Last month, my fellow food blogging friend Domenica Marchetti sent me a copy of her newest cookbook, Preserving Italy: Canning, Curing, Infusing, and Bottling Italian Flavors and Traditions (grazie, Domenica!). My kitchen bookshelf is lined with all of Domenica’s cookbooks and I’m thrilled to add her latest one right next to the others. I haven’t been able to put it down since I received it. Domenica is the author of six cookbooks on Italian cooking, including The Glorious Pasta of Italy and Rustic Italian (two of my favorites). Preserving Italy is her seventh cookbook and it has become another one of my favorites. Among the many cookbooks about canning and preserving published, Preserving Italy is a standout for its distinctive point of view. In an effort to re-create her late grandmother’s recipe for liquor-soaked sour cherries, Domenica serendipitously discovered the subject of her newest cookbook. Her research took her all over Italy where she traveled from region to region learning and documenting the centuries-old Mediterranean craft of putting up food which is reviving and thriving throughout the country. Throughout her travels, she interviewed professional chefs, home cooks, and artisan producers who shared stories and recipes about preserving Italy’s beloved produce, meats, cheeses, and liquors. Once she returned home, she crafted new recipes and re-created ones she learned in Italy, as well as family recipes passed down through the years, all of which she generously shares throughout the book (including those liquor-soaked cherries!). It was not easy deciding which recipe to try first, but Domenica’s recipe for Tropea onion jam ultimately became my choice for my first foray into preserving.
Dominica organized her cookbook by preservation method and within each chapter are recipes featuring the ingredients you preserve. Though most of the recipes feature fruits and vegetables, there are also chapters dedicated to infused oils and vinegars, condiments, fresh cheeses, cured meats, syrups and liquors, and an entire chapter devoted to tomatoes and sauces. The feature I love best about all of Domenica’s cookbooks (in addition to her ace recipes) is how well-written and researched they are. Dominica used to be a reporter and her journalism skills are expertly applied to her headnotes, introduction, and sidebars, all of which are incredibly informative and fun to read. Before you delve into the recipes though, be sure to read the tips and suggestions for preserving safely. As a beginner, I felt apprehensive about preserving food, but Dominica de-mystifies the process with well-organized information and specific instructions on both water-bath and pressure canning. Her clear and concise guidance will set you up for delicious success every time. I can now confidently say that I am hooked! To know that I can make my own jams, condiments, mostardas, pickles, and preserved produce and then use them in homemade recipes or give them as gifts is deeply rewarding.
This recipe for Tropea onion jam caught my eye for several reasons: the intriguing sweet-spiced flavor combination, and this jam’s ability to be paired with another one of my favorite foods: cheese. I also chose to make it because as a novice, I wanted to make an easy, small-batch recipe for my first attempt at canning. It is a recipe that comes together quickly with ingredients that are always in my pantry. Tropea onions are a uniquely sweet onion grown on the sandy, sea-side cliffs of the resort town of Tropea in the region of Calabria (the “toe” of the boot). They are harvested by hand during late spring and early summer, and are often strung together into a large ristra. Tropea onions have a characteristic torpedo-like shape and they are much smaller than the softball-sized red onions we find in American grocery stores. The year-round, mild sea-side climate of Tropea and the surrounding area is the ideal growing condition for the onions and contributes to its sweet, delicate flavor. They are prepared and eaten in a variety of ways, including raw, baked, grilled, used as a filling in frittata, and made into this onion jam. Unless you grow them yourself (Tropea seeds are easily sourced), Tropea onions are not widely available, but don’t let that discourage you. Domenica assures you that this jam is equally delicious using standard red onions found in most grocery stores.
I can’t begin to explain how excited I was to hear the *ping* of my two little jars of Tropea onion jam after they were finished processing and had been set out to cool. I know the point of preserving is to save the season’s bounty to enjoy later, but this jam didn’t last long and I polished off the small batch I made pretty quickly. It was irresistible on crostini topped with mascarpone. It also pairs well with creamy brie, salty-nutty Parmigiano, or the more piquant gorgonzola. Thanks to Domenica’s guidance on canning and her fantastic recipes, I conquered my apprehension about preserving and am keeping her cookbook close by to decide what I want to preserve next before summer is over. Preserving Italy is the cookbook you want in your kitchen to expand your canning repertoire and learn to put up food Italian style.
Tropea Onion Jam
Adapted from Preserving Italy by Domenica Marchetti
Special Equipment: 4-inch square of cheesecloth; length of kitchen twine; instant-read thermometer; 2 sterilized ½-pint jars and 1 sterilized 4-ounce jar (with their lids); basic water-bath canning equipment
Please read safety and water-bath canning instructions before beginning the recipe.
1 pound Tropea or standard red onions, cut into small dice (the amount of onions used will vary by their size)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup full-bodied red wine
½-¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
10 whole peppercorns
1 whole clove
1 bay leaf
1-inch piece of vanilla bean
½ cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Have your canning equipment and water bath ready.
Combine the onions, sugar, wine and salt in a heavy-bottomed pot. Use the cheesecloth to make a sachet containing the peppercorns, clove, bay leaf, vanilla bean, and cinnamon stick and tie securely with the length of kitchen twine. Place the sachet in the pot with the onions and other ingredients.
Bring the onion mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat so the mixture simmers, stirring often until the jam is thick and registers 220°-225° on the instant-read thermometer. You should be able to drag a visible path along the bottom of the pot using a silicone spatula once the onion mixture has finished thickening. Stir in the vinegar and remove from the heat.
Ladle the jam into the sterilized jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Wipe the jar rims with a clean, damp cloth, if necessary, place the lids on, and screw the bands on the jars until fingertip tight. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove the jars from the water bath and set them upright onto a clean dish towel in an area of the counter where they will not be disturbed. Let them cool completely to room temperature.
Store the jam in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year. Once opened, refrigerate the jam and consume within 6 months. If any jars refuse to seal properly, store them in the refrigerator and consume those first.