Monday, May 26, 2008

I know, I know. I left you guys hanging yesterday. We were in Ocean City, Maryland, eating crabs and playing skee-ball, and we didn't get home until after midnight. Even today I am tired and bloated from all the fun I had and the salt I consumed yesterday.

One of the simplest appetizers of all time is just a block of goat cheese or cream cheese with some kind of chutney or jam poured over it, served with a basket of crackers. Any kind of jam is good, especially raspberry, but my favorite is a savory onion chutney flavored with chiles and garlic. It's the kind of thing you find in a specialty food store, and even then it's not easy to find, so I was thrilled to find this recipe for an onion jam.

This is easy and flexible and meant to be played with. Use great ingredients, taste it as you go to measure the need for seasoning, and give it lots of time to turn sweet. Besides the appetizer I mentioned above, try it with grilled tuna, or with sauteed greens like kale or escarole.

Slow and Easy Savory Onion Jam

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 to 6 medium red onions, thinly sliced
10 large shallots, thinly sliced
8 to 10 big cloves garlic (not Elephant type), thinly sliced
salt and generous freshly ground black pepper
shredded zest of 2 large oranges (optional)
1/4 cup currants or raisins (optional)
1 small fresh tomato, peeled, or a canned tomato
1/4 to 1/2 cup wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

Heat oil in a 12-inch saute pan over medium high. Add onions, shallots, garlic, salt and pepper, tossing to combine. Once they begin sizzling, turn heat to medium low, cover pan and cook 30 minutes, adding zest and raisins half way through cooking. Once onions become soft and clear, uncover, raising heat to medium high.

Brown the onions. Stir often, scraping up the brown glaze on the bottom of the pan. You may need a little water as they approach being done. Once deep gold, stir in tomato and 1/4 cup vinegar, cooking it down to nothing.

Taste for a soft sweet-tart balance. If necessary, cook in a little sugar, or more vinegar. Tomato should meld into the onions, while the vinegar cooks down to an appealing backdrop, not a sharp accent. Cool quickly and pack in jars. Keep cold, but serve close to room temperature.

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