Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Shallot Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?

One of the joys of having friends who love to cook as much as I do is sharing cookbooks with them. On her recent vacation here, the fair Titania spent many an hour in the evenings slowly turning the pages in Local Flavors and delighting in the photos and recipes.

And, of course, when I visit those same friends, I often spend time curled up with their cookbooks, in search of new recipes.

Several years ago, while visiting a friend in Florida, I rummaged through a large portion of her cookbook collection, copying recipes that intrigued me. And in one of the books (I believe it was Recipes from a Vegetarian Garden, but I could be misremembering the title), I found a recipe for an unusual savory condiment: garlic-shallot jam.

Though I wasn't entirely certain about having garlic in something called jam, I still copied the recipe into my notebook, thinking that perhaps someday I might be so bold as to give it a try.

That someday came this summer, when the Cheerful Lady and Handyman Joe had not only lots and lots of garlic at their market stall but also baskets of small shallots wrapped in burnished bronze papery skins. Since I like the somewhat more mellow flavor of shallots when compared to most onions, I stocked up. And when I found this recipe again, I knew the time had come to accept the challenge.

I made a small batch of the jam about a month and a half ago, and not only did it smell divine, it tasted wonderful when thrown into steamed kale or an autumnal squash dish. The rest of the shallots beckoned from their perch on the windowsill, and tonight, I made another batch.

The prep work for this recipe can be time consuming, especially when your shallots are as small as mine. But, like with most prep work, I accepted the slow pace and enjoyed unwrapping each new fragrant bulb before slicing and dicing these beauties into the pot.

After they had time to cook down and soften in the rich olive oil, I added some good dry red wine and balsamic vinegar (found at the local deli) and allowed the whole mixture to simmer for well over an hour. (Yes, the house did smell wonderful all night long!) Then I added the honey and the spices, and after a little more cooking, the jam was ready to go into jars.

I'm not sure how meat eaters might use this jam, though I suspect it would make a nice replacement for chutney or work well in a simmered dish. As for me and my fellow vegetarians, I heartily recommend it as a simple topping to swirl into steamed vegetables or into a braise or a stew. The alliums are mellow and richly flavored, not harsh and raw, and the wine and balsamic vinegar add that extra depth that is so welcome in the hearty dishes that comfort the soul at this darkening time of year.

It's sheer poetry in cooking.

Garlic-Shallot Jam

I can't find the original recipe at the moment (since my household is in an uproar), but I think it came from Recipes from a Vegetarian Garden. This is close enough to the original, and though it takes time and patience, it's well worth the wait.

1 onion, peeled and minced
8 shallots, peeled and sliced
4 bulbs garlic, peeled, cloves left whole
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c red wine
1/2 c balsamic vinegar
1 T honey
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté onion, shallots, and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until soft, translucent, and just starting to brown. Add wine and vinegar and bring to a simmer. Stir occasionally while mixture simmers, about 1 hour or more. Mixture is done when the liquid has almost entirely evaporated and the garlic cloves are soft. Stir in honey, nutmeg, salt and pepper, and allow to simmer 5 minutes longer to meld flavors. Ladle into sterilized glass jar(s) and cover.

Keep in the refrigerator (I'm not sure how long yet) and stir a spoonful into any recipe you like. May be warmed and spooned over a finished dish, too.

Makes 1 1/2 cups of "jam"


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