Thyme, by Manon Gauthier.
Recipes below: Black Olive and Thyme Butter for Summer Radishes; Wild Fennel, Thai Basil, and Parsley Pesto, for Grilled Fish
Ever since I started growing my own herbs, first on my city window sills and in stoop pots, and now at a small upstate house I just purchased, they have had a strong pull on me. Last week I wrote about my need to consume rosemary. The urge hasn’t abated. I always liked rosemary, but only with certain things, like lamb, of course, and beans, and roasted winter vegetables, and stews, and a sweet rosemary polenta cake that I’ve been making for years. Now I think it goes with just about anything. I don’t often have particular food cravings. Usually I just want to eat whatever’s in front of me. I guess rosemary has become part of my physical and psychological evolution, which I hope isn’t a sign that something unpleasant is lurking inside my body in desperate need of herbal remedy.
Thyme is different. It has been a favorite herb of mine for a long time, but I’ve overused it, maybe even abused it. It’s my less harsh replacement for oregano in many classic Southern Italian dishes. I use it early in cooking, as I would a bay leaf, to add intensity. But thyme is too special to use indiscriminately. Adding an herb should be a dedicated decision. I’m now rethinking thyme, giving it more respect. Background noise no more. I’m putting it up front, using it as the wild, ancient flavor that it originally was and still is. And I want to taste it raw.
Part of my upstate herb garden. Here I’ve got epazote, mentuccia, thyme, opal and Thai basil, fennel, chives, and parsley.
Black Olive and Thyme Butter for Summer Radishes
I’ve used this and many other compound herb butters on many things. This one is especially good on grilled chicken or fish. Any that’s left over can be refrigerated and used cold on hot food. It will melt right in. I’ve found that after about 4 days it tends to lose some oomph, so I make it in small batches.
Note: I’ve tried a food processor for this butter, but I find that the color gets murky, losing some of its aesthetic charm. I prefer to chop all the ingredients separately, fold them into the softened butter, and then let the butter sit for about a half hour to meld all the flavors.
(Serves 4 as an appetizer)
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
6 black Niçoise olives, well dried, pitted, and minced
About 5 chives, minced
The grated zest from 1 lemon
6 large thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped, plus a little extra for garnish
A pinch of allspice
A big bunch of French breakfast radishes, or another seasonal radish, sliced in half lengthwise, leaving some of the tender green stem
Put the well-softened butter in a small serving bowl. Add the minced olives, chives, lemon zest, thyme leaves, a big pinch of sea salt, and the allspice. Mash everything together with a fork until it’s well blended. Wipe down the sides of the bowl, and let the butter sit for about a half hour.
When you’re ready to serve it, just spread a little of the butter on the cut side of your radishes. Garnish with extra thyme leaves. This is a good antipasto with a glass of rosé wine or prosecco.
Wild Fennel, Thai Basil, and Parsley Pesto, for Grilled Fish
I used this on grilled swordfish, and the next morning I spooned some over scrambled eggs. It was also good that afternoon, spread on a grilled fontina sandwich.
½ cup blanched, lightly toasted almonds
1 summer garlic clove
½ cup wild fennel fronds (or the tops from bulb fennel, plus a big pinch of fennel pollen)
½ cup Thai basil leaves
½ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
½ cup good, fruity olive oil
The grated zest from 1 small lemon
Place the almonds and garlic in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse to a rough grind. Add all the rest of the ingredients, and pulse until you have a smooth, not too thick, bright green sauce. If it’s too tight, add a little more oil.