Thursday, 20 July 2017

Rocky thymes but foraging ahead

Photo copyright jardimbotânico Antonio Crespi
what we foraged
The last few days have been days of learning and discovery and one of the greatest discoveries was on our doorstep.Like Flor de sal, the spread of thyme throughout Europe was thought to be due to the Romans and Phoenicians.We found this growing on the dry cracked ground around the salt pans.On researching what we had foraged we discovered that this attractive herb  was Thymus camphoratus which makes a salty and slightly peppery garnish to salads and fish dishes.

The common thyme (Thymus vulgaris ) that many of us grow and love is a cultivated form of the wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum). If lucky enough,( its about being in the right place with the right thyme ) you can encounter and forage the wild variety growing on Mediterranean hillsides. Having a bit of quality thyme is something we  all strive for and know to be rewarding. My love affair with this more than versatile herb is fairly recent, not that it was absent from my herb garden in London,but it wasn´t until my new life  in the Iberian peninsular that thyme became an essential in the Casa Rosada kitchen.I use both the fresh and dried varieties in marinades,dressings and even to infuse syrup for puddings and it also makes a delicious lemonade. 
another wild thyme Thymus carnosus   Photo copyright jardimbotânico
Thyme is a plant that  tolerates drought well. and therefore wild thyme is found covering large areas of droughty, rocky soils in southern Europe where it can be plentifully foraged.Almost all of these wild thymes are comestible and have many different culinary uses.No kitchen should be without the heady, aromatic flavour of thyme.A delicate looking herb with a penetrating fragrance.Whether used by the pinch or by the bunch, fresh thyme infuses any dish with unparalleled aroma and flavour.Thyme has what I could only describe as a vigorous flavour,almost peppery in character,and is for foods that can carry strong flavours.It is one of the essential ingredients of Herbes de Provence, along with rosemary, bay and savory and is also always included in bouquet garni for stock and soup making.All thyme species are nectar sources,and therefore an important plant for honeybees.Check out Thyme honey.

Thyme is usually cooked with food rather than thrown in at the end.When cooked in stews and casseroles the leaves fall away from the branches infusing the stock and then the branches are removed at the end of cooking.Thyme is used both fresh and dried. The fresh form is more flavourful, but also less convenient; there is no thyme like the present and thyme waits for no one. Its storage life is rarely more than a week.
Here are some recipes if you have the thyme...........
Ginger-thyme Lemonade
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 1/2 oz. fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 oz. fresh thyme leaves
2 cups fresh lemon juice

In a medium saucepan, combine water, sugar, ginger and thyme over medium-high heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and remove from heat. Once cool, strain into a clean glass pitcher and add lemon juice. Stir to combine, and keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.1 1/2 cups superfine sugar
Another thyme lemonade
1 1/2 cups superfine sugar
1 bunch fresh thyme sprigs, additional for garnishing
2 cups fresh lemon juice (I needed about 13 lemons)
Persian cucumber for garnish

In a medium saucepan, bring sugar, thyme and 1 cup water to a boil; stir until sugar is dissolved, about three minutes. Stir in lemon juice and 6 cups cold water, strain into a large pitcher. Refrigerate until cold (will stay for about a week). Serve over ice and garnish with thyme spring a a few thin slices of Persian cucumber.


Green Pea Thyme hummus
It is delicious and pretty, too. 

2 cups peas: fresh, thawed frozen, or canned
1/2 square vegetable bullion  dissolved in 1 Tbsp hot water
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp finely grated Pecorino Romano (sheep’s milk cheese)
Salt and pepper to taste
If using fresh peas, steam in a saucepan with a bit of water for 3-5 minutes or until soft. Put peas in medium bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Blend with a food processor or traditional blender. Serve as a dip with fresh vegetables, crackers and baguette rounds.

Flor de sal, thyme and olive oil crackers
Makes 24
250g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp baking powder
115ml water
25ml olive oil,plus extra for brushing
1/2 tsp Flor de sal
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp smoked picante paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp black pepper
Generous sprinklings of Flor de sal mediterranica 
In a large bowl,mix together all the ingredients except the flor de sal to form a soft dough.You can do this by hand or in a processor fitted with a dough hook Work the dough until you get a firm consistency,then cover with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 1 hour.
Heat the oven to 220c/gas mark 7.Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface or board.Have a bowl of flour ready at your side for dusting.Use a large sharp knife to cut  off wanut sized pieces (roughly 15g each) from the dough. Roll out each piece as thinly as possible with arolling pin,dusting with plenty of flour as you go.They should end up looking like long oval tongues,almost paper thin.
Place the crackers on a tray lined with baking parchment.Brush them with plenty of olive oil and sprinkle generously with Flor de sal. Bake for about 6 minutes,until crisp and golden.
Adapted from Ottolenghi ("Ottolenghi the cookbook")

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