Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Green tomato jam with ginger and vanilla
I've been doing my best to forget about tomatoes, loading up at the market on knobbly-skinned winter squash, the tender little broccoli known as brocoletti, and skinny carrots the color of beets courtesy of organic market gardener Joëlle. Oh, and lots of local oranges and lemons too, their leaves still clinging to the stems.
But on Saturday, at Pierre's stand, tomatoes couldn't help but catch my eye one last time. Pierre, you might remember, is the producer who cultivated more than 100 heirloom tomato varieties this summer. His plants continue to produce, even sprouting new seedlings which he has replanted under cover because on the Côte d'Azur there is an off chance that tomatoes could flourish in winter.
Saturday's heat-deprived green tomatoes couldn't compare to the summer's flamboyant display, but they brought to mind an extraordinary green tomato jam I had tasted at Oliviera with the fresh ewe's milk cheese known as brousse de brebis. As luck would have it Nadim, the maker of this jam, was standing next to me and all I had to do was turn to him and ask for the recipe. Armed with his generous advice I picked up two kilos, happy to give tomatoes a last hurrah before winter really sets in.
At home, I was curious to see what recipes might be circulating on the internet and soon came across one from the famed Alsatian jam maker Christine Ferber. Her recipe, although similar to Nadim's in its proportions, involved macerating the fruit overnight and giving it a 10-minute boil the next day before leaving it for another 24 hours and boiling it again. I rejected this method not because I'm against jam that takes three days to make, but because my Saturday expedition to the market had left not an inch of space in my French-sized refrigerator for the luxury of letting fruit macerate.
Ferber also advises carefully deseeding each tomato and removing the white membranes, directions that I took rather lightly as Pierre's heirloom varieties don't have many seeds or membranes. When I did come across a tomato with a lot of seeds, I squeezed them out.
I added ginger to recreate the taste I so loved in Nadim's jam, but also couldn't resist throwing in one of my lively-scented Madagascar vanilla beans that had just arrived in the post. You'll be hearing more about these beans and their uses very soon.
The result, after a relaxing hour and a half of bubbling and occasional stirring, was a beautiful translucent green jam flecked with black dots, its sweetness enhanced by the vanilla and offset by the ginger. You can of course spread it on bread, but I agree with Nadim that it's particularly delicious with fresh cheese or thick yoghurt.
Green tomato jam with ginger and vanilla
Makes about 4 11-oz (300 g) jars
4 1/2 lbs green tomatoes (2 kg)
1/2 the weight in sugar of the tomatoes, once the tomatoes have been deseeded and diced
2-inch chunk ginger, peeled (5 cm)
1 vanilla bean
Juice of 1 lemon, organic if possible
Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally and squeeze out the seeds if they seem to have a lot of seeds. Cut the tomatoes into small dice and weigh them to find out what quantity of sugar you will need. Slice the ginger against the grain and then chop it finely. Slit the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds with a knife, holding each half flat against the board as you scrape.
Place the tomatoes, sugar, ginger, vanilla bean with its seeds and lemon juice in a large saucepan or a copper jam basin if you have one. Bring to a boil, stirring, then reduce the heat and let the jam bubble happily and reduce until thickened. It should look like a thick, syrupy green tomato sauce, which can take up to 2 hours. To test for doneness, drip some of the liquid onto a cold plate. If it sets, the jam is done.
Meanwhile sterilize the pots, either by boiling them in a large pot of water for 10 minutes or washing them well and placing them in the oven at 375 F (180 C) to dry for 20 mins. Fill the pots with the jam while both are still very hot. Seal with very clean lids.