemic to the area (Serra de Mariola), as its scientific name denotes: Salvia Blancoana Subs. Mariolensis.
The leaves seemed a touch narrower than you would normally find in the shops in the UK (but it’s hard to tell categorically, because I didn’t measure them, and I also didn’t have a UK-bought specimen at hand to compare).
I also found out that sage is an common ingredient in Herbero, a local liquor made of an alcohol base infused with whichever local aromatic herbs the distiller deems appropriate (recipes vary a lot, each maker will make it their own way).
Finally, and perhaps not surprising, sage is also often used for therapeutic applications in the area, along with many other plants. This study has more details.
And to think I had been ignoring these shrubs all these years…!
Bonus pictures to cheer you up in these gloomy days of January
As I was digging into my archives I found these other pictures of plants quite uplifting, and I thought that maybe you’d enjoy them too.
The double bonus is that in the time since I took the pictures I learned about a service called PlantNet which is the stuff of dreams for people like me: you upload pictures of plants or flowers, and it tells you what they are… sometimes!
So I can even tell you what some of these things are nowadays (the detection is not perfect, but it can give you a good idea most of the time):
I know this one well!
I helped collect these from a very early age, so I can identify these quickly. In fact, one of my guilty pleasures is to rub a leave between my fingers to release the smell and then bring them to my nose to sniff the pure rosemariness 🤪
Phosphorescent looking moss
I couldn’t find this one in plantnet for sure. I think because it is growing so close to other plants it’s very hard for the image identifier to pick things apart.
I like how “phosphorescent” these leaves or florescences look like. They also look so geometric.
Some sort of verbascum
These have always looked a bit evil to me. Their colour is very similar to the colour of sage, but they are not sage.
It seems in spring/summer they grow a tall and long stem from which yellow flowers disperse their seeds. Which sounds perfectly normal for a plant to do in order to guarantee their self-preservation, but I think it looks specially evil if you think it’s this plant doing it.
I liked the red-green leaf contrast; it felt quite christmassy at the time!
And the plump moss it seems to be growing on top of. I always admire those.
This plant is also missing its flowers since the picture is taken in winter; it seems to grow pink five-leaf flowers, as shown in this plantnet detail.
Sunlight filtering through pine trees
These are the most common pine trees (pino carrasco or Aleppo pine) whose pine cones are utterly disappointing as they do not produce useful (read: edible) pine nuts, but just a tiny thin winged seed that flies long distances in order to spread as much as possible (specially as the pine cone explodes when overheated during a summer fire).
If you compared them with the pine trees that produce edible pine nuts (pino piñonero or stone pine), you’d notice those have more luscious and plump leaves, and the general shape of the tree is fuller and rounder. I think the stone pines are the ones which are so characteristic of Rome and Italy, too.
I think we could all do with some sunlight and some natural pine scents these days, straight from the tree. At least I could!
When I see this picture I can imagine the quiet; the distant sounds of birds, the murmur of human activity far away —someone shouting, voices, an object fell, an engine—, and closer, the crackling under our feet, as we step over pine needles and twigs…
And for a previous foraging episode, here: Foraging, I: the christmas tree branch.