To repeat a joke my brother once made when I was in the same situation, I’ve got a lot of thyme on my hands. Fresh thyme. Which means it’s going bad soon. It took a while for me to place why I’d gotten the large stash of spindles tucked away in my crisper drawer (oh right, those squash-stuffed Jamaican-style patties) today. I’ve got a lot of the dried kind, too. If only time were as plentiful as my thyme, then I’d have all the time in the world to make as many thymely recipes as possible.
Luckily there are a million and one uses for thyme. It makes a glorious pesto with olive oil and garlic. It simmers well into soups and braises of so many kinds. My only wish is that it didn’t have to be so darn infuriating to separate from its stem. Most of the time (no more puns intended — swear!), you can shuck off the tiny leaves while holding the stem upright. Not so much after they’ve been slowly wilting in the fridge for a week. No, this time it took precarious care — and lots of time — to prep the thyme. I don’t know how anyone else does it, or if there’s a better way than poring over a sprig one at a time, tediously plucking free the greens.
I can only think of savory applications for this herb, which smells a bit floral and pine needle-y at once to me. I thought it might go well with smoky bacon, a kindred savory spirit. So for this BLT with a little extra, I first added fresh thyme to the starter of my no-knead dough. Since eggplant is in season, and makes great sandwiches, I sliced a basic, fat purple one into rounds and smeared the tops with olive oil and more thyme before roasting in a hot oven. Thyme-traveling over to the condiments, I flavored a spot of mayonnaise with a mashed, just-roasted red pepper and a sprinkle of (you guessed it) thyme. There’s a place for thyme in everything!
I skipped one of the crucial ingredients in the BLT — the L — since the lettuce in the produce aisle wasn’t looking so hot. So I took a few big leaves of basil from my windowsill plant instead. In the end, I’m not sure how necessary bacon is to this sandwich, after enjoying the mushy, caramelized eggplant so much. But then I’d have to name it ELT, and I’d also have to make it all over again, photograph it, and, well — I’m sure everyone has a preference of their own. So do what you will: E or B, basil or lettuce, thyme-studded toast or any bread of your imagination. But don’t leave out the roasted red pepper mayo — it’s a zinger.
Roasted Eggplant BLT with Roasted Red Pepper Mayo
(makes about 4 sandwiches)
8 slices of bread, any kind, toasted
8 slices bacon, cooked crispy
1 or 2 tomatoes, sliced
1 large eggplant, slices to 1/2″ thick rounds
1 medium red pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
about 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 lettuce leaves (or 8 fresh basil leaves)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper
Spread eggplant slices on an ungreased baking sheet(s) and sprinkle each with salt. Let sit 20-30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place the red pepper whole in a heatproof dish and bake for about 10 minutes. Flip over with tongs and bake another 5-10 minutes, or until most of the skin has blistered and turned black in parts. Remove from oven and let cool.
Meanwhile, lower oven to 400 degrees. Squeeze or pat dry eggplant slices of any droplets of liquid that have appeared on top. Brush each side with the olive oil, and sprinkle both sides with a little more salt, some pepper, and half the thyme leaves. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the centers have become very soft. Remove from pan and set aside.
Slice open red pepper and remove seeds and stem. With a dull knife, gently scrape away the skin. Place in a blender or food processor along with the mayonnaise and the rest of the thyme. Pulse several times, scraping down the sides occasionally, until mixture is relatively well-blended and smooth. If necessary, add 1-2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil to thin the mixture and help it blend better.
Spread red pepper mayo on both sides of your toast. Layer on the eggplant slices, bacon, lettuce (or basil) and tomato, close sandwich and serve.
(for 4 servings)
1 eggplant (at $1.25/lb): $1.50
1 large tomato (at $2.50/lb): $2.00
1 red pepper (at $3/lb): $1.25
8 slices bacon (from my freezer; no idea how much it originally cost): $2.50(?)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (homemade): $0.50
1 tablespoon fresh thyme (at $2/bunch): $0.40
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil: $0.30
8 basil leaves (from home plant): $0.20
8 slices bread (homemade): $0.35
Seven brownie points: Even with its 2:1 ratio of fresh vegetables to fatty meat, the BLT has never been high on health advocates’ lists. For every health plus there’s a downturn: low-calorie eggplant? How about smothering it with a lot of oil? Vitamin-rich red pepper? How about mixing it into mayonnaise? Lettuce (or basil) and tomato? Why leave them without the company of bacon? This is definitely a transitional dish, of light summer fare heading into heavier fall comfort foods.
Six maple leaves: The only thing that didn’t come from local farms via the Greenmarket was either homemade (bread, mayonnaise), or of mysterious origin. I’d unwrapped some bacon and put it in a plastic freezer bag some several months ago, and now have no idea where it was originally obtained. Finally, the olive oil came from California, not as far a fossil fuel-burning trip as it could have been.