I am sitting here at my computer screen, imagining you, at the office or on your iPhone or skimming through your Reader, asking myself what I can possibly say to accurately communicate to you the importance of today’s recipe, and I’m thinking about the reality that you are probably doing ten other things right now, that while you are deciding whether or not to keep reading or click away, you’ve also got a Word doc up; your email inbox, open; if your kids aren’t crying, they’re about to. You and I both know that just because it’s Friday, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a to-do list, physical or not, on your mind for today, and you’re trying to remember things and wanting to go get jobs done, so when you click here for a second and I ask for your attention, even with a photo like this top one, I know it’s not an easy sell. I know what I’m up against. But listen, please hear me on this one if you’ve never heard me before and will never hear me again:
You want to hear about this tomato jam.
Once more, in all caps, the way my mom types me emails:
YOU WANT TO HEAR ABOUT THIS TOMATO JAM!
Now that we’ve got that settled, let me explain. Because in response to the 30 new Twitter updates you’ve missed just in reading the beginning of this post, in defense of the time you’re spending here that could be spent in any number of other places, I am offering you something totally worth the trade off. This is not like when the cable company said your bill would go down or when the dentist said the filling would be no big deal—this stuff is the genuine article, the real thing, the kind of pearls that will actually feel gritty when you rub them along the edge of your front teeth.
This tomato jam is July. It’s outdoor picnics while the sun sets. You could think of it like the bottled version of long summer nights and roads lined by cornfields, as spoonfuls of Saturday morning farmer’s markets and months of no school, when the weeks stretch out before you, late morning after late morning, and you go to the pool and the lake and your friends’ houses and everything smells like cut grass and hot asphalt and your neighbor’s rows of flowers.
And look, you don’t have to believe me, but to say that this tomato jam will change your life is no exaggeration, not after you watch what happens to a pound and a half of freshly boiled, peeled, sweet tomatoes (tomatoes you picked up from a roadside stand if possible, for $2 a pound) when they’re combined with onions and basil and honey and spices and left to simmer the long, slow simmer that releases their juices and breaks up their shapes and turns them into what is roughly the equivalent of tomato gold.
This is the tomato jam I’ve dreamed of making ever since I opened Michael Natkin’s new “Herbivoracious” cookbook, which arrived at our doorstep a few months ago. It’s the tomato jam worth spending your fresh garden tomatoes on, the tomato jam to watch transform on your stovetop and find yourself remembering what it is to be amazed.
You can slather it on roasted portabello mushrooms, fresh off the grill; put it on your morning toast, alongside your eggs; sandwich it with raw mozzarella and fresh basil on buttered sourdough, sauteing them into a grilled cheese that tastes like July evenings outside Spacca Napoli in Chicago.
In other words, like avocados and like summer and like love, this tomato jam is something to celebrate—for its ability to surprise you, for its pure magic, for its rare and uncanny ability to not only make good on its promises but, to be better than you dreamed. Make it; try it ; it will be worth your time.
Some housekeeping: Food Loves Writing underwent a little makeover this week, so if you haven’t clicked through in a while, now would be a great time. We’re still working on some changes, but for now, there’s a revised header, a new sidebar, some new organization —and feedback is welcome, so let us know what you think or if you have any questions!
Adapted from Herbivarious by Michael Natkin*
Makes about one cup
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored, peeled and diced**
1/2 cup finely diced white onion
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon very finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon sea salt
A few dashes of cayenne pepper
A few dashes of freshly ground black pepper
Combine the tomatoes, onion, lemon juice, basil, honey and salt in a saucepan. Add a couple dashes of cayenne pepper and black pepper. Bring to a simmer (Michael notes that you don’t need to worry about adding water as the tomatoes will produce plenty of liquid as they cook). Once simmering, adjust the heat on the stove to keep the tomatoes simmering until the mixture becomes thick and syrupy, about an hour or two. Taste and adjust seasonings as you like. Serve at room temperature. Can be refrigerated up to three days.
For the pizza-like grilled cheese this jam can make, butter one side each of two pieces of sourdough bread, layering the opposite side of one with mozzarella and basil; and spread tomato jam on the inside of the second piece of bread. Heat a pan over medium heat and place the mozzarella-basil slice of bread, butter-side-down, on the pan. Top with jam-covered slice, jam-side-down. Cook until browned and cheese is melting; flip to other side.
*Disclosure: We received a review copy of “Herbivoracious,” which is featured in this post.
**As noted in the comments below, here is the (fast! easy!) method we used to prep the tomatoes:
Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a rolling boil. Meanwhile, wash tomatoes, core out the stem part and with a paring knife, make an X on the other end. Place tomatoes in boiling water. Leave for about eight seconds, no kidding. Scoop out with a slotted spoon. Let cool. The skin comes right off. More kitchen magic!