Tomato Jam may sound like too summery a dish to post during the holiday season and dead of winter, but hear me out. This recipe is straight up addictive! So addictive, in fact, I have been known to enjoy it at every meal of the day. From toast in the morning with my fried egg, or with pasta and goat cheese at lunch, and finally as a topping for meatballs with polenta at dinner. It’s just one of those “cook once, enjoy endlessly” type recipes.
Today, I present this recipe to you as a party dish. After all, ’tis the entertaining season and with everyone’s hectic schedules we all could use something reliably good that can be made ahead of time, then transported and served easily. Pair this tomato jam with some creamy feta or goat cheese and some crackers or crostini and all of a sudden it’s a simple appetizer. Genius, eh?
So, full disclosure. This recipe is easy. But it is not quick. There is some stirring required, but otherwise not too much attention is paid to this as it simmers gently on the stove. Start by dicing up fennel, carrots, leeks and celery and sweating them in olive oil with some crushed red pepper flakes, sprigs of thyme and salt and pepper. Here’s where the stirring starts.
After about 15 minutes, add brown sugar and red wine vinegar. Cook another 5-8 minutes, still stirring often. The vinegar and brown sugar will cook into this lovely, caramel-y looking sauce. It will look so sweet and delicious you’ll be tempted to dip your finger right in the pot to sneak a taste. Don’t do it! It’s hot in there!
Now for the tomatoes. Aaaah, the beauty of canned tomatoes. Sure, ripe and fresh off-the-vine tomatoes enjoyed right in the dog-days of summer are priceless, but thank goodness for good quality canned tomatoes that allow us to enjoy these gems all year long.
I have done this recipe many different ways but I find that ultimately I prefer a chopped or diced canned tomato. By straining the tomatoes for a few minutes before adding to the pot, the final result is thicker and slightly chunkier, like the picture shown at the very top.
For a smoother, more sauce-like final product, skip the straining. Add the entire can, liquid and all. You’ll end up with something thinner, as in the photo right below. Both equally very good. So equal in fact, I couldn’t decide which way to direct you here. I love the thicker chunkier option, but I love the smoother saucier version, too. I’m sharing both variations and putting the power to decide in your hands at home!
So how do I turn this into a party dish? Just add cheese and bread, of course! First, I love to make my own crostini, but if you aren’t into it, a good cracker will work too. Next, I took a block of creamy feta (not the dry, crumbly kind). In fact, this brand here is my favorite. Now, you can either serve both the feta and the tomato jam in their own dishes and let guests “build their own” bite, or you can do what I did which was portion some feta onto each crostini with some chopped parsley. I think it looks pretty that way. Set the pre-dressed crostini (or crackers) on the serving tray, then all guests have to do is add a dollop of the jam. Easy for you as the host, easy for the guests.
My favorite part of this dish is that leftovers can be enjoyed throughout the week or tossed in the freezer and saved for enjoyment on a later date. So, as I often do, I suggest making a big batch! Bon appetite and happy entertaining!
Warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add fennel, carrots, celery, leeks, sprigs of thyme and crushed red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper. Sweat slowly until softened, about 15 minutes, stirring often. Try not to brown. Lower heat if necessary.
Set a strainer in a larger bowl. Pour canned tomatoes into the strainer. Let these hang out in the strainer until you need to add them to the pot. (If you prefer a saucier “jam”, don’t strain the tomatoes.)
Once veggies are softened, add brown sugar and red wine vinegar to the pot. Cook another 6-8 minutes, continuing to stir often. Mixture will start to look jammy or caramely.
Stir the strained tomatoes into the pot of veggies. Season with salt and pepper. Partially cover the pot. Set a timer for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Return to stir often, but allow the mixture to cook slowly until thickened and “jammy”.
Remove pot from heat. Discard thyme sprigs. Use an immersion blender to puree mixture to remove any large vegetable chunks. Check final seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve warm, or cover and refrigerate up to one week. Can also be frozen.