Thursday, September 5, 2013

And the winner is...
What’s cooking? Italian Plum Ketchup

I couldn’t get any of the national accounting firms to come over for the drawing, so in the interest of ethical independence, my friend, Gusty Scattergood – who is also the author of the award-winning YA novel, Glory Be – came over yesterday to pull a name out of the bowl. The winner of the drawing for the Hamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich Maker is... (drum roll, please):

I wish I had enough of those Breakfast Sandwich Makers to give one to each of you, but alas... You can, however, get one online or in many stores. For a start, I found them at Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and

So for everyone else, today’s prize will have to be a different kind of treat – one that will also last quite a while, just not as long as an appliance.

One of the great late summer arrivals at the farmers’ market is a crop of Italian prune plums. Most of the plums you get at the grocery store are fat and round; these are more egg-shaped, and wear a beautiful powdery blue-purple skin – the color of royalty, which may explain why they’re also known as Empress plums. They have a wonderful sweet-tart taste, though the juice won’t dribble down your chin the way it does with the fat, round varieties.

But Italian Prune Plums are perhaps the most flexible members of their family – stew them into jam, dry them to make prunes, sauté them with sugar and a bit of butter, or make wine with them!

I thought they’d be disappearing fast because the other plums I’d seen were gone quickly, so I bought a ridiculous amount and then had to figure out what to do with them. I’ve made more jam this summer than would be recommended for anyone not starting an English tea shop, so jam was out. And drying them takes too long and too much space for apartment living. So I rooted around on the web and came up with a brand new (for me) concept: Plum Ketchup. I loved the idea of something more savory than sweet – though it’s definitely got some sweetness – especially if I could use that something with meats and cheeses. The recipe I found seemed a bit bland, so I tickled it with balsamic vinegar, then smoothed it out with Earl Grey Tea, and added a little kick at the end with Aleppo pepper. Considering all the mess in Syria these days, I feel that it’s the least I could do to support those poor, besieged  farmers and spice merchants around Aleppo.

Tiny factoid alert: According to Wikipedia, Aleppo is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, since perhaps the 6th millennium BC.

At the end of the cooking, I ran it through my blender for 20-30 seconds – enough to shred the skins, but not so much as to completely lose the texture of soft, thick bits of plum here and there.

So what can you do with Italian plum ketchup?

■ Baste a pork tenderloin with it before baking. Then serve more of it with the finished dish.

■ Ditto with chicken.

■ Save it for Thanksgiving and spread it on a sandwich of turkey and brie.

■ My husband likes it so much he thinks we could use it instead of cranberry sauce.

■ Do what you’d do with tomato ketchup: slather it on a burger or dip your fries into it.

I’ve preserved mine and plan to give the jars for Christmas. Lucky friends!

Italian Plum Ketchup

Makes 4-5 half-pint jars.

3 pounds plums, pitted and cut into quarters
4 cloves roasted garlic*, mashed
⅔ cup brown sugar
⅔ cup balsamic vinegar
⅔ cup Earl Grey Tea
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon (or two cinnamon sticks)
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon pepper

In a large saucepan, bring all ingredients to a boil. Cook at a gentle boil 35-45 minutes, until thick.

Remove the cinnamon sticks, if you used them. Let the mixture cool slightly, then process in a blender or food processor until not quite smooth. Store in jars in the fridge, or reheat (because the preserving process works better when the food is hot) and process for preserving in jars (5-10 minutes).

*Were you listening when the Kitchen Goddess said to always have some roasted garlic in your fridge? Use it now. And if you don’t have any, here’s the link.

The Preserving Process (Refined a bit from last summer’s posts)

Start by running your jars (without the rubber-rimmed lids or the metal bands) through the dishwasher. The jars should be kept hot until you’re ready to fill them, so I just leave them in the dishwasher with the door closed. Or you can wash them and submerge them in boiling water for 10 minutes once the preserves are ready. Put the bands in a small saucepan with water to cover, and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the lids. Cover the saucepan to keep the lids hot until the preserves are ready.

Spoon the preserves into the jars, leaving ¼-½ inch of space at the top, then add a lid and a metal rim, screwing the rims on just “finger-tight,” as air will need to escape the jars to create a vacuum seal. Using tongs and keeping the closed jars upright, lower them into a large pot of water to cover, and boil them 5-10 minutes, depending on altitude – 5 minutes at sea level, 10 minutes at 1000+ feet above sea level. Again using tongs, transfer the jars (upright) to a work surface and leave them overnight or until cool. You’ll hear a ping as each ring seals. I count the pings to make sure all the jars seal. If one doesn’t, stick it in the fridge or sterilize a new lid and ring and run the jar back through the boiling process. If a jar has properly sealed, you’ll be able to remove the ring and lift the jar by the lid. Once the jars have rested overnight, tighten the rings.

For best results, store processed jars in a cool, dark place.

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