phyllo shells
Tiny phyllo shells make a perfect vehicle for goat cheese and spicy tomato jam.

“You want the perfect haircut!”

I’m 19 and describing the cut I want from a new shop in town. My friend has listened politely for the last few minutes but has apparently had enough.

“It’s the perfect haircut,” she says. “You aren’t going to get it.”

She was right. But all these years later, I’m still striving for perfection:

  • The perfect gift.
  • The perfect menu.
  • The (yes) perfect haircut.

While elusive, my search isn’t always in vain. Turns out, I’ve discovered the perfect summer condiment:

Tomato jam.

Sharp from shallots, tart from lime, spicy from red pepper and ginger … this is a jam as good on buttered toast as it is dressed up for cocktails.

So far this season, we’ve slathered tomato jam on burgers, topped it on tiny goat cheese tarts and dolloped it on over-easy eggs. It’s lovely paired with lamb chops, stirred into sauteed green beans or placed atop simply steamed fish.

Best of all, it uses a pound-and-a-half of tomatoes, which will come in handy as tomato season gets under way.

I’m still questing for the perfect gift. The perfect menu. Even (still) the perfect haircut.

But hope springs eternal that I’ll find them. After all, I’ve found the perfect jam.

eggs with tomato jam
Cold tomato jam is a perfect topping for over-easy eggs, especially when the yolks break and combine with the gingery tomatoes.

Spicy Tomato Jam

This recipe, which appears in “The Best Of Gourmet 2003,” originally is billed as a topping for crab cakes. It’s very good served that way, but it’s so much more versatile. Use it as an appetizer, as a brunch topping for eggs, as a base for BLTs … let your imagination soar!

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  •  1/4 cup shallots, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large saute pan.

Add the shallots, ginger, garlic, salt and pepper flakes. Saute, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until the shallot is tender.

Add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved.

Add the tomatoes. Stir well, then bring to a simmer. Let the mixture cook for 10-15 minutes, until it’s thick enough that a wooden spoon raked through the center leaves a path.

Remove the jam from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Stir in the lime juice and cilantro, then chill until very cold.

This will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.