Sunday, August 24, 2014

It’s a Summer Feeding Frenzy
What’s cooking? Roasted Tomato-Peach Spread

“You should live on a farm,” my husband said as he surveyed the 4 pounds of tomatoes, 6 pounds of peaches, 2 pounds of sugar plums, and 6 pints of ground cherries I brought home from the farmers’ market this week. Plus assorted veggies. Thoughts of myself riding a tractor or up at dawn feeding the chickens swirled in my brain. On a farm with these fingernails? Not a chance.

And he doesn’t know the half of it. In the past month, I’ve given a new twist to my farmers’ market regimen: I now carry a supply of fruits and veggies, and maybe some fish, down to my son and his girlfriend in New Brunswick. They’re both new docs in a residency program, with virtually no time for grocery shopping. Then out of fairness to the other son, I drive a bundle of the same to him and his wife in Scotch Plains. I am reminded of one time before they married, when they stopped by on a Sunday and I loaded them up with various extras from my farmers’ market purchases. She turned to him on their way out the door and said, “You know, we should shop here more often.”

I love feeding my family; I’ve felt responsible for their palates since they were born, and I want them to enjoy the great fruits and veggies that are available. And if that means driving an embarrassing number of miles on summer Sundays, ...well, then, that’s what I’ll do. We all have our weaknesses; mine seems to be local produce.

August is really the month that NJ foodies – and the Kitchen Goddess claims both Austin and New Jersey as the sources of her obsession – go wild. The confluence of corn, tomato, and peach harvests is enough to send us into a frenzy.

For me, one way to fully appreciate this dynamite trio is to pile them all together in a salad. Add some of the ultrafresh, crisp and sweet lettuce that’s been available all summer, and an herbed vinaigrette, and you have the main element of a great summer lunch. Sprinkle some sliced almonds or add some wedges of chewy ciabatta bread and an assortment of cheeses, and you really need nothing more. For this particular salad – today’s lunch – I also diced up an avocado.

But what I really want to tell you about is a delightfully chunky, sweet-savory jam I discovered last year. Now before you decide you don’t need another jam, note that this one was designed to work as an appetizer – not a breakfast accompaniment, though I’d be happy to slather it on my toast. In fact, you’ll note that I don’t even call it a jam, because it’s really much more. Roasting the fruits (remember: tomatoes are a fruit) gives this condiment a much more nuanced flavor than any saucepan jam; the onions and roasted garlic take it over the top.

The original recipe was developed by a University of Toronto student, Lauren Classen. Ms. Classen won first place with it in some Toronto-based contest, in the appetizer category.

So how can you use it?

■ My favorite way is to serve it as an appetizer. Spread fresh ricotta or goat cheese on top of toasted baguette slices, then top each with a dollop of tomato-peach spread.

■ Apparently, Ms. Classen serves it also as the filling in mini-tarts. I haven’t tried that but will update you when I do.

■ Serve it as the condiment on sandwiches or sliders of sliced pork or chicken. It’ll work well with your Thanksgiving turkey, but to have it in November, you’ll have to preserve it in jars.

Kitchen Goddess note: Preserving is soooo easy. Basically, you just sterilize the jars, fill them with whatever, and submerge them in boiling water for 5 minutes. That wax your grandmother used has gone the way of manual typewriters and rotary dial telephones. More detailed steps to preserving are at this link. 

What the Kitchen Goddess really likes about this recipe is that it uses the oven. No candy thermometer or stovetop guesswork as to when it’s “jam.” And no pectin. The Kitchen Goddess is still trying to figure out pectin.

Roasted Tomato & Peach Spread

Adapted from Lauren Claussen in the Toronto Star

Yield: one quart+, or enough for 6 half-pint Mason jars, filled to a half-inch below the rim.

4 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and halved horizontally
2 pounds ripe peaches, skins on, pitted and cut into chunks about the size of ½-inch dice
1 medium sweet onion, in ½-inch dice
4 large cloves roasted garlic, mashed to a paste
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
2 tbsp dried oregano

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Spray a very light coating of oil on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Arrange the tomato halves along the perimeter of the pan. Stir together the peaches, onions, and garlic, and pile them in the center of the pan.

Sprinkle the sugar on the tomatoes, and drizzle the oil over everything. Sprinkle the salt and oregano over everything.

Roast the fruits in the oven for 40 minutes; you’ll notice that the onions and peaches will start to brown on their edges. Remove the pan from the oven and, using a potato masher or some similar instrument (spatula, large spoon), mash the tomatoes to nearly flat, to release the juices. Then, using a spatula or large spoon, mix the peaches, onions, and tomatoes together.

Return the pan to the oven and bake, stirring every 15 minutes, until the tomato juices have pretty much evaporated, and the mixture attains the consistency of thick jam, which will take about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Kitchen Goddess note: If you have roasted the fruits for the full hour and 15 minutes and it still looks very soupy, spoon off some of the juice into a glass and enjoy it. Then return the pan to the oven for a final 15 minutes. If it’s still very liquid looking, let it sit on top of the stove (no heat), lightly covered, overnight.

Adjust salt or sugar seasoning to taste.

Serve warm or cold. Refrigerate for as long as a week, or freeze, or preserve in Mason jars.

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