Fritters made with sage leaves, dipped in a batter and fried in lard or olive oil, are very popular in the history of Italian cooking, with some variations throughout the centuries, more or less connected with the traditions of the specific period in which they are prepared.
In the 15th century, we find a luxurious version by Maestro Martino that requires flour, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and saffron, but for the basic recipe, suggested by the Renaissance physician Lodovico Bertaldi, it is sufficient to mix flour and water, then deep-fry the leaves in oil.
This recipe is not very different from the most common still today in Italy, in which the water is generally substituted with beer to make the batter lighter. Modern-day versions, sometimes require eggs: exactly like in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, sage fritters may be lean or fat, with or without animal products.
The version we chose is reported in a beautiful source on agriculture written in the 17th century by Vincenzo Tanara, titled L’economia del cittadino in villa, in which the author recommends wine and chestnut flour as an alternative to wheat flour, writing that in this way, they are better. Chestnut flour is an ingredient already used starting from ancient times to make bread, as reported by Pliny who writes that women used it when they were forbidden to eat cereals for religious reasons.
Throughout the history of Italian cuisine, we also find it to make fritters and a sort of cake, called castagnaccio (whereas in the 17th century, castagnazzo is a fritter as reported by Tanara). In the case of the sage fritters we are making today, it is not necessary to use chestnut flour, but if you have it at your disposal, the outcome will be incredible.
In our preparation, we used meadow sage, a wild variety that grows in our garden and the fields around our home, whose flavor is milder and aromatic, but any kind of sage is suitable for this recipe. In addition to sage, you may use other aromatic herbs.
The typical ingredients used for these kinds of fritters, as reported by Maestro Martino, Cristoforo Messisbugo, and Lodovico Bertaldi are rosemary, bay-laurel (but in this case, it is necessary to use very young leaves), or fennel leaves.
In the original recipe, Tanara uses sage twigs, whereas we used directly the leaves. If you prefer the twigs, for this quantity of batter you need 7 or 8 twigs with small leaves.
For more historical recipes based on vegetables and herbs, check out our new book, Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers, which collects many recipes from the Antiquity to early Modern Era, accompanied by an introduction about vegetables in the history of Italian cooking in the cookbooks and their relationship with dietetic, philosophical, and religious practices. The book is available on Amazon in English and Italian, in e-book and printed editions.
If you want to know more about medieval cooking, check out Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook. In addition, it is available our translation, commentary, and glossary of a beautiful 6th-century source, De Observatione Ciborum, written by the physician Anthimus to the king of the Franks Theuderic.
For more information about ancient food, we recommend reading Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources and checking out our Patreon page, in which you find several articles about historical food and the translations of ancient and medieval sources.
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10-12 sage leaves
4 tablespoons chestnut flour
½ cup red wine
Dilute the flour with wine, adding two pinches of salt. Dip the leaves one by one in the batter and deep-fry them in olive oil for about 2 minutes. Serve the fritters still hot.
Li rami bagnati in cola di farina stemperata con vino si friggono, ma se la farina sarà di castagno saranno megliori frittelle.
The twigs dipped in a batter made with flour diluted with wine are fried, but you will obtain better fritters with chestnut flour.
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Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Franks.
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