Thyme & Peach Tart
If there were a song for thyme, I think it'd be this one; a comforting, familiar tune. And if it were a color, I think it'd be the soft green of where the sky's blues meet sunset's yellows, a watercolor-like mixture of light that is surprising and subtle, sometimes hard to see. Just so, I find thyme's flavor hard to pull out when it's blended with other ingredients; it's there and then gone, not delicate so much as just laying low, maybe sitting in the corner ready to tell you a great joke if you just lean a little closer.
Thyme is indeed so "common" that I find myself forgetting how beautiful it can be. Which is why I am so glad I had a chance to spend some time with it, just one on one, and then with some deliciously ripe peaches. Inhaling the thyme brings back a recent memory of traveling out to the Berkshires with some family and seeing great swathes of wild thyme blooming on people's lawns, or on the side of the road. Like a little sliver of Greece, this part of Massachusetts (and the world) is carpeted in fragrant, creeping, wild thyme. Imagine if we could make an aromatic map of the world. What would your neighborhood smell like?
Thyme, of the genus Thymus, is a member of the mint family. The most common, culinary thyme, seen in these photos and probably at your local supermarket or in your "bouquet garni" blend, is called Thymus vulgaris, and also has medicinal uses. All thymes are distinct because of the compound 'thymol,' a powerful antiseptic, which is why the herb has been traditionally used to treat coughs and bronchitis, and now is becoming known as an acne treatment. Thymol also happens to be one of the ingredients used in Listerine mouthwash.
In Greece, the word for thyme shares its root with the words for "spirit" and "smoke," from when the ancients used the herb in sacrificial burnings. The herb grows particularly well in Greece, where the abundance of sun and well-drained soils serve to concentrate the aromatics in the plant. But it has adapted to many other environments, and with all its different species, including lemon thyme, caraway thyme, and more than 300 others, you can imagine how the plant strives to coat the planet.
But enough on facts and thyme's planetary take-over.
I made a thyme peach tart and it was delicious.
The trick in getting the thyme into the tart (or pie) is to roll it into the crust. And since we're now in the last days of summer and celebrating Labor Day on monday, why not labor over some pie crust? It's definitely worth it.
Combined with fresh, super-ripe stone fruits (find them from a local farm for the best flavor) the thyme acts to heighten the warm, comforting notes that are so wonderful about pie while also making it new and interesting. I loved the taste of this tart because it wasn't too sweet; the crust is almost savory and when paired with the fruit makes for a really satisfying dessert. Or breakfast. Or snack.
Bring it to a barbecue! Or just make one for yourself.
Peach Tart with Thyme Crust
Can be served warm or cold, and definitely is enhanced by a dollop of whipped cream!
adapted from King Arthur Flour's recipe for all-butter pie dough
Note: Recipe makes enough for 2 crusts. Freeze one, or make a quiche.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup (16 TB, 8 oz) cold unsalted butter
1/4 - 1/2 cup ice water
3-4 TB fresh thyme leaves, or 2 TB dried
Sift together flour and salt. Cut butter into tiny cubes (pea sized) and sprinkle into flour mixture, stirring lightly with a fork. Pour this mixture into a food processor (or mixer fitted with dough hook, but I prefer the processor) and begin to pulse, breaking up the butter. Add the ice water a little at a time until the dough comes together into a ball. You may not need all the water!
Roll into 2 balls and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 10-30 min. The longer the better.
When ready to roll, heat the oven to 375 F and get your pan ready! Coat counter in flour and flatten ball. Roll out the dough to 1" thickness and sprinkle on 1/3 of the thyme. Roll out a little more, than fold the dough over itself to enclose the thyme. Flip it over and continue to roll, add thyme, fold and roll, until you've added all the thyme. Place in pan and shape to fit.
Par-bake the crust by laying a sheet of tin foil over the crust and pouring on pie-weights or dry beans. Bake for 8 minutes, then remove the weights, prick the crust and bake another 10-12 minutes, or until the crust begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool and continue with filling.
adapted from Julia Child's "Tarte aux Pêches" from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
4-5 ripe peaches, peeled & thinly sliced
1/2 cup sugar
2 TB butter, cut into small cubes
Heat oven to 375 F. Sprinkle 3 TB of the sugar onto the bottom of the crust. Lay the sliced peaches in the crust (in overlapping concentric circles if your pan is circular, or in overlapping lines if square). Spread the rest of the sugar overtop and sprinkle on the cubes of butter.
Bake in the middle level of preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the fruit starts to golden and become syrupy. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.
For added shine, drizzle on 1/4 cup of heated apricot jam (just heat in microwave for 20-30 seconds or until liquid.)
Serve with whipped cream and a garnish of thyme leaves. Bon appétit!