A sleepover for the young son, a balmy night and a blisteringly cold bottle of Cava in the fridge. Burgers, chicken, pork chops … nothing seemed to match the mood.
So taking inspiration from Melissa Clark’s Good Appetite column in Wednesday’s New York Times, tapas became the meal.
I love Clark. The kitchen is her artistic sandbox, and her weekly columns detail the magic you can create when you play with your food.
“Trust yourself,” she seems to say. “You know what tastes good. You know how things taste together. Go have fun!”
That’s what we did. One of Clark’s tapas ideas stuck me … for its simplicity as well as its drama. Cherry jam over goat cheese.
I had some sweet cherries just this side of moldering in my fruit bin. A quick trip to Good Earth, and I had the rest of our dinner components: French country bread, brie, apricots and a collection of Italian cured meats.
I’ve long made jam in the summer. Mix fruit, sugar, lemon juice and a bit of pectin in a pan over high heat, boil the heck out of it, and enjoy a pint of pure berry flavor. But as a topping for toasted bread and melted brie, I wanted to turn my stone fruit from sweet to savory. I wanted something layered and piney and syrupy; something reminiscent of tawny port or reduced balsamico.
I started to play. (Because, really, that’s what makes cooking fun.) I glazed a saute pan with olive oil, then threw in 1 chopped shallot and a dried chili de Arbol. Sauted both until the shallot was translucent, then removed the chili.Next went in about 2 1/2 cups of chopped cherries and apricots, along with a couple of drizzles (probably 2 teaspoons) of balsamic vinegar. (Use less if you’re drizzling in the expensive, aged version.) I covered the pan and let the contents simmer for 10 minutes. Once the fruit was soft, I used a potato masher to compress it, then threw in a couple of pinches of brown sugar (again, probably 2 teaspoons) and the juice of 1/2 a lemon. Continued simmering until the mixture was thick enough to leave a path when I scraped the bottom of the pan with a spoon. The final touch: 2 tablespoons of finely chopped herbs. (Mine was a mixture of rosemary, tarragon and parsely.) All of this took only about 15-20 minutes. While the jam was bubbling, I heated the grill and toasted up the bread, then wrapped the brie in foil and put it on the fire for about 10 minutes. Dinner was served! The brie oozed from its rind as we smeared it on the bread. We slathered on the bright red jam, then topped our toasts with salty pieces of prosciutto and salami. The meat added a nice counterpoint to the balsamic sweetness of the jam and played up its notes of rosemary and tarragon. The Cava cut through the dish’s richness. I’ll make this meal again, but probably not in the exact way. In fact, variations are already dancing in my head: I can keep the fruit whole for a chunkier texture. I can use the same ingredients but cook nothing so I have a fresh salsa. I can use different stone fruits or berries. I can add pectin for a thicker jam. I can take the jam off the stove earlier and use the saucier version to accompany a grilled leg of lamb or pork tenderloin. I can schmear it over different cheeses – goat, like Clark suggests; or a salty pecorino. All in all, a very successful dinner. Grown up jam, bread and thou.