Of all the four food groups — parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme — my favorite is thyme.
Not because wearing it in your hair is said to make a woman irresistible. Not because it's supposed to ward off nightmares and negativity, and encourage good health. Not even because Titania, Queen of the Fairies, slept in a bed of thyme, though that does sound delightfully indulgent.
None of the above. I just love the taste.
And, okay, the irresistible-to-men thing would be a pretty good reason to keep thyme in the pantry.
A bushy evergreen native to the Mediterranean, thyme features in the cuisines of France and Spain, of course, but also in Mexico and Latin America, and in Creole and Cajun cooking. It's often used in New England clam chowder, near and dear to my heart. Thyme's woodsy aroma combines well with potatoes, onions, mushrooms, eggs, tomatoes, and beef.
In my garden, I grow common English thyme, T. vulgaris, and lemon thyme, T. citriodorus. The lemon thyme is particularly lovely with chicken and fish, and in French potato salad (the kind that has no mayonnaise). I'd like to try conehead thyme (T. Capitatus), also called za'atar farsi, or Persian thyme. I've never seen the plants at any of the local herb farms, but it's the most widely used thyme in Middle East cuisine, and it's available in dried form at specialty markets.
Here in the Northeast, it's tomato season, and I make huge batches of slow-roasted tomatoes with thyme and garlic. I freeze them to use in sauces and stews throughout the winter.
This works with any type of ripe tomato, and it's a method more than a recipe: Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise and place cut side up on a rimmed sheet pan. Sprinkle generously with minced garlic and fresh thyme, coarse salt and fresh-ground black pepper. Drizzle olive oil over all. Place in the oven for an hour or more, until the tomatoes nearly collapse. Pack into containers, and fill with the accumulated tomato juices and olive oil from the pan.
When I first started growing herbs, my husband Ted made a drying frame. He scrounged an old screen window, and tacked another piece of screening on it so I can sandwich the herbs between the screen panels and let them air dry. I love using my home-grown dried thyme leaf in the winter, when the herb garden is covered with snow.
Frittata with broccoli and garden herbs
8 eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup milk, cream, or water
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, cut in half, sliced thin
1/3 lb broccoli florets, chopped fine
2 tsp minced fresh thyme, or 1 tsp dried
2 tsp minced fresh parsley
2 tsp minced fresh basil
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
In a bowl, beat the eggs with the milk and pepper, and set aside.
In an oven-proof, medium size, nonstick frying pan, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add onion and broccoli, and sauté until both are cooked through, approx. 5 minutes. Add herbs, and stir to combine. Spread mixture evenly over the bottom of the frying pan, and pour the egg mixture over the top. Turn heat to low, and cover the pan. Cook for approx. 8 minutes, checking every now and then to make sure the eggs are not burning.
While the eggs are cooking, preheat the broiler.
From time to time, lift an edge and let the uncooked egg from the top run underneath. When the eggs are nearly set, remove the cover, turn off the heat. Sprinkle cheese evenly over the top, and place under the broiler for 2 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and the edges of the frittata are beginning to brown slightly. Let sit for 5 minutes before slicing. Serve hot, room temperature, or cold.
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