Thyme once was associated with courage, bravery and strength. Roman soldiers exchanged sprigs of thyme as a sign of respect. Greeks and Romans burned bundles of thyme to purify their temples and homes and to evoke a spirit of courage in those who inhaled it. Greeks and Romans are also believed to have added this herb directly to their baths and oil extracts from the plant were used to make bath and massage oils.

Thyme was associated with health and vigor and believed to strengthen and purify the body. Today, its essential oil, thymol, still has many therapeutic applications – it is widely used as an antiseptic and disinfectant and infusions of thyme are believed to be an excellent remedy for respiratory and throat ailments – and even hangovers! Thyme is also said to help in the digestion of fatty foods.

Thyme is widely used in Italian cooking – where it is know as “timo, pronounced “tee-mo”. Though there are more than 300 varieties of this herb, the most common types used in cooking are Thymus vulgaris (common thyme), Thymus citriodorus (citrus thyme, Thymus herba-barona (caraway thyme) and Thymus serpyllum (wild thyme).

Wild Thyme

Common thyme, the variety most often found in Italy, is a perennial plant, six to twelve inches tall, with tiny oval leaves and a pungent aroma.

Fresh thyme holds up well with refrigeration and can often be purchased by the bunch or a group of sprigs in a plastic clamshell container. Fresh thyme can be used whole with the stem or just the leaves with the stem removed.

If a recipe calls for a “sprig” of thyme, the leaves and stem should be used together, intact. When adding a whole sprig of thyme to soups, stews or other recipes, the leaves usually fall off during cooking and the woody stem can be removed prior to serving.

To remove the leaves from a sprig of fresh thyme, simply hold the sprig of thyme at the top with one hand, pinch the sprig with the other, and pull backwards down the stem. The leaves will detach easily. Fresh thyme leaves are so small that they usually require no chopping.

Fresh thyme should be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic or in the original plastic clamshell container. When stored properly, fresh thyme will retain freshness and flavor for about two weeks.

Dried thyme retains much of the flavor of fresh thyme and is a suitable substitution for fresh in many cases. When substituting dried thyme for fresh, use roughly one third of the volume of fresh thyme called for in the recipe. Dried thyme can be found in most major supermarkets year round. Store dried thyme in an airtight container, away from heat and light. When stored properly, dried thyme should retain flavor and potency for up to one year.

When cooking with thyme, unlike many other herbs, be sure to add it early in the process, so the oils and flavor have time to be released. Thyme is used in many typical southern Italian pasta sauces, featuring peppers and eggplant and is also a great complement for many vegetables, including tomatoes and roasted potatoes. In Italy recipes, grilled and oven roasted fish, such as spigola (sea bass) triglie al forno (mullets), call for thyme. Additionally, thyme combines well with sage and rosemary and, when you grill, you can get great results if you marinate the meat for a few hours before grilling with those three herbs (thyme, sage and rosemary), along with good quality Italian olive oil.

Eggplant Rolls with Fresh Ricotta and Thyme

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium eggplants, divided
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 3 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
  • 12 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese, drained
  • 1/3 cup Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, freshly grated
  • 3/4 cup flour

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350ºF

Slice 1½ eggplants into ¼ inch slices lengthwise. Reserve the 1/2 eggplant for a sauce.

Sprinkle with salt and drain in colander for 30 minutes. Set aside.

For the eggplant sauce:

Peel remaining ½ eggplant and cut into small cubes, season with salt and place in another colander for 30 minutes to drain.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small saucepan, add garlic and sauté until garlic is translucent.

Add the cubed eggplant, salt and pepper and water. Cook until eggplant is very soft.

Process the sauce mixture in a blender or with a hand immersion blender until smooth.

Add chopped tomato and 1 tablespoon thyme. Makes approx 1-½ cups.

For the cheese filling:

Mix ricotta cheese, parmigiano, remaining thyme and salt & pepper in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Coat eggplant slices lightly with flour.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high and sauté eggplant slices until light brown. Remove the eggplant and spread flat on level surface.

Divide ricotta mixture evenly among eggplant slices. Begin at one end and roll the eggplant into a cylinder. Repeat with remaining rolls.

Place rolls in 8×8 glass baking dish and bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown and cheese is bubbly. Sprinkle with freshly grated parmigiano cheese. Serve the eggplant rolls with warm eggplant sauce.

Farfalle with Peppers and Thyme

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb Farfalle pasta
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups white onions, sliced
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, divided
  • 1 cup green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons fresh italian parsley chopped

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and 1 sprig of fresh thyme. Sauté 5 minutes.

Add peppers and water to the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Sauté an additional 10 minutes or until peppers are tender.

Drain pasta, add to the skillet with the pepper mixture and toss. Sprinkle with remaining thyme and chopped parsley.

Chicken Thighs Baked with Lemon and Thyme

In addition to the lemon and thyme, the chicken thighs are flavored with an emulsified mash of garlic, salt and olive oil.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • Coarse salt or sea salt
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 chicken thighs, trimmed of fat, rinsed, and patted dry
  • 2 large lemons, each cut into six 1/4-inch rounds
  • 1-2 bunches fresh thyme, snipped into twenty-four 2-inch pieces
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup black olives (kalamata), cut in half

Directions:

Mash the garlic with a large pinch of salt to create a coarse paste ( with a mortar and pestle or a small mixing bowl and the back of a spoon). Add the oil very slowly in drops while pounding and grinding the paste, continuing until thick, creamy and emulsified. Put the chicken in a bowl. Rub the garlic paste all over and under the skin. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Heat the oven to 425°F and set an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Arrange the lemon slices in one layer in a large shallow roasting pan or baking dish (9x13x2 inches). Top each slice with two pieces of thyme. Set the chicken thighs, skin side up, on top; sprinkle them generously with salt and pepper. Bake until the skin is golden and the juices are clear, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Sometimes the lemons and chicken produce a lot of juices, in which case you can make a pan sauce. Transfer the chicken (keeping the thyme and lemon slices underneath) to a plate and cover loosely with foil.

Set the pan over medium heat (if the pan isn’t flameproof, pour the juices into a small skillet) and scrape up any stuck-on juices. Let the juices boil and reduce so they thicken to a saucy consistency. Drizzle the sauce around, not on, the chicken to maintain the crisp skin and garnish with olives.

Nectarine-Thyme Crumble

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 6 nectarines, thinly sliced
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 6 thyme sprigs
  • Salt
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons wheat germ
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

Directions:

In a bowl, toss the nectarines with the granulated sugar, juice, thyme and a pinch of salt; let stand for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

In another bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar and wheat germ with a pinch of salt. Using your fingers, work in the butter until the mixture is sandy. Press the streusel into small clumps and scatter on a rimmed baking sheet.

Spoon the nectarines, thyme and any juices into 6 individual baking dishes. Bake the nectarines for about 20 minutes, until the fruit is softened. Meanwhile, bake the streusel mixture stirring once, for about 10 minutes, until browned.

Sprinkle the streusel over the fruit, bake for 5 minutes longer and serve.

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