Month: May 2015

Onion and Fig Jam with Rosemary and Balsamic

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

Other ingredients

Other ingredients

Ready to cook

Ready to cook

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!




The Side Show

My friend Ed is becoming quite the expert with his approach to BBQ brisket, having traveled on business many times around the land of horse shit and gun smoke, AKA Texas, where he has gained his exposure and inspiration for this smoky carnivores’ treat. At his request I prepared the three sides to accompany his brisket cook-off this past weekend.

The inspiration for the first dish comes from my interest in preparing chutneys, mostardas, and sweet/savory marmalades. I discovered this recipe in a book titled Duck & Waffle Recipes and Stories, featuring the popular new London restaurant. What I like about the recipe is the ease in preparation and assembly, the depth of flavor from the long, slow cooking, and the flexibility to substitute some ingredients without significantly changing the overall dish.

Not only is it a great side vegetable dish, it is equally good with a cheese course, or atop a crostini paired with any number of other ingredients—for example, thinly sliced, roasted Merguez sausage, or sliced pickled garlic, sliced hard-cooked egg and minced fresh basil.

Here is my take on what D&W calls Peperonata.



Olive oil, approximately 1/2 cup
6 red bell peppers, seeded, ribs removed, sliced 1/4-inch thick (all yellow bell peppers could be substituted, or a mix of both red and yellow if you’re feeling creative.)
2 medium red onions, finely sliced into half rings (sweet white onions—for example, Vidalia—could be substituted.)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
10 plum tomatoes, seeds and pulp removed, thinly sliced (as the summer season continues these tomatoes will only get better and more flavorful)
2 to 3 bay leaves
2 to 3 thyme sprigs, tied at the end
2 to 3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar (white wine vinegar could be substituted)
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (orange zest could be substituted)
Salt and pepper

Mise en Place

Mise en place

After preparing all the ingredients, heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat.

Add the peppers, onions, and garlic, mixing to combine and coat. Slowly cook for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally mixing until the vegetables begin to soften. Salt and pepper to taste.

Add the remaining ingredients, again mixing to combine and continue the slow cooking for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, mixing often so as not to burn. The end result should be a marmalade-like consistency where the tomatoes melt into the pepper and onion mix and most of the liquid has been absorbed by the cooked vegetables.

Allow to cool, remove the bay leaves and tied thyme sprigs and store in jars, which keep for a month in the refrigerator.



The next side dish is one I make a few times during the summer season because it is a great accompaniment to most anything that comes off the grill. It could even stand in as the main dish when accompanied by a mixed green salad, or when they are ready to be picked, a field tomato-and-red-onion salad with fresh herbs.


Roasted Potato Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

3 to 4 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered, do not skin. (allow 2 potatoes per person)
1/4 pound fruitwood smoked bacon, minced
1 medium white sweet or red onion, roasted and then rough chopped
1 small bunch green onions (scallions), finely diced
2 to 3 celery ribs with leaves, finely diced
2 to 3 fennel stems with fronds, finely diced
3 to 4 parsley stems, leaves and stems finely diced
Salt and pepper

Mise en Place

Mise en place

Mise en Place

Mise en place

For the vinaigrette:
1 hard cooked egg, minced
4 tablespoons of lemon juice
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat
1-1/2 tablespoons mayo, prepared or homemade
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 medium garlic clove finely minced

Quarter the onion, leaving the root end intact. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper. Place in an ovenproof dish and roast in a preheated 375-degree oven for 1 hour or until fork tender.

Spread out the cut potatoes in a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper. Place in a preheated 375-degree oven for 1 hour or until fork tender and lightly browned.

Once the roasting is complete, allow to cool, chop the onion and mix together with the potatoes in a large bowl and set aside.

While the onions and potatoes are roasting, sauté the bacon in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp. Place the bacon on paper towels to drain and pour off the rendered fat, keeping it warm, to later be included in the vinaigrette.

Once the bacon is drained and cooled, place it along with the other ingredients in the bowl with the potatoes and onions and mix thoroughly, turning over so that all the ingredients are fully combined. Do not dress the salad until just before serving, and serve at room temperature or slightly warmed.

Potato and onion mix after roasting

Potato and onion mix after roasting

To assemble the vinaigrette, either whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl, or pour them all into a jar and shake vigorously to combine. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. When the salad is finally dressed, it should not be floating in the vinaigrette, but instead lightly moistened and thoroughly mixed so that it is evenly covered. More vinaigrette can be spooned on individual servings if desired.

Roasted Potato Salad

Roasted potato salad

Shaved Fennel, Radish, Carrot Salad

This is a refreshing and colorful salad and works nicely with most anything coming off the grill as well as being a nice side for all sorts of seafood. You will need to have a mandoline in order to get the thin slices for each of the ingredients included. I would urge some caution when slicing on the mandoline, keeping in mind you don’t have to use every last piece of each vegetable, since all the leftover trim can be used in a soup base, a soffritto, or even a stir fry, so nothing will be wasted. Saves your fingertips as well!

1 large fennel bulb
1 large watermelon radish
1 large black radish
2 large round red radishes
2 large carrots
Leaves from several parsley stems
Salt and pepper

For the simple vinaigrette:
1 to 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 generous teaspoon honey (your choice)
Olive oil twice the volume of the vinegar and lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Note: You can add 1/2 teaspoon of Dijon if you like. Either whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl, or pour them all in a jar and shake vigorously to combine. First dissolve the honey and the Dijon if using, in the vinegar and lemon juice to yield a smooth liquid. If using a whisk, slowly add the oil and mix until a smooth emulsion forms. If shaking everything in a jar, pour the oil over the vinegar mix and continue shaking until an emulsion forms. Dress the salad at serving time.

Using the mandoline, slice each ingredient to approximately 1/16-inch thick. With the fennel, cut off the stalks and save for another use, then slice it across the top where the stalks were removed. Cut the carrots in half if they are long and then slice those halves lengthwise for long thin ribbons. The radishes can be cut across the round starting from the root end.

If serving immediately, toss everything together in a large bowl, separating the vegetables as they have a tendency to stick together when cut that thin. Mix in the parsley leaves and it is best to mix this salad with your hands so as not to break the thin cuttings. If not serving immediately, as you cut, layer the vegetables on paper towels, keeping the cuttings separated so they don’t stick together, then cover and refrigerate the bowl.

Shaved fennel, radish, and carrot salad

Shaved fennel, radish, and carrot salad

So I’m counting on you to give at least one of these sides a try this summer, and if you are feeling inspired perhaps all three. Let me know how your Side Show turns out.