I hope my inaugural recipes coincide with a bounty of late summer tomatoes in your garden. I harvested over six pounds of fruit this week, with varieties ranging from common plum and cherry tomatoes to more unusual heirlooms like Wapsipinicon Peach and Japanese Black Trifele.
Dividing my haul into two recipes, I made two styles of tomato jams or spreads that could be used in countless ways...eating them by the spoonful included!
My first recipe is inspired by numerous tomato jam recipes, all of which contained too much sugar. For the same amount of tomatoes I used, some recipes use double the sugar. Sounds more like tomato cake frosting! (hmmm.... maybe I need to try that?)
My other gripe about many tomato jam recipes is their heavy-handed use of those obligatory autumn spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. In moderation I like all of them, but I do tire this time of year of everything tasting like a pumpkin pie. (I referenced Anh's recipe the most because she uses these spices in moderation.) To infuse just a touch of fall flavor, I've incorporated the use of a spice sachet. Simply simmer the cloth full of spices along with your tomatoes and remove from the pot when the jam reaches your preferred "autumness". Fall is still officially 3 weeks away, so you can always double up on the spices if you're anxious for those flavors.
That's the great thing about this tomato jam recipe. It serves as a well-balanced base that you can adjust to your taste. Despite the reduction in sugar, it's still quite sweet—it is a jam, after all—so feel free to play with the amount of sugar. None of the flavors are overpowering and, most importantly, the tomatoes are the stars. If you like it spicy, add a couple more pinches of red pepper flakes. And for an even richer smoky flavor, heap on the paprika. But if you've never had tomato jam before, prepare to be amazed. It's like candy and it will remind you that tomato really is a fruit and it absolutely has a place in the jam section.
A word of caution and how my lack thereof resulted in a happy accident. Halfway though simmering, the liquid will be reduced and the ingredients begin sticking to the pan. Always multitasking, I got distracted and returned to find the mixture starting to burn in my pot. I transferred the mixture to a new pot, leaving the thick gunk behind for fear it would impart a burned flavor into my jam. Quite the opposite. The "burned" layer was actually wonderfully caramelized, sweet, and smoky. So delicious, in fact, that I will never not burn this recipe in the future! So, if you're brave enough to do a controlled burn, you'll be rewarded. (And by "burn" I mean caramelize. Please don't burn your house down.)
Sweet & Smoky Tomato Jam
Makes approx. 2.5-3 cups. Cooking and prep time: 2 to 2.5 hrs.
Using the same cooking concept as the sweet jam above, I also made a zesty, savory, Italian tomato spread. It has a touch of sweetness to boost the tomatoes, but the balsamic vinegar and fresh basil take center stage. I served a dollop of this all-purpose spread alongside a simple pasta of spaghetti tossed with fresh garlic, fresh chopped parsley, and butter (and, of course, Parmesan if you have it). Pasta should be respected for its own flavor and not just used as a sauce delivery vehicle. By serving a dollop of this tomato spread on the side, you can customize each bite and savor every individual flavor on your plate.
Tangy Savory Tomato Basil Spread
Makes approx. 2 cups. Cooking and prep time: 2 to 2.5 hrs.
As with any tomato recipe, the sugar and water content of the tomatoes vary greatly by variety. Alter sugar amounts and cooking times according to your particular tomatoes.
Garden tomatoes have dramatically more flavor than store bought tomatoes. I would only make these recipes if I had an abundance of homegrown tomatoes, as the flavors of store bought tomatoes will bring lackluster results.
The high acid content from the tomatoes and vinegar should allow these recipes to be stored in the refrigerator for 7 days or be canned. However, consult a canning and storage reference to ensure safety.
These spreads have highly condensed flavors; therefore, a little goes a long way. Try the tangy tomato spread dolloped alongside eggs scrambled with Boursin and fresh herbs. Or, use as the base for an amazing bolognase sauce. Both recipes are fabulous served on white cheddar crostini with fresh basil. Crostini is so simple: cut a French baguette into 1/4" rounds and top with a slice of English white cheddar. Broil on low (or move your pan 3 racks from the burner) until the bread and cheese have lightly browned. The toasts can be further baked at 350° if a crispier result is desired.
* I used Trader Joe's Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar which introduced a lovely delicate orange flavor. Experiment with different vinegars and consider adding a splash of orange juice.
** Most Worcestershire sauce is not vegetarian so I use Annie's vegan Worcestershire sauce.