Herb jam a la Paula Wolfert
March 26, 2010 § 6 Comments
I’ve been having an long-running debate with myself about whether it’s ever worth it to go buy a bunch of parsley. I’m not really a parsley girl to begin with (cilantro is another story – I’m fanatical!). Then, so many recipes that call for parsley call for at most a couple of Tablespoons in the recipe and as a garnish. And then you have this big bunch of parsley leftover, standing in a jar of water, getting more and more wilted in spite of your best efforts to garnish everything in site, until finally it’s so bedraggled looking you have to sacrifice it to the trash/compost (sadly this even happens frequently with leftover cilantro as well). And I HATE wasting food. So what’s the point? I can make do without garnishes. I could cheat and use a bit of dried parsley in dishes that call for the fresh stuff. Maybe I should just cut fresh parsley out of my life all together. Would that make me a poor excuse for a cook?
Well, a winner has suddenly been declared in this internal debate. And, exactly on the opposite side of the one towards which I have been leaning for a long time. Never again will extra parsley go to waste! Indeed, I may start buying it in extra quantities. Oh yes! It’s true. I have contrived to put parsley to use in a delicious and unexpected way that has completely changed my opinion of the stuff: herb jam. Yes, it sounds totally weird. But it tastes totally phenomenal! Salty, earthy, a little smokey, a little bright and acidic, and only very slightly green. So good, it may be my new favorite snack, and appetizer, and sandwich spread, and…you get the idea.
It’s not really jam, per se. if you think of jam as thick, sweetened fruit with pectin, etc. But, it’s jam in that you jam all the ingredients together into one delicious moosh. I’m also calling it jam because that’s what the amazing Paula Wolfert calls her version in Slow Mediterranean Cooking (really good cookbook – and really lives up to it’s slow claim, most of the recipes take hours or day to make, though this one doesn’t), which inspired my parsley adventure. Her recipe calls for parsley, cilantro, and celery leaves. I only had parsley, so I only used parsley and just kind of went with the general idea of her instructions. Namely, steam herbs and some greens with garlic, then sautee the garlic with spices and chopped olives, and finally add the green stuff and cook until it gets somewhat dried out. Reconstitute – ooh, that’s a word that shouldn’t be applied to any food this yummy – that is, brighten it up a little bit with lemon juice to make it into a spread. Bellisimo (the herb jam’s not Italian, but that’s the word that springs to my mind at the moment)!
Serve this as a spread on pieces of pita, or another middle Eastern flatbread – or if your honey happens to be Jewish and you have matzos around, it’s incredible on that. But, don’t stop there! I had it in a sandwich with avocado and goat cheese, which was awesome. You could also add to a sandwich with any sorts of middle Eastern or Mediterranean flavors, like falafels, gyros, etc. or stir it into some chickpeas or potato chunks that you’re sautéing with onion, add a can of tomatoes and serve over couscous.
Here is how I made my spread, approximately:
- 1 rather large bunch of parsley (or cilantro, or celery leaves, or some combination)
- a couple of big handfuls (about ¼ lb) of spinach leaves or some other green, stems removed
- 2 big cloves of garlic, skins removed
- olive oil
- about ¼ cup olives, pitted and chopped finely
- 1-2 tsp. sweet paprika (smoked would also be good, and actually, I used chili powder because I had no paprika, and chili powder has similar sweet, earthy, hot pepper notes)
- a dash of cumin
- a dash of cayenne pepper
- a pinch of lemon zest (optional – I added this because I’m currently obsessed with adding lemon zest to things – it’s just so zesty!)
- 1/2 – 1 tsp. lemon juice, or more to taste
- salt to taste
- In a steamer basket, steam the greens, parsley, and garlic cloves together for 10 minutes, until the garlic has softened. Allow to cool. Coarsely chop the greens and parsley. Smash the garlic to a paste.
- Over medium-high heat, heat a large splash of olive oil in a heavy bottom pan until it is shimmering, add the garlic, the olives, and the spices (paprika, cumin, cayenne) and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, until the garlic is golden and the spices are fragrant. Stir in the chopped greens and parsley. Cook, stirring frequently and smashing together all the ingredients, until the greens are somewhat dried out, about 15 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Stir in a Tablespoon or so of olive oil, the lemon juice, and lemon zest (if using). Serve right away as a spread, or store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week. Before serving, add a little bit of water if the jam needs to be thinned to be a more spreadable consistency. Enjoy, especially knowing that you are saving parsley from a terrible fate!