Before sharing with you the main topic of this post—a sweet and savory jam so delicious you are going to want to make vast quantities, or simply have a jar on hand to slather on toasted or grilled bread, or better yet, just eat by the spoonful!—I wanted to first share with you some further thoughts about peperonata.
In my last post, one of the sides featured was Peperonata. Doing some further reading about that recipe I discovered additional ways the peperonata can be prepared to provide for more depth of flavor. Note: For those who are receiving this post for the first time, I will send you my last, titled the Side Show, so that what I am about to discuss will make sense to you.
Tessa Kiros, in her book titled, Veneza—Food & Dreams, shares a Venetian recipe for peperonata where it is not unusual for some cooks to add eggplant to the dish or where others might include anchovies and capers. The anchovies would certainly add more depth of flavor, and the capers would add more salt. These additions are a matter of personal taste.
However, I also discovered an additional step that Nancy Silverton shared in The Mozza Cookbook, which was introduced to her by an LA chef colleague. Once the initial cooking of the peperonata is complete, it is then placed in a preheated 350-degree oven and baked for 35 minutes, which allows for some charring and further caramelization, pushing the depth of flavor even more.
Having prepared another batch this way, I endorse the additional baking step because the end result was even better than my initial offering. And, one last point to make the dish even more festive and visually colorful: instead of limiting the ingredients to red bell peppers and red tomatoes, try a mix of red-orange-yellow peppers with red-yellow tomatoes.
Any liquid remaining from the first cooking after the peperonata is strained and then placed in the oven should be reduced to a syrupy consistency and spooned over the final dish after baking. Best eaten at room temperature. Yum!
I have included a photo of the finished dish right out of the oven.
Now back to the main topic of this post.
Having just returned from a few days visiting Charleston, South Carolina, with friends, I was tired of restaurant meals and eager to log some hours in my kitchen. Somewhere along the dining trail, perhaps on a menu or in one of the regional magazines I used to resesarch places to dine, I saw a reference to a sweet and savory onion accompaniment to a cheese biscuit with bacon. Being partial to all things chutney, jam, marmalade, mostarda, pickled, and preserved alike, and always interested in exploring new variations, I thought, why not try making one of my own with onions?
Inspired, I did some research in my cookbook collection and came across a term that I was unfamiliar with. Confitura, a fancy word for jam, with references from Italy, Portugal, and Spain, is another label for a sweet and savory condiment. In many cases, a combination of the sweet (figs in this case), with the savory (onions in this case), slowly cooked down, yields a smooth, spreadable, very flavorful condiment that can be used in many ways.
Using ingredients from my pantry, here is my approach to preparing an Onion and Fig Jam (Confitura or Marmaletta) with Rosemary and Balsamic.
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large onions; halved, peeled, then quartered, keeping attached at the root end, then cut into thin slices
12 dried figs; in this case Turkish figs, stems removed, sliced thin
5 to 6 fresh rosemary stems
3 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup white wine or white vermouth
2 tablespoons honey (your choice)
2 to 3 tablespoons brown sugar
Start the olive oil over medium heat in a large stockpot or Dutch oven with a lid.
Add the onions, figs, rosemary, and bay along with salt and pepper. Stir to combine and coat overall, cover and lower the heat to simmer for 20 minutes, allowing the mix to soften and release the natural moisture.
Uncover and add the remaining ingredients, again stir to combine and coat. Cover the pot and slowly simmer for another 20 minutes, but this time stir every 5 minutes or so to prevent the mix from sticking or burning. Adjust the heat as necessary.
At the end of the second simmer, uncover the pot because the liquid should be reduced. Stir to make sure nothing is sticking, check the seasoning, both salt and sweet, and slowly simmer uncovered for another 15 minutes, giving a stir every 5 minutes to allow almost all of the liquid to cook off, careful not to burn.
Remove the pot from the heat, take out the rosemary and bay; some of the rosemary leaves will remain, which is fine. Allow the finished jam to cool and then spoon into glass jars, cover tightly and refrigerate up to a month or freeze up to 6 months. I would argue that you will be making another batch well before 6 months has passed. The recipe easily scales up proportionately.
Some closing thoughts:
In my preparation I included one Vidalia onion and one red onion. Vidalia, Maui, and Walla Walla onions all work well and can be mixed if you choose. Since I did not have an open bottle of white wine at the ready, I used white vermouth instead, and the honey was from Tuscany.
Some recommended uses for this jam are:
- A topping on toasted or grilled bread, alone or over fresh chèvre or ricotta
- A condiment to be included as part of a charcuterie selection or a cheese course
- An accompaniment for any grilled or roasted meat such as thick-cut pork chops, beef tri-tip roast, duck breast, or various sausages
However, I will leave that for all of you to explore. Or if you are so inclined, just eat it out of the jar with a spoon!