Packing a punch: Skye Gyngell cooks with sage

A word to the wise: go easy on this spring herb or you risk losing the flavour of your other ingredients to its aromatic, punchy essence

Slightly musty, aromatic and most particular in taste, sage is a herb that needs to be used with care – one or two sprigs is generally more than enough. It grows most prolifically during the spring and summer months and there are several different varieties, including a beautiful variegated one and a deep purple variety. The verdant green, softer-leaved variety is my favourite at the moment.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com

Monkfish with romesco and sage

You can substitute any robust fish here, but delicate fish such as trout or salmon would be lost under the punchy flavours.

Serves 4

800g/1¾lb monkfish
For the romesco sauce
50g/2oz shelled almonds
50g/2oz shelled hazelnuts
2 ripe tomatoes
1 large red chilli
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 small bunch of sage, leaves only
1 tsp sweet red paprika
1 tbsp good-quality red-wine vinegar
4 tbsp coarse fresh white breadcrumbs
120ml/4fl oz mild extra-virgin olive oil

For the romesco sauce, preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Place the nuts on the baking tray and roast in the middle of the oven for 5-6 minutes until evenly golden. Tip the hot nuts into a clean, dry cloth and rub to remove the skins.

Now place the tomatoes and chilli on a baking tray and roast for about 10 minutes, turning halfway through cooking, until the tomatoes are slightly coloured and bursting from their skins, and the chilli is soft – it might take an extra minute or two.

Put the garlic, the sage leaves and a pinch of salt into a large mortar and crush with a pestle to a rough paste, then add the chilli and crush. Add the roasted nuts and pound until the paste is fairly smooth, but still retains some texture. Add the tomatoes and paprika and continue to pound but more gently now. Stir in the wine vinegar, breadcrumbs and finally the extra-virgin olive oil. Season to taste and set aside.

To cook the monkfish, heat one large or two smaller pans over a fairly high heat, season the fish well and add a little olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the fish and cook for 5 minutes before turning and cooking the underside. Serve with the romesco and maybe a simple mashed sweet potato.

Veal chop with Café de Paris butter

Café de Paris is what's known as a compound butter, which essentially means a butter that has various things added, whether it be as simple as red wine, or a couple of anchovies or even some crushed black olives.

This butter is somewhat more complicated, but still not difficult – don't be put off by its long list of ingredients. This will make about 250g/8oz of butter – if you don't need it all, it keeps well in the fridge for a week or so. k

Serves 4

For the butter

1 small bunch of tarragon, leaves only
1 small bunch of sage, leaves only
1 small bunch of chervil, leaves only
1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
tsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
tsp Tabasco
tbsp capers
1 clove of garlic
200g/7oz unsalted butter, softened
A small pinch of sea salt

Roughly chop all the herbs, then place in a food processor with all the other ingredients and blitz until smooth. Remove from the food processor and spoon on to parchment paper, roll into a sausage shape and store in the fridge until you are ready to use.

4 veal chops, free range and English
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp mild-tasting olive oil

Place a large, heavy-based pan on top of the stove over a very high heat – you may need two pans if the chops don't fit comfortably in one. Season the veal generously on both sides, add the olive oil to the pan then add the veal. Cook for 5 minutes on one side, then turn and cook for a further 4 minutes on the underside. Remove the butter from the fridge and spoon a generous dollop on top of each chop then set aside in a warm place to rest the meat and melt the butter for 5 minutes before serving.

Linguine with lemon and sage

This is a very delicate pasta dish, so it is important that you pay attention to the amount of lemon you add. Restraint is best, as the flavour of the lemon can easily overpower all the other ingredients, leaving a sharp and bitter taste. It is also important to use a good-quality pasta so the final dish is elegant.

Serves 4

800g/1¾lb linguine
A good pinch of sea salt
4 tbsp crème fraîche
16 sage leaves
The juice of a lemon
The zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
70g/3oz good Parmigiano-Reggiano
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place a large pot of water on to boil and add a good pinch of salt. Once the water has boiled, add the linguine and cook according to the manufacturer's instructions. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce.

Pour the crème fraîche into a small saucepan and place over a fairly low heat. Add the sage leaves and cook for a minute or two until the crème fraîche has warmed through. Now add the lemon juice and zest, the Parmesan and season with salt and black pepper.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain and spoon over the sauce, toss together well and serve on warm plates. Add a little extra Parmesan if you like, but in my mind, it doesn't really need it.

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