Pasta with sage-walnut pesto

This is a big weekend over at Kalyn’s Kitchen. This week marks one year since she kicked off Weekend Herb Blogging, an event that I’ve chosen to participate in each week since just after I started this blog. I started participating because I saw it as an opportunity to get some wider readership for the recipes I write to use the food I’ve been growing in our garden, but what I love about the weekly event is reading everyone else’s recipes (fellow WHBers, even if I don’t take the time to comment, I’m stopping by as often as I can!) for ideas and inspiration, and the sense of community that comes from this kind of activity—all around the world, on any given day, there’s probably one or the other of us thinking about what recipe we want to make, photograph and write up for Weekend Herb Blogging.

This week, in honor of the event’s birthday, Kalyn asked us all to identify our favorite herb and offer a recipe that includes it. Those of you who read blog post titles probably already figured out what I’m writing about this week, but I’ll have you smarties know it wasn’t an easy choice. I love cooking with fresh herbs, and other than one time when my friend Katherine gave me a dish garden filled with herbs (a dish garden I promptly killed), I’ve never had them growing and available to me right in my own backyard before.

It’s so nice to just run outside and clip some, rather than planning ahead of time to get them at the store, then getting to the store and discovering that they don’t have what I need or want in stock, or, for example, they have rosemary, but only as part of a poultry mix that includes sage and thyme, neither of which I need for a particular recipe, or, for example, they have four packages of basil, but the leaves are all black and a little moldy.

Sage for pestoI don’t have particularly good sun inside our house, so I’m rapidly approaching the end of my own fresh herb season. I’m going to miss all my fresh herbs, but will most definitely miss my sage plant.

Sage was my favorite herb this summer for a number of reasons. I love the leaves. They’re not as soft and fuzzy as Lambs’ Ear, but I love their slightly soft, nubby texture. The leaves are big and flat and easy to cut or chop, and even touching the plant releases that woodsy, earthy scent into the air and onto my fingers.

It also was the most successful of my herb plants, producing all summer long, growing lovely and thick, and not getting out of control like the mint. The sage was the first of my herb plants to grow large enough for me to use it, as I did in my recipe for Lamb Burgers with Sage, one of the first recipes I submitted to Weekend Herb Blogging.

It’s still looking great, and I’m hoping it’ll survive another month or two, even as the temperatures drop. I probably ought to dry some now to use at Thanksgiving.

This week’s recipe is for Sage-Walnut Pesto, which I’ve made several times this summer. I used a recipe I found at, because it featured sage, unadulterated by parsley or any other herb. So many sage pesto recipes I’ve seen recommend cutting the sage because the flavor’s too strong on its own. I beg to differ—I love the pure sage flavor in this recipe.

I served this to a group of friends this summer on a night when a wild thunderstorm swept through Iowa City. The four of us met in a fiction workshop we all took at The Writer’s Workshop during June and July, and this was to be a last hurrah for the four of us—one of our number was leaving town that night, in fact, on an overnight bus to New York City. It was brutally hot, and by the time my guests arrived, I was drenched in sweat.

We popped champagne and went out to my wide front porch to sit and drink and watch the storm roll through. And, after the rain cooled everything down, we ate Sage-Walnut Pesto tossed with whole wheat rotini, and mozzarella-tomato-basil-apricot salad (a recipe I picked up from Kalyn), and gazpacho, and potato salad, and rotisserie chicken, and washed it all down with more wine out there on that front porch. It was one of the most perfect evenings of the summer, all warmth and good food and excellent friends and a spectacular Midwestern storm.

That’s the thing about sage…when I eat it, more than any other herb, I remember specific meals with specific friends and family. My friend Brian’s 40th birthday party. A Christmas Eve dinner at my Uncle Steve’s rectory, when we also ate ravioli with sage butter as our appetizer and wore funny paper crowns released from Christmas crackers my mother had found. The night Steve and I grilled those burgers after I made my first harvest from what we were growing. And, of course, that fabulous summer dinner party. Just smelling the herb brings all these moments back to me, like an embrace.

Sage-walnut pesto pastaPasta with Sage-Walnut Pesto
(Serves 6)

1 lb. pasta
2 c. packed fresh sage leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/4 c. chopped walnuts
2/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. kosher salt
Black pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve a little of the cooking water in case you need it later.

2. Combine all dry ingredients (except cheese) in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped.

3. Add the lemon juice, and then turn the food processor on while you drizzle the oil in the feed tube until the mixture has become smooth and creamy.

4. Add the cheese and pulse to combine.

5. Toss with the hot pasta, and, if the consistency is too dry, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water to loosen up the sauce a little bit.

6. Serve immediately, or let cool to room temperature and then serve.

11 Responses to “Pasta with sage-walnut pesto”

  1. 1 Kalyn September 30, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    I love sage! (Although not as much as my very favorite, I have to admit.) And, I have everything to make this pesto, even the sage. It sounds wonderful. Sage always makes me think of my Grandma who had it growing outside her kitchen door.

    Guess what! I met yougrowgirl at Blogher. Only for a second of course, but she seemed pretty cool.

    Here’s to more sage memories.

  2. 2 inadvertentgardener September 30, 2006 at 3:23 pm

    Kalyn, I highly recommend it — it’s good stuff, and a nice change from traditional basil pesto. I bet it would be terrific on chicken or fish, too.

    Enjoy that anniversary! :-)

  3. 3 Lydia September 30, 2006 at 8:58 pm

    Some years, my sage plants are viable until Thanksgiving, even if there’s a little bit of snow. I don’t know why, but they are. It’s wonderful to go out to the herb garden on Thanksgiving morning, harvest the sage leaves, and pop them under the skin of the turkey breast. I love fried sage leaves on polenta, too!

  4. 4 kitchenparade October 2, 2006 at 9:03 am

    Hi Genie ~ I’ve got piles of fresh sage and haven’t touched it all summer. Now’s the time, I think ……………. it was SO lovely to meet you on Friday, don’t you suppose anyone who watched us talk FULLSPEED must have thought, Wow, those two have lots to catch up on! Well in a way, we did, yes??? This weekend, I’m gaining new appreciation for a line I wrote recently, “And when we meet for the first time, we’re already friends …”

  5. 5 inadvertentgardener October 2, 2006 at 8:00 pm

    Lydia, that’s good to know about the sage…perhaps I’ll just keep an eye on the weather and see how it goes. It would be terrific to harvest some fresh sage for Thanksgiving.

    Alanna, I have appreciation for that line, too — that was such a wonderful (too short, but wonderful) meal, and it was so lovely to meet you, too!

  6. 6 Leigh July 4, 2008 at 8:31 am

    What a beautiful and poignant essay. I’m trying this recipe tonight. Thank you!

  7. 7 inadvertentgardener July 4, 2008 at 8:44 am

    Leigh, I hope you enjoy it! Thanks for reading and for the sweet comment.

  1. 1 Last appearance « The Inadvertent Gardener Trackback on November 28, 2006 at 6:27 am
  2. 2 Slow-cooked roast beef with fresh sage and dried tomatoes « The Inadvertent Gardener Trackback on June 23, 2007 at 10:26 am
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