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  • Writer's pictureElise

Cook Book Club: August's Spice is Sage!

Updated: Jan 9, 2023

Each month we will highlight a different spice or seasoning. Kits will include this spice, a recipe that highlights it, a little history on the spice or recipe, and some best practices. I'll post the recipes and information here as well, so let's get cooking! The kit has undergone an upgraded appearance and we are adding back in the monthly themed potluck. If low pandemic numbers remain the same or better, we will continue with the in-person meeting August 22nd @5pm in our Adult Programming Room in addition to the spices and recipes. We are excited to bring back this element of our cookbook inspired club and the community building it will undoubtedly allow us to do.

 

This month is our second in-person meeting. Think of it like a community pot luck. Each month has a different theme/request. This month's is to bring a soup, bisque or chowder.


History of Rubbed Sage

Adapted primarily from TheSpruceEats.com among others

It seems so many of our more common herbs in some way, shape or form have a history in Ancient Greece and Rome. Sage is no different. Rome considered it to have major healing capabilities. It was used for anything from ulcers to sore throats to stopping bleeding on major wounds. Most of the other major cultures of the continent at that time also had significant practices with the herb. But not content with being a major herb in Europe, it also was important in Ancient China, being used for colds, joint pain, typhoid fever, and kidney and liver issues and Ancient Egypt for fertility treatments.


Part of the reason these major cultures found so much medicinal use for the herb is that it is one of nature's natural antiseptics and preservatives. Even today, sage has scientifically-proven homeopathic significance. A particular phytonutrient in three-lobed sage has the potential to prevent cardiovascular disease. There is also evidence to suggest that "thinkers' tea," a drink made from its leaves, might be a promising treatment for Alzheimer's and depression. Of course, here in the US, we hear it more often in terms of Thanksgiving dinner in turkey and stuffing. But it's good to know it has such wide usage.


History of Tuscan Onion Soup

Adapted primarily from OurItalianTable.com, TheEpochTimes.com, and TasteAtlas.com, among others

According to this month's recipe, Tuscan Onion Soup, also known as carabaccia, when done vegetarian-style, was Leonardo de Vinci's favorite food, although where they got this information isn't quite clear. Some sources do claim this distinction, although la minestra (which translates as chickpea soup) seems to be referenced by any number of da Vinci scholars, sometimes confused with minestrone by those unaware of the translation, in particular because of a first-hand account by him of him stopping mid geometrical exploration of the Pythagorean theorem to eat his minestra that was going cold.


Whatever the case, carabaccia is an ancient recipe with origins in Ancient Roman peasant dishes. According to Our Italian Table, the rumor is that Caterina de' Medici brought her personal Tuscan chefs to France and created the first 'French' onion soup. The one thing to be aware of is that carabaccia does have something of a different flavor profile. With cinnamon and almonds instead of sugar, bay leaves, and thyme, the bread goes at the bottom of the bowl, not the top, and parmesan, not gruyere, it will not be the soup you are used to. And yet, it definitely holds its own.

 

Main Event

Tuscan Onion Soup

As adapted from allrecipes.com for use by the Brown Deer Cookbook Club

Servings: 6 ● Prep Time: 20 min. ● Cook Time: 1 hr. 45 min. ● Total Time: 2 hr. 5 min.

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds red onions

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

  • 3 leaves sage

  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • ground cinnamon

  • ¼ cup finely ground almonds (Optional)

  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or to taste

  • 5 cups beef broth, or more as needed

For the toast:

  • 3 thick slices Italian bread, halved

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, or to taste, divided

  • 3 leaves sage, or to taste, sliced into thin strips

  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, or to taste, divided

Directions

  1. Trim ends off onions; halve and peel. Cut onions into thin slices lengthwise along the grain.

  2. Heat olive oil in a very large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and kosher salt. Cook and stir until starting to turn translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and sweet, about 1 hour.

  3. Add sage leaves, pepper, cinnamon, and almonds to the onions. Cook and stir until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to a soup pot. Pour in red wine vinegar and broth. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until flavors blend, about 30 minutes.

  4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Line a small baking sheet with aluminum foil.

  5. Place Italian bread on the baking sheet. Drizzle some olive oil over the bread; sprinkle sliced sage and some Parmesan cheese on top.

  6. Toast in the preheated oven until browned, about 15 minutes.

  7. Ladle soup into serving bowls and top each with a piece of toast. Drizzle remaining olive oil over the toast and sprinkle remaining Parmesan cheese on top. Dunk toast into the soup and let soak for a few minutes before serving.

NOTES:

  • If you want to cut down on stirring, you can bake the onions in a roasting pan at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C), stirring a few times along the way. Take your time and wait until they are very soft.

  • You can also use chicken or vegetable broth in this.

  • While traditional, many people don't enjoy the effect cinnamon has on the sweetness of the soup, so you may want to omit it, or add an extremely small amount, and then adjust from there. If you don't add any to the pot, you can still experiment by adding a trace amount to a small sample cup, and see what you think.

  • Though this recipe doesn't mention it, traditionally all Tuscan soups place the bread at the bottom, not the top. More than likely this recipe was modified to match our familiarity with French Onion Soup.

  • Substitute Pecorino cheese for the Parmesan if desired.


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