Herb Jam With a Mediterranean Pedigree

David Tanis, The New York Times  |  Updated: July 13, 2017 15:05 IST

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Herb Jam With a Mediterranean Pedigree
The cookbook author Paula Wolfert has always been a trailblazer, searching for unusual recipes throughout the Mediterranean, and introducing her readers to authentic renditions of regional cooking.

Her first and still-influential book, “Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco,” published in 1973, influenced a generation of cooks yearning to expand its horizons. This fascinating recipe for a mixture of long-cooked greens, which she learned while living in Morocco, appeared in “The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook,” from 2003. Wolfert calls this traditional savory spread made of wild-foraged leaves an herb jam. The term refers to the somewhat time-consuming cooking-down process. It is a jam in the sense that stewed onions are sometimes called marmalade.

The acclaimed chef Russell Moore of Camino restaurant in Oakland, California, a great fan of Wolfert and this recipe, has adapted and incorporated herb jam into his daily menu. It is prominently featured in the just-released cookbook “This Is Camino,” which Moore and his wife and partner, Allison Hopelain, wrote with Chris Colin.

Herb jam appeals to Moore for more than its undeniable deliciousness. He favors a zero-waste kitchen model, making this preparation perfect. Instead of wild greens, it uses greens, like the outer leaves of lettuce, that would otherwise be discarded. A wilted chard leaf, a limp bunch of parsley or even a few carrot tops may be included.

Making herb jam helps balance the books, he says, by generating income that allows him to spend on the organic produce in which he passionately believes. He has little patience for restaurants that use organic “when possible.” Don’t rationalize with him; you won’t win the argument.Moore does a lot of things other chefs don’t. For one thing, nearly everything on Camino’s menu is cooked over fire and glowing coals in a giant hearth that is the focal point of the restaurant. He is a master of the flames, and he was so well before live-fire cooking became trendy. A lot of his rustic fare is slowly cooked in earthenware pots and cazuelas.

For my adaptation of his adaptation of Wolfert’s original recipe, I used kale, broccoli raab, chard, parsley, mint, marjoram and scallions. The greens are steamed first, then sautéed and nursed to tenderness.

The result is marvelous, truly. The flavor of herb jam is deep and haunting, sparked with cumin and hot pepper, drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice. Spread it on toasted pita bread, with this warning: It is highly addictive.

Moroccan Herb Jam

Time: 1 hour

Yield: About 4 cups

1 1/2 pounds various greens and herbs (like chard, kale, broccoli raab, dill, marjoram, parsley, cilantro, celery tops and scallions, and outer leaves of lettuce or similar greens)

6 large cloves garlic, unpeeled

Extra-virgin olive oil

2 small hot red chilies (dried) or a pinch of crushed red pepper

Salt

1 1/2 tablespoons cumin seeds, toasted in a dry pan until fragrant, then ground

1/4 cup roughly chopped pitted black olives, such as Kalamata or oil-cured

Pinch of pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika)

Lemon, for final seasoning

Pita or flatbread, for serving

1. Put the greens and herbs and garlic cloves all together in a large steamer set over medium-high heat, and steam until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. (If you don’t have a steamer, use a large, deep skillet with a lid. Put 2 inches of water in bottom of pan, add greens, cover and cook at a brisk simmer.)

2. Set the garlic aside. Drain greens, let cool and squeeze out moisture; pick out the tougher herb stems if necessary. Put greens and herbs on a cutting board and chop very finely with a large knife.

3. Put 4 tablespoons olive oil in a wide skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chilies and let them sizzle without browning (or use a pinch of crushed red pepper), then add the chopped greens, a pinch of salt and half the cumin seeds. The flavor is concentrated by cooking most of the moisture out of the greens; this will take about 10 to 15 minutes. (Stir the herb jam mixture often as the water evaporates; it will want to stick.)

4. Turn the heat off but leave the mixture in the pan. Peel the steamed garlic and mash it into the pan along with the olives. Mix everything and taste; add salt as needed, a good splash of olive oil, the pimentón and more cumin to taste. The herb jam should be highly seasoned. Add more chili if it isn’t spicy enough. Just before serving, add a squeeze of lemon. Spread on toasted pita or flatbread if desired. The herb jam can be stored in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for about 5 days.

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