When my garden herbs start coming on strong, I am constantly on the lookout for ways to use them.
They're perfect as a pretty garnish, tossed into salads or sprinkled on pasta dishes. And you can't beat fresh herbs in basic vinaigrette. With so many uses, they're definitely culinary workhorses.
This summer I planted herbs I tend to use often — sage, tarragon and thyme (regular and orange). My oregano and rosemary stayed strong throughout the winter in the greenhouse, so I didn't have to replant them. They continue to flourish on the deck. This year, I also planted lime basil, which has a pleasant citrusy taste.
I've snipped basil for panzanella and other salads; made herb butters with a mix of tarragon, chives and garlic to slather on corn on the cob and grilled bread; and placed a few sage leaves under the skin of a grilled whole turkey breast.
My thyme plants are looking very lush, in part because they haven't had as much of a workout as my other herbs. Thyme can be a tough one to use. Some folks don't care for its strong flavor because it can overpower dishes. Keep in mind that a small amount of thyme goes a long way.
I came across a recipe for boneless pork chops in the July-August issue of Eating Well magazine. It uses 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped thyme to season the pork and sauce. The sweetness of the sauce from the apricot jam and the orange and pineapple juices tones down the thyme, creating a nice balance.
What is also ideal is that this recipe, made in a skillet, comes together in 30 minutes. It's a great weeknight option or Sunday supper.
The orange thyme was a perfect match for this dish. You can taste the thyme flavor at first, then the orange tones.
Thyme also pairs well with beef and poultry. And it's great as a seasoning for soups and stews.
Use only the thyme leaves, not the woody stems. To easily remove the leaves from the sprig, run your thumb and finger down the stem, stripping off the leaves as you go. The leaves are small, so you can leave them whole or chop them.
When using herbs such as thyme, you may substitute fresh for dried in many recipes. The general equivalent is 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs if the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of dried.
Thyme, pork chop and pineapple skillet supper
3 tablespoons apricot preserves or orange marmalade
3 tablespoons orange juice, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon Dijon or stone-ground mustard
½ teaspoon minced fresh ginger
½ teaspoon curry powder
4 fresh or canned pineapple rings (½ -inch thick), cut in half, any juice reserved
2 teaspoons butter
4 boneless pork loin chops (about 4-5 ounces each and ½ -inch thick), trimmed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
½ teaspoon salt, divided
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
Thyme sprigs for garnish, optional
If the preserves are chunky, chop any large pieces. Combine preserves, 3 tablespoons orange juice, mustard, ginger and curry powder in a small bowl; set aside. Pour pineapple juice into a measuring cup; if necessary, add enough orange juice to equal 1⁄3 cup total. Set aside.
In a large non-stick skillet, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add pork chops, sprinkle with ½ tablespoon thyme, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1⁄8 teaspoon pepper. Immediately turn them over and sprinkle with another ½ tablespoon thyme and the remaining salt and pepper. Cook chops, turning occasionally and adjusting heat as necessary, until browned, 3 to 4 minutes.
Add reserved juice to pan. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking until chops are cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer to a platter and keep warm.
Add pineapple, reserved sauce and remaining 1 tablespoon thyme to the pan. Cook, stirring, until hot and bubbling, 1 to 2 minutes. To serve, spoon sauce onto chops and pineapple.
Makes 4 servings.
From Eating Well magazine, July-August 2011.